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The Power of

Compiled By:1
Chedan B. Ceriaco, RN
Antioxidants and Free Radicals

According to the Encarta Encyclopedia (2009), an
antioxidant is a type of molecule that neutralizes harmful
compounds called free radicals that damage living cells,
spoil food, and degrade materials such as rubber, gasoline,
and lubricating oils. Antioxidants can take the form of
enzymes in the body, vitamin supplements, or industrial
 Whitney and Rolfes (2002) define free radical as a
molecule with one or more unpaired electrons. An electron
without a partner is unstable and highly reactive. To regain
its stability, the free radical quickly finds a stable but
vulnerable compound from which to steal an electron.


 With the loss of an electron, the formerly stable
molecule becomes a free radical itself and steals an
electron from another nearby molecule. Thus, an electron-
snatching chain reaction is under way with free radicals
producing more free radicals. Antioxidants neutralize free
radicals by donating one of their own electrons, thus
ending the chain reaction. When they lose electrons,
antioxidants DO NOT become free radicals because they
are stable in either form.
 An example would be the role of vitamin C
(ascorbic acid) as a powerful antioxidant. Ascorbic acid
protects against oxidative damage by donating its 2
hydrogens with their electrons to free radicals. In doing
so, ascorbic acid becomes DEHYDROASCORBIC ACID.
This dehydroascorbic acid can readily accept

hydrogens to become ascorbic acid. The reversibility
of this reaction is key to vitamin C’s role as an
 Further, according to the Encarta Encyclopedia
(2009), about five percent of the oxygen humans breathe
is converted into free radicals. The presence of free
radicals in the body is NOT ALWAYS detrimental. Free
radicals produced in NORMAL cellular metabolism are
vital to certain body functions, such as fighting disease or
injury. When tissue is diseased or damaged, the body’s
immune system sends disease fighting cells to the site,
where they produce free radicals in an effort to destroy
foreign invaders. But as the body ages or is subjected to
environmental pollutants, like cigarette smoke,
overexposure to sunlight, or smog, the body becomes
overwhelmed by free radicals. An excessive number of
free radicals causes damage by taking electrons from key
 4

 cellular components of the body, such as protein,
lipids, and DNA.

Sources of antioxidants.

Defending against Cancer
 Cancers arise when cellular DNA is damaged –
sometimes by free-radical attacks (Whitney and Rolfes,
2002). Antioxidants may reduce cancer risks by protecting
DNA from this damage. Researches report low rates of
cancer in people whose diets include abundant vegetables
and fruits.
 Foods rich in ascorbic acid seem to protect against
certain cancers, like:
 > oral cancer
 > laryngeal cancer
 > esophageal cancer
 > cancer of the stomach and pancreas 7
Defending against Heart Disease
 High blood cholesterol carried in low-density
lipoprotein (LDL) is a major risk factor for cardiovascular
disease (Whitney and Rolfes, 2002). Free radicals within
the arterial walls oxidize LDL, changing their function
and structure. The oxidized LDL then accelerate the
formation of artery-clogging plaques. These free radicals
also oxidize the polyunsaturated fatty acids of the cell
membranes, sparking additional changes in arterial walls,
which impede blood flow.
 Epidemiological studies suggest that people who
eat foods rich in vitamin E have low rates of death from
heart disease. Also, some studies suggest that vitamin C
protects against LDL oxidation, raises HDL (good
cholesterol), lowers total cholesterol, and improves blood 8
 pressure. Vitamin C may also protect the arteries
against oxidative damage. Supplementation with both
vitamins C and E minimizes the free-radical action within
the arterial wall that typically follows a high-fat meal.

Brussels Sprouts: Source of vitamin C.

 Whitney and Rolfes (2002) define phytochemicals
as nonnutrient compounds found in plant-derived foods
(phyto means plant) that have biological activity in the
body. A variety of phytochemicals from a variety of foods
appear active in protecting against cancer. Studies also
report association of phytochemicals and lower risk of
heart disease.

Research shows…

 Soybeans are rich in

phytochemicals called
Phytosterols appear to slow
the growth of certain
cancers, like breast, colon,
ovarian, prostate, and other
estrogen-sensitive cancers.


Isoflavones of
soybeans seem to inhibit
tumor growth. They may
also lower blood
cholesterol, protecting
cardiac arteries.


Resveratrol in
grapes (and peanuts)
protects against cancer by
inhibiting cell growth and
against heart disease by
limiting clot formation.


Flavonoids from
apples may protect against
lung cancer.


 Garlic contains
allicin that may lower
blood cholesterol and may
protect against stomach


 Strawberries contain
ellagic acid which may
inhibit certain types of


The limonene of
citrus fruits may inhibit
cancer growth.


Lycopene from
tomatoes may defend
against cancer by
protecting DNA from


 Flavonoids in
black tea may protect
against heart disease,
whereas those in green tea
may defend against cancer.


 Flaxseed, the richest

source of lignans, may
prevent the spread of
cancers of the breast,
colon, ovaries, and

Phytochemicals as presented by Whitney and
Rolfes (2002)
 1. Capsaicin
 Possible Effects:
Ø Modulates blood clotting, possibly reducing the risk of
fatal clots in heart and artery disease

Food Sources:
Ø Hot peppers

 2. Carotenoids (include beta-carotene, lycopene)
 Possible effects:
Ø Act as antioxidants, possibly reducing risks of cancer and
other diseases

 Food Sources:
Ø Deeply pigmented fruits and vegetables (apricots,
broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, pumpkin, spinach, sweet
potatoes, tomatoes)

 3. Curcumin
 Possible Effects:
Ø May inhibit enzymes that activate carcinogens

 Food Sources:
Ø Turmeric, a yellow-colored spice

 4. Flavonoids (include flavones, flavonols, isoflavones,
 Possible Effects: Act as antioxidants; scavenge
carcinogens; bind to nitrates in the stomach, preventing
conversion to nitrosamines; inhibit cell proliferation

 Food Sources:
Ø Berries, black tea, celery, citrus fruits, green tea, olives,
onions, oregano, purple grapes, purple grape juice,
soybeans and soy products, vegetables, whole wheat,

 5. Indoles
 Possible Effects: May trigger production of enzymes that
block DNA damage from carcinogens; may inhibit
estrogen action

 Food Sources:
Ø Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables (brussels
sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower), horseradish, mustard

 6. Isothiocyanates (including sulforaphane)
 Possible Effects: Inhibit enzymes that activate
carcinogens; trigger production of enzymes that
detoxify carcinogens

 Food Sources:
Ø Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables (brussels
sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower), horseradish, mustard

 7. Lignans
 Possible Effects: Block estrogen activity in cells, possibly
reducing the risk of cancer of the breast, colon, ovaries,
and prostate

 Food Sources:
Ø Flaxseed and its oil, whole grains

 8. Monoterpenes (include limonene)
 Possible Effects: May trigger enzyme production to
detoxify carcinogens; inhibit cancer promotion and cell

 Food Sources:
Ø Citrus fruit peels and oils

 9. Organosulfur compounds
 Possible Effects: May speed production of carcinogen-
destroying enzymes; slow production of carcinogen-
activating enzymes

 Food Sources:
Ø Chives, garlic, leeks, onions

 10. Phenolic acids
 Possible Effects: May trigger enzyme production to make
carcinogens water soluble, facilitating excretion

 Food Sources:
Ø Coffee beans, fruits (apples, blueberries, cherries, grapes,
oranges, pears, prunes), oats, potatoes, soybeans

 11. Phytic acid
 Possible Effects: Binds to minerals, preventing free-
radical formation, possibly reducing cancer risk

 Food Sources:
Ø Whole grains

 12. Phytosterols (genistein, diadzein)
 Possible Effects: Estrogen inhibition may produce these
actions: inhibit cell replication in GI tract; reduce risk of
breast, colon, ovarian, prostate, and other estrogen-
sensitive cancers; reduce cancer cell survival. Estrogen
mimicking may reduce risk of osteoporosis

 Food Sources:
Ø Soybeans, soy flour, soy milk, tofu, textured vegetable
protein, other legume products

 13. Protease inhibitors
 Possible Effects: May suppress enzyme production in
cancer cells, slowing tumor growth; inhibit hormone
binding; inhibit malignant changes in cells

 Food Sources:
Ø Broccoli sprouts, potatoes, soybeans and other legumes,
soy products

 14. Resveratrol
 Possible Effects: Offsets artery-damaging effects of high-
fat diets

 Food Sources:
Ø Red wine, peanuts

 15. Saponins
 Possible Effects: May interfere with DNA replication,
preventing cancer cells from multiplying; stimulate
immune response

 Food Sources:
Ø Alfalfa sprouts, other sprouts, green vegetables, potatoes,

16. Tannins

 Possible Effects: May inhibit carcinogen activation and

cancer promotion; act as antioxidants

 Food Sources:
Ø Black-eyed peas, grapes, lentils, red and white wine, tea

 "Antioxidant." Microsoft® Encarta® 2009 [DVD]. Redmond, WA:
Microsoft Corporation, 2008.
 E. N. Whitney and S. R. Rolfes. “Antioxidant Nutrients and
Phytochemicals in Disease Prevention.” Understanding Nutrition.
Singapore: Thompson Learning Asia, 2002.