According to Jeffrey Blumberg, PhD, a “free radical” is a damaged cell that is missing a critical molecule. The damaged cell actively searches for the missing molecule, so it can be balanced. In the process, it injures other cells and damages DNA. This behavior sets up a stressful environment conducive to disease.
Antioxidants act can “heal” free radicals. They can “donate an electron to a rampaging free radical and neutralize it, thus reducing its capacity to damage.”
The principle micronutrient (vitamin) antioxidants are vitamin E, beta-carotene, and vitamin C. Melatonin, a naturally occurring hormone, is also an antioxidant. Flavonoids and polyphenols are antioxidants found in food. Examples are quercetin, luteolin, hesperetin, and catetchin.
Both vitamin C and E are often underrepresented in modern diets. The average adult needs 15 mg of vitamin E daily. Women need 75 mg per day of vitamin C, and men, 90 mg per day.