An agent that inhibits oxidation; any of numerous chemical substances including certain natural body products and nutrients that can neutralize the oxidant effect of free radicals and other substances.
Free radicals, formed in the course of normal cellular respiration and metabolism, and more abundantly under the influence of certain environmental chemicals and sunlight, have been inculpated in various types of tissue damage, particularly those involved in atherosclerosis, the aging process, and the development of cancers. A free radical is any atom or molecule that has 1 or more unpaired electrons and is therefore highly reactive, seeking to acquire electrons from other substances. Free radicals are normally scavenged from tissues by the antioxidant enzymes superoxide dismutase and glutathione peroxidase. Ubidecarenone (coenzyme Q10) is also thought to act as an antioxidant in mitochondrial respiration reactions. In addition, a number of nutrient substances, vitamins, and minerals have been shown to contribute to antioxidant functions, generally by serving as cofactors or coenzymes. These include selenium beta-carotene, and vitamins C and E. It has been postulated that an imbalance between the production of free radicals and natural antioxidant processes may be a major causative factor in aging and in many chronic and degenerative disorders, and some researchers have speculated that antioxidant nutrients may have a role in disease prevention. Oxidation of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol does indeed seem to be responsible for foam cell formation in the genesis of atherosclerotic plaques. In addition, free radicals have been shown to damage DNA in ways that can culminate in malignant change. Oxidations also occur in many beneficial processes, however, including chemotaxis of cells with immunologic functions, phagocytosis, clotting mechanisms, and apoptosis. Moreover, antioxidants do not exert their effects in only one way, but can act during initiation or propagation of reactions at a variety of intracellular sites, and in some circumstances can be prooxidant. Claims that vitamins and other nutrients, when taken in massive doses, can prevent heart attack or cancer or retard aging are not based on scientific evidence. Although a high intake of antioxidants from food sources appears to offer some health advantages, there is at present no unequivocal evidence that any antioxidant nutrient, when taken in excess of normal dietary amounts, has value in the prevention or treatment of cardiovascular disease, cancer, or any other abnormal process except such as may be associated with frank nutritional or vitamin deficiency. A controlled, double-blind, randomized study of antioxidant supplementation in more than 20,000 people at risk of coronary artery disease found no effect whatsoever on all-cause mortality, cardiovascular mortality, nonfatal myocardial infarction, stroke, or cancer incidence. A controlled trial of beta-carotene and retinol not only failed to show any benefit but was aborted when statistics showed large increases in the risk of death from lung cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Reference: Stedman's Medical Dictionary