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Oxidants and antioxidants – harm and benefit

Aging, infections, cancer: For years, there has been much research and discussion about the exact effects of oxidants and their counterparts. So it’s high time to put together some of the most important information.

It is clear that reactive oxygen species (oxidants) at higher concentrations are harmful to the cells of all organisms. They damage numerous cell structures as they strive to fill their electron gap. They change cell membranes, proteins, even the genetic material and are involved in the aging process. People suffering from Hutchinson-Gilford syndrome, which leads to premature aging, have no protective mechanisms against these oxidants and are defenseless against them.

That oxidants, apart from their function as messenger substances, do not always have to be harmful is shown by a study of the Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden. She was able to show that hydrogen peroxide at a certain concentration could slow down the aging of yeast cells. However, it also belongs to the oxidants that are harmful to our body in higher quantities.

The great advantage of antioxidants is that they break the harmful chain reactions that reactive oxygen species can trigger by donating an electron without reacting further themselves.

When the balance between oxidative and reductive reactions shifts in favor of the oxidative processes, we speak of oxidative stress. In addition to its harmful effects on the aging process, it can also lead to atherosclerosis and is thought to be involved in the development of cancer, immune system disorders, and also rheumatic and neurodegenerative diseases.

This carotenoid (a plant pigment) is considered one of the most powerful antioxidants. Clinical studies demonstrate a stronger effect than other known antioxidants (Shimidzu et al., 1996; Bagchi, 2001, Creighton University). For example, one such study examined the ability of various antioxidants to eliminate reactive oxygen species. Astaxanthin was found to be nearly 20 times more effective than vitamin E, over 50 times more effective than beta-carotene, and over 60 times more effective than vitamin C.