An antioxidant is a molecule that inhibits the oxidation of other molecules. Oxidation is a chemical reaction that transferselectrons or hydrogen from a substance to an oxidizing agent. Oxidation reactions can produce free radicals. In turn, these radicals can start chain reactions. When the chain reaction occurs in a cell, it can cause damage or death to the cell. Antioxidants terminate these chain reactions by removing free radical intermediates, and inhibit other oxidation reactions. They do this by being oxidized themselves, so antioxidants are often reducing agents such as thiols, ascorbic acid, or polyphenols.
As oxidative stress appears to be an important part of many human diseases, the use of antioxidants in pharmacology is intensively studied, particularly as treatments for stroke and neurodegenerative diseases. Moreover, oxidative stress is both the cause and the consequence of disease.
Antioxidants are widely used in dietary supplements and have been investigated for the prevention of diseases such as cancer,coronary heart disease and even altitude sickness. Although initial studies suggested that antioxidant supplements might promote health, later large clinical trials with a limited number of antioxidants detected no benefit and even suggested that excess supplementation with certain putative antioxidants may be harmful. Antioxidants also have many industrial uses, such aspreservatives in food and cosmetics and to prevent the degradation of rubber and gasoline