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Top 5 Antioxidants That Can Improve Your Health and How To Test Your Patient's Levels

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Top 5 Antioxidants That Can Improve Your Health and How To Test Your Patient's Levels

Antioxidants have grown in popularity with the general public due to their anti-aging and anti-inflammatory effects. Hundreds, if not thousands, of molecules, hold antioxidant properties. 

This article will discuss the role that antioxidants play in the body. We will look at the top 5 antioxidants for overall health as well as factors surrounding their efficacy, including how cooking affects antioxidant levels and if supplementation is safe. Lastly, we’ll review different functional medicine labs to assess antioxidant levels within the body. 


What Are Antioxidants?

Antioxidants are compounds that protect our cells from damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that can cause oxidative stress in the body, leading to various health issues, including chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease, and neurodegenerative disorders.

Various metabolic processes in the body produce free radicals, which can also be produced externally by factors such as pollution, smoking, and certain medications.

Antioxidants work by neutralizing free radicals, preventing them from causing harm to our cells. They do this by donating an electron to the free radical, stabilizing it and reducing its potential to react with other molecules in the body.

When it comes to antioxidants, several vitamins, minerals, and compounds stand out for their protective properties. These include vitamins A, C, and E, minerals such as selenium and zinc, and other beneficial compounds like lycopene and lutein.

What Are Antioxidants Role in The Body?

Antioxidants help prevent oxidative damage and play a vital role in maintaining the body's overall health.

In addition to their antioxidant properties, antioxidants have the following advantages:

  • Protection of cells: Antioxidants help safeguard cells from the harmful effects of free radicals, which can damage DNA, proteins, and lipids within the cells. This protection helps prevent cellular dysfunction and degeneration.
  • Immune system support: Antioxidants can enhance the function of the immune system by supporting the activity of immune cells and reducing oxidative stress, which can impair immune responses.
  • Reduced inflammation: Antioxidants can help mitigate inflammation in the body by neutralizing free radicals and reducing the production of pro-inflammatory molecules. This can help prevent and manage inflammatory conditions like arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and some types of cancer.
  • Cardiovascular health: Antioxidants protect the cardiovascular system by preventing the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, which can lead to the buildup of plaque in the arteries. This helps maintain healthy blood flow and reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • Skin health: Antioxidants, when applied topically or consumed, can protect the skin from UV-induced damage, reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and promote a healthy, youthful complexion.
  • Cognitive function: Some antioxidants, like vitamins C and E, have been shown to support cognitive function and protect the brain from age-related decline and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's.

Top 5 Antioxidants To Improve Your Health

Nature provides us with many wonderful antioxidants that our bodies can use for protection. Here are, arguably, the top 5 antioxidants: 


Glutathione is often called the “master antioxidant” for good reasons: it is the most potent antioxidant that our bodies make! Through its antioxidant actions, glutathione has been shown to beneficially affect many systems in the body. In the pulmonary system, glutathione can reduce inflammation in the lungs while increasing a substance called surfactant that keeps the airways lubricated and healthy. In the liver, glutathione is required for detoxification; detoxification takes toxins and other waste products and makes them water soluble, so they may then be excreted into the urine or stool.

Glutathione has also been shown to lessen the signs of aging skin, support the immune system, and reduce muscle fatigue. Foods high in glutathione, or high in precursors to glutathione, include spinach, red peppers, and asparagus. Glutathione is also found in supplement forms, and some may even recommend n-acetyl cysteine (NAC) supplements to improve glutathione levels, as NAC is a precursor to glutathione. 

CoEnzyme Q10

Coenzyme Q10, or CoQ10, is an antioxidant naturally produced by the body but also obtained through dietary sources. CoQ10 is found in every single cell in the body and protects cell membranes from free radical damage. It is also required to produce the body’s energy molecule, ATP. Additionally, CoQ10 helps to regenerate vitamin E, another antioxidant that we’ll discuss below, back into its active form.

Research shows CoQ10 supplementation to have a significant lowering effect on many different free radicals while also having anti-inflammatory and immune functions. Because of these actions, there is research supporting CoQ10 in the treatment of sepsis and various viral infections, including acute viral myocarditis. Half of CoQ10 found in the body is retained through the diet, including meat, salmon, sardines, pork, and chicken. 

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is found throughout the body in eight different forms, although the form that our bodies primarily use is called alpha-tocopherol. Vitamin E has potent antioxidant properties, especially in the cardiovascular and immune systems. In the cardiovascular system, the antioxidant properties of Vitamin E prevent the oxidation of cholesterol. When cholesterol becomes oxidized, it is more likely to form a clot and thus cause heart attacks and strokes.

Vitamin E also causes the blood vessels to widen, called dilation, making it harder for clots to stick to the blood vessel wall. In the immune system, vitamin E’s antioxidant properties modulate inflammatory responses and also help to strengthen communication and release of a specific type of immune cell called T-cells. Because of these immune system actions, vitamin E may lower the risk of the development of respiratory and allergic diseases like asthma. Vitamin E is found in many foods, including wheat germ, sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, and peanuts. 

Vitamin C

Often called ascorbic acid, vitamin C is a vitamin humans cannot make and must obtain through their diet. Because vitamin C is water soluble, its antioxidant effects can occur both inside and outside cells. While vitamin C is an incredibly effective antioxidant on its own, it has shown to be even more effective when teamed up with other antioxidants. Vitamin C and glutathione are a powerful match for hydrogen peroxide, a strong free radical. Vitamin C can also facilitate the regeneration of vitamin E, which, as discussed above, is yet another antioxidant. Vitamin C can be found in fresh foods, including red peppers, oranges, kiwi, green peppers, and broccoli. 


Selenium is a nutrient required for human health. Important for reproductive, immune, and endocrine functions, this antioxidant has a wide variety of effects. Selenium is required for a group of enzymes called selenoproteins to function correctly. There are more than 24 different types of selenoproteins. However, there is one type that is most pertinent to this article: glutathione peroxidases. Glutathione peroxidases are a type of selenoprotein that is also dependent upon the above-discussed antioxidant, glutathione. They have many antioxidant actions in the body but have a significant effect on the production and function of sperm, making their functionality especially important for male fertility. Selenium can be found in high amounts in Brazil nuts, tuna, halibut, sardines, and ham. 

How Many Mmol Antioxidants Should We Be Getting Per Day?

Antioxidants can be measured in units of millimoles Trolox equivalents (mmol TE). Scientists have gathered data to determine the ideal amount of antioxidant intake per day. For those consuming 2,500 calories daily, the antioxidant intake needs are estimated to be 11.5 mmol TE. 

The Best Antioxidant Foods

Because the human body is constantly threatened by free radicals, Mother Nature has provided us with a bounty of antioxidant-rich foods that can help neutralize these harmful compounds.

One of the most reliable methods for assessing a food's antioxidant potential is the ferric-reducing ability of plasma (FRAP) test. This analytical technique measures a food's capacity to counteract specific free radicals, providing a quantifiable antioxidant score. 

Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate is a delicious and indulgent treat that also happens to be packed with beneficial antioxidants. The key antioxidants found in dark chocolate are a type of polyphenol compound called flavanols.

Flavanols are a subclass of flavonoids, which are a large group of plant-based antioxidants. The flavanol content is what distinguishes dark chocolate from milk chocolate or white chocolate. To be considered "dark," chocolate must contain at least 50% cocoa solids.

The high flavanol content in dark chocolate provides a variety of potential health benefits. Flavanols have been shown to help support healthy blood pressure levels by promoting vasodilation and improving blood flow. They may also benefit vision health by protecting the eyes from oxidative stress and enhancing blood flow to the retina.

Importantly, the flavanol antioxidants in dark chocolate may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. By neutralizing free radicals, flavanols can lower inflammation and oxidative damage, which are underlying factors in the development of these chronic conditions.

Overall, the 15 mmol of antioxidants per 3.5 ounces of dark chocolate make it a wonderfully indulgent way to get a potent dose of protective polyphenol compounds.


Pecans are a nutrient-dense tree nut that boast an impressive antioxidant profile. These nuts are particularly rich in two key antioxidant compounds - vitamin E and phenolic antioxidants.

Pecans are an excellent source of this important nutrient. Just 3.5 ounces of pecans can provide up to 10.6 mmol of vitamin E antioxidants.

In addition to vitamin E, pecans also contain a variety of phenolic antioxidants, including ellagic acid and proanthocyanidins. These plant-based polyphenol compounds have been shown to provide cardiovascular benefits by helping to maintain healthy cholesterol levels.

Beyond their antioxidant content, pecans offer a wealth of other important nutrients. They are a good source of magnesium, potassium, and calcium, as well as protein, carbohydrates, and heart-healthy unsaturated fats.


Blueberries are a true superfood when it comes to their exceptional antioxidant content. The deep blue pigmentation of blueberries comes from a class of polyphenol antioxidants called anthocyanins.

Anthocyanins are a type of flavonoid that provide potent free radical-scavenging capabilities. These antioxidant compounds have been extensively studied for their potential benefits in supporting cardiovascular health, managing blood sugar levels, and reducing inflammation.

The remarkable FRAP score of up to 9.2 mmol of antioxidants per 3.5 ounces of blueberries is a testament to their antioxidant potency. 

Regularly consuming blueberries has been shown to lead to a 20% reduction in cellular damage, likely owing to the powerful protective effects of the anthocyanin antioxidants.


Strawberries are a vibrant and juicy fruit that packs a powerful punch when it comes to antioxidant content. The key antioxidants found in strawberries are vitamin C and a variety of polyphenol compounds.

Vitamin C is a potent water-soluble antioxidant that plays a crucial role in neutralizing free radicals and protecting cells from oxidative stress. Strawberries are an excellent source of this essential nutrient.

In addition to vitamin C, strawberries also contain beneficial polyphenol antioxidants, including ellagic acid. These plant-based compounds have been researched for their potential to support healthy insulin sensitivity, joint health, and skin protection from sun damage.

The impressive FRAP score of up to 5.4 mmol of antioxidants per 3.5 ounces of wild strawberries demonstrates their exceptional antioxidant capacity. While cultivated strawberries may have slightly lower antioxidant levels, they still provide a rich source of these protective compounds.


Artichokes are a unique and nutritionally-dense vegetable that offer an impressive array of antioxidants. Contrary to popular belief, when you consume artichokes, you are actually eating the immature flower bud of the plant before it blossoms into a beautiful purple flower.

The key antioxidants found in artichokes are a group of polyphenol compounds called caffeoylquinic acids. These plant-based antioxidants have been studied for their potential benefits in supporting cardiovascular health, cholesterol management, and liver function.

The FRAP score of up to 4.7 mmol of antioxidants per 3.5 ounces of artichokes is a testament to their potent antioxidant capacity. These free radical-neutralizing compounds help protect cells from oxidative damage, which is a contributing factor in various chronic health conditions.

Does Cooking Affect Antioxidant Levels?

Cooking does affect antioxidant levels; however, how it affects them varies by cooking preparation. A study was done in the journal Antioxidants assessing three different cooking methods, frying, boiling, and steaming, on six different edible leaves that contained various antioxidants, including polyphenols and carotenoids. Results showed that frying reduced the number of antioxidants while boiling and steaming actually increased antioxidant levels in some of the leaves!  

Are Antioxidant Supplements Safe?

Antioxidants, as discussed above, can confer many health benefits by fighting free radicals. However, like many things in life, even too much of a good thing can turn bad. Elevated levels of certain antioxidants may not only not have benefits but may even negatively impact health. 

For example, in smokers, high levels of beta-carotene may increase the risk of lung cancer. High doses of vitamin E may raise the risk of prostate cancer and strokes. This is why it's crucial to work with a practitioner before starting any new supplement regime. It also highlights the importance of testing. Testing levels can take the guessing out of deciding which supplement is right or appropriate for you.

How to Test Antioxidant Levels

Antioxidant levels can be checked through various tests, including: 

DNA Oxidative Damage

The urinary marker 8-hydroxy-2'-Deoxyguanosine (8-OHdG) is an indicator of the current level of oxidative stress in the body. Research supports the use of 8-OHdG to evaluate the risk of degenerative diseases and cancers as it is a popular form of free radical oxidation and can give insight into DNA damage. The research done has primarily measured 8-OHdG after exposure to oxidants, including tobacco smoke, heavy metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and asbestos fibers. Doctors Data offers a single-marker 8-OHdG test, and this marker is also found on the Precision Analytical DUTCH Complete hormone test.  

Redox/Antioxidant Test

Cell Science Systems offers a Redox/Antioxidant Test that tests immune cells against over 40 various antioxidants, including fruits such as acai berry, camu camu, and noni berry; botanicals including milk thistle, elderberry, Andrographis, and lavender; and micronutrients including vitamin E, zinc, and CoQ10. This test shows how effective these various compounds would be to you if supplementation and/or increased intake occurred. 

Micronutrient Test 

A micronutrient test checks levels of various vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and more, giving their specific levels. Many micronutrients are antioxidants, including vitamin E, vitamin C, selenium, and zinc. Many micronutrient tests also check levels of glutathione, the powerhouse antioxidant. SpectraCell's Micronutrient Test measures 40 different micronutrients, giving your specific levels. 



Antioxidants are powerful molecules that can significantly alter our health. Antioxidants can be obtained through our diet, including glutathione from spinach, CoQ10 through meat, vitamin E through wheat germ, vitamin C through red peppers, and selenium through Brazil nuts. Additionally, foods with high amounts of numerous antioxidants include dark chocolate, pecans, blueberries, strawberries, and artichokes.

If you are curious about your body’s antioxidant levels, functional medicine can help to provide answers through various tests that can assess not only antioxidant levels but your body's response to various antioxidants and also the amount of oxidative damage. This information can help aim you in the right direction, whether it be increasing your intake of certain antioxidant-filled foods or if supplementation is appropriate. 

The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplement or making any changes to your diet or exercise routine.
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