Classification Of The AntiOxidants

Antioxidants occur naturally in the body and are present in many foods and herbs, especially fruits and vegetables. A well-balanced diet filled with foods containing antioxidants is recommended and is the best way to improve dietary requirements.

In order to get better understanding of antioxidants and their role in our body it is good to have a proper classification for them.

One of the major ways of classification is by Nutrient Type:



Protein (Amino Acids)

Enzymes and CoEnzymes



Ellagic acid





Other Antioxidants – including Water

As well, all antioxidants can be categorized into two types:

  • Non-enzymatic antioxidants work by interrupting free radical chain reactions. For example, having vitamin E around may interrupt a chain of free radical activity after only five reactions, instead of its snowballing into 100 reactions. Non-enzymatic antioxidants include vitamin C, vitamin E, plant polyphenols, carotenoids and glutathione (GSH).Glutathione has been called the “master antioxidant” and is found in every single cell of your body, maximizing the activity of all the other antioxidants.
  • Enzymatic antioxidants work by breaking down and removing free radicals. In general, these antioxidant enzymes flush out dangerous oxidative products by transforming them into hydrogen peroxide, then into water, in a multi-step process that requires a number of trace metal cofactors (copper, zinc, manganese and iron). You can’t supplement these enzymatic antioxidants orally—they must be produced in your body.

Most antioxidants found in foods and supplements are of the non-enzymatic type. They boost your enzymatic antioxidant defense system by doing a "first sweep," disarming the free radicals, which helps prevent depletion of your enzymatic antioxidants.

The principle enzymatic antioxidants are the following:

  • Superoxide dismutase (SOD): Assisted by copper, zinc, manganese and iron, SOD breaks down superoxide (which plays a major role in lipid peroxidation) into oxygen and hydrogen peroxide. SOD is present in nearly all aerobic cells and extracellular fluids.
  • Catalase (CAT): Converts hydrogen peroxide into water and oxygen (using iron and manganese cofactors), hence finishing up the detoxification process that SOD started.
  • Glutathione peroxidase (GSHpx) and glutathione reductase: These selenium-containing enzymes help break down hydrogen peroxide and organic peroxides into alcohols, and are particularly plentiful in your liver.

As you can see, these powerful enzymes do a great job in your body and turn toxins into harmless water!

Another categorization of antioxidants is founded on whether they are soluble in water (hydrophilic) or in lipids (hydrophobic). You need both types to protect your cells.

The interior of your cells and the fluid between them are composed mainly of water. But your cell membranes are made largely of fat. As I’m sure you know, oil and water don't mix. Substances that are soluble in water are not soluble in fat, and vice versa.

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Consequently, antioxidants can be classified/grouped as follows:

  • Water-soluble
  • Fat-soluble
  • Both water-soluble and fat-soluble

This is important because it determines where different antioxidants can be put to use by the cells:

  • within the cells or,
  • by the cell membranes or,
  • the cells' surrounding (such as, blood lipids)


  • Water-soluble antioxidants are present in aqueous fluids, such as your blood and the fluids within and around your cells, the cytosol, or cytoplasmic matrix. They work their magic on the blood plasma surrounding the cells, since they are not able to penetrate the cell membranes, which, generally speaking, are made of lipids (i.e. fats).

Vitamin C



Sulphur compounds








  • Fat-soluble ones work their magic on the cell membrane, which is made of mainly fats and lipids. The lipid-soluble antioxidants are the ones that protect your cell membranes from lipid peroxidation

Vitamin E

Vitamin A





  • While the ones that are both water and fat-soluble can work their magic on the cell membranes, as well as penetrating the cells to work on the inside of the cells; the inside of the cells contain water. One of the best examples could be Alpha-lipoic Acid (also called thioctic acid) that is a vitamin-like antioxidant, used in Europe to restore liver health, treat diabetes-related neuropathy and radiation sickness, and confer protective benefits against oxidative processes involved in degenerative sicknesses and premature aging.

Free radicals can strike the watery cell contents or the fatty cellular membrane, so the cell needs defenses for BOTH.

But solubility isn't the only variable among antioxidants. They also differ in terms of molecular size. There are small-molecule antioxidants and large-molecule protein antioxidants, which have different functions:

  • The primary function of the small molecule types is to mop up or “scavenge” the reactive oxygen species and carry them away through chemical neutralization. The main players in this category are vitamin C, vitamin E, lipoic acid, carotenoids, glutathione, and CoQ10.
  • The larger protein antioxidants tend to be the enzymes outlined above, as well as “sacrificial proteins” that absorb ROS and prevent them from attacking your essential proteins. Albumin is an example of one of these sacrificial proteins, which “take the bullet” for crucial enzymes and DNA.

Another Classification of Antioxidants based on How They Work

Antioxidants can also be defined or classified by how they work.

  • Some work by preventing the oxidative process before it can begin (Preventative). Such as, the antioxidant enzymes (produced by the body) or hydrogen from hydrogen enriched water.
  • Some (or most) work through neutralizing the free radicals by donating their electron to the free radical, and in the process becomes a free radical but of a lesser potent nature. And then this created free radical is then "saved" by another antioxidant, and the process continues until the "diluted" free radical is no longer a treat to our cells - (Chain Breaking)
  • And still there are some that work by way of inducing others to produce antioxidants, such as gluthation.

While the preventative and chain breaking workings antioxidants work directly on the free radicals, they are called Direct Antioxidants, there are some that induces or produces other antioxidants to carry out the work. These are called Indirect Antioxidants, and example of these are melatonin and curcumin.

Network Antioxidants

And in amongst these antioxidants above, there is a “specialized” group known as the “Network Antioxidants”. Antioxidants work better in a network, meaning that the sum of the benefits of the right combination of antioxidants in the right doses is much higher than the sum of the benefits of the individual antioxidants. This is exactly what Network Antioxidants is. They specialized in a sense that they “support” each other more than the others, and work very well with each other.

There are currently 5 known antioxidants in that Group. They come from different types of antioxidants (they are not listed in any particular order).

Introducing the Group of 5:

  1. Lipoic Acid- a type of Thiol (Protein) Antioxidants
  2. Vitamin E– a type of Vitamin
  3. Vitamin C – a type of Vitamin
  4. Coenzyme Q10 (commonly known as “Co Q10”) – a type of Coenzymes
  5. Glutathione- a type of Thiol (Protein) Antioxidants

Network Boosters

And then there is another group which supports the process. They may or may not be antioxidants themselves, but their support counts. The antioxidant network is a powerful ally to health. It can be enhanced by making sure there is sufficient intake of flavonoids, phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals found in foods, herbs and beverages (like tea). Below are lists a few noteworthy network boosters worth considering.

  • The Flavonoids Family
  • The Carotenoids Family
  • Selenium

Universal Antioxidant

Like our Blood Types, we have the Universal Donor, Blood Type O, and the Universal Recipient which is Blood Type AB.  In the Antioxidant World, there is currently only ONE known Universal Antioxidant, which is Alpha Lipoic Acid. Other Names : Lipoic Acid, Thioctic Acid

Its following characteristics won it its title of “Universal Antioxidant” :

  • Its ability to work in both fat and water soluble parts of the cells (main reason)
  • Its ability to recycle all of the antioxidants in Network Antioxidants group, including itself !

And finally the Master Antioxidant

Gluthatione antioxidant, is aptly named "Master" for its ability to regenerate itself and most antioxidants. It functions much like the "stem cell" of antioxidant.

Unfortunately, our antioxidant systems are not perfect, so as we age, cell parts damaged by oxidation accumulate. If your diet does not contain enough of these foods, a supplement can be used. These should be taken with meals twice per day and it is recommended to use multi-packs as opposed to single doses.


You may also like:

Free Radicals: Enemies Within. What Are They And How Are They Formed

Understanding Antioxidants. How Do They Work?

How Antioxidants Affect Our Health In General

How You Can Rate The Best Antioxidant? Is ORAC Score A Useful Tool?

How Can We Recognize Antioxidant Rich Food?

The Most Common Sources Of Antioxidants


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