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What are antioxidants and how do they work?

The structure of the antioxidant vitamin ascorbic acid (vitamin C).

Antioxidants consist of a group of vitamins, minerals and enzymes that are claimed to have health enhancing effects for our bodies. Antioxidants work to neutralise free radicals before they harm our bodies. Free radicals are atoms that cause damage to our cells. They harm our immune system leading to many degenerative diseases. Free radicals are formed by our cells being exposed to a variety of substances such as radiation, chemicals, pollution, smoke, drugs, alcohol, pesticides and sun and through various metabolic processes such as when our bodies utilise stored fat for energy. A poor diet also aids in the formation of free radicals.

Antioxidants work by donating an electron to the free radicals to convert them to harmless molecules. This protects cells from oxidative damage that leads to aging and various diseases.

Many vitamins and minerals are antioxidants but not all antioxidants are equal. Some antioxidants are made in our cells, including enzymes and other molecules. Other essential antioxidants such as vitamin C, E and selenium must come from our diets.

Anthocyanins (the pigment that makes pomegranates dark red and blueberries dark blue) are powerful antioxidants.

They contain naturally occuring plant chemicals called polyphenols with very high antioxidant characteristics. The darker, deeper blue and red fruits have the highest anthocyanin values, therefore contributing the most potent antioxidant sources.