Antioxidants Defined

What are antioxidants?

Antioxidants is a word frequently used in the media but does anyone really know what it is? Here is a simple, illustrated definition that while based on science is not in the usual scientific terminology that few of us understand.
Antioxidants are a classification of several organic substances, period. Some of the more commonly recognized antioxidants are vitamins C and E, the mineral Selenium and catechins (pronounced cat e kins). One catechin we hear a lot about in relationship to green tea is EGCG.
Think of antioxidants as the 1st generation in a family tree.

Antioxidants are thought to be vital for maintaining good health, but why?

Antioxidants deactivate the free radicals in our system by attaching themselves to these cell scavengers before they can do any harm. Free radicals are the by-product of natural cell processes, but they can also be caused by exposure to various environmental factors like smoking, diet and radiation. These free radicals damage the DNA in cells which leads to diseases such as cancer. They can also oxidize cholesterol which leads to clogged arteries, heart attacks and stroke. Think about it, antioxidant or no oxidation.
We can think of the free radicals as the family nuisance.

So what are polyphenols and what is their relationship with antioxidants?

Some antioxidants are called polyphenols because they contain a phenolic ring in their chemical make up, so polyphenols are antioxidants.
Think of our family tree analogy, antioxidants are the first generation and polyphenols are their offspring, or second generation in the tree.

How do flavonoids play a part?

Flavonoids are a sub-group, or the off spring of polyphenols, so they too are antioxidants and the third generation in our family tree.
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Beth Johnston, a tea importer and noted tea expert, publishes an informative monthly newsletter on tea, tea history, health and lifestyle enhancements. To learn more about the world of tea, join her free newsletter at or visit


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