Antioxidants, as their name suggests, are compounds that inhibit oxidation processes. During oxidation, free radicals are released in the body, and oxidation can trigger chain reactions that can have damaging effects on cells.
During oxidation, the atoms that make up compounds (biomolecules) that perform a certain biological function lose electrons, becoming electron deficient. This causes them to lose their function, causing damage. Primary antioxidants prevent this process by supplying electrons (such as vitamins A, C and E, zinc, etc.) Secondary antioxidants break down reactive free radicals and prevent chain reactions (such as glutathione which breaks down hydrogen peroxide) Tertiary antioxidants play a role in repairing already damaged biomolecules.
There are therefore 3 main groups of antioxidants:
1) Primary antioxidants: direct action, oxidation prevention
2) Secondary antioxidants: once oxidation has occurred, they neutralise the products of oxidation
3) Tertiary: if damage has also occurred, they are involved in repair processes.
Oxidation and free radical formation in our body also occurs during natural metabolism, but is enhanced by stress, physical work, exercise, toxins, radioactive and UV radiation. These free radicals can damage, among other things, our DNA, which can lead to mutations (changes) over time, and mutations can lead to various diseases. All these damaging processes are called oxidative stress.
Antioxidants can also improve the efficiency of immune processes. Many studies have found that oxidative stress damages the immune system. Many different antioxidants are known and more and more substances are being shown to have antioxidant effects.
Of the vitamins, vitamins A, C and E have primary antioxidant effects, while the literature is not consistent on the antioxidant effects of vitamin D, which is mostly considered to be a tertiary antioxidant.
Of the minerals, zinc, selenium and copper are particularly important antioxidants. In addition, coenzyme Q10, alpha lipoic acid, lutein and melatonin also have significant antioxidant effects
Antioxidants are industrial compounds that inhibit oxidation and are used in plastics, fuels, cosmetics and preservatives. The effects of these preservatives on our bodies are not the same as the dietary antioxidants mentioned above.