The ABCs of Antioxidants

Why They’re So Important
damaged and mutated cells

The human body is under constant threat of attack from external forces including bacteria, viruses, and pollutants. There’s also a menace from within, in the form of free radicals.

“The body generates free radicals as the inevitable byproducts of turning food into energy,” according to Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Free radicals are also formed after exercising or exposure to cigarette smoke, air pollution, and sunlight.” A buildup of free radicals in the body leads to oxidative stress, which in turn causes damage at the cellular level.

Cue the Antioxidants

Nutrients with antioxidant properties include vitamins C and E, the minerals manganese and selenium, and carotenoids such as beta carotene, along with a host of other substances: Glutathione (pronounced gloota-thigh-own) and coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) are among the best known.

While the body manufactures some of the antioxidants it needs, others come from foods, notably vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Dietary supplements provide some antioxidants including vitamins C and E.

Why The Body Needs Them

The word “antioxidant” describes the main function of a substance, not the substance itself. Among its other jobs, an antioxidant gives up an electron to convert a dangerous free radical to a harmless molecule.

“There are thought to be hundreds and possibly thousands of substances that can act as antioxidants,” according to registered dietitian nutritionist Megan Ware, RDN, LD. “Each has its own role and can interact with others to help the body work effectively. Each antioxidant serves a different function and is not interchangeable with another. This is why it is important to have a varied diet.”

Glutathione: An Antioxidant’s Antioxidant

Called “the mother of all antioxidants” by Mark Hyman, MD, founder and senior advisor of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, glutathione is “the master detoxifier and maestro of the immune system.”

Made up of the amino acids cysteine, glutamine, and glycine, glutathione is a tripeptide compound that packs a punch in terms of its ability to remove free radicals and toxins from the body. This antioxidant is “the most critical and integral part of your detoxification system,” Dr. Hyman says, because toxins stick to glutathione, “which then carries them into the bile . . . and out of the body.”

Click to See Our Sources

“Antioxidant supplements: What you need to know,” National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health,, rev. 7/23

“Antioxidants,” The Nutrition Source, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health,

“The effects of 3 weeks of oral glutathione supplementation on whole body insulin sensitivity in obese males with and without type 2 diabetes: A randomized trial” by S.D. Sondergard et al., Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 9/21,

“Glutathione: The mother of all antioxidants” by Mark Hyman,

“How can antioxidants benefit our health?” by M. Ware,, 3/31/23

Setria Glutathione

Setria, a branded form of glutathione found in a wide variety of supplements, is absorbed orally and enters cells to enhance the glutathione content of critical tissues and support the body's primary defense against free radicals. Find it in Code Age, Healthy Origins, Emerald Labs, or any of the products listed here.


Nan Fornal

Nan Fornal has experience with fiction, nonfiction, and technical publications, working closely with book and magazine publishers from from first edit to final proofing. She has worked with Exeter Press, Boston magazine, and self-publishers alike.