If there's just one thing to know about the antioxidant network, it's that the components that make it up work as a team, not independently, as originally thought. Thanks to Dr. Lester Packer, a pre-eminent cell biologist, we now know that the benefits of antioxidants combined are much more powerful than the individual antioxidants put together.
See my page, How Do Antioxidants Work? to investigate this further.
Dr. Packer, who has over 50 years of research in the field, is regarded as the world's foremost authority on antioxidants. He has dubbed what he considers the most significant group of them as the antioxidant network.
The primary components of the antioxidant network are:
These are by no means the only antioxidants that play a significant role in your health. Working with this network are certain plant phytochemicals: the bioflavonoids and carotenoids, and the trace mineral selenium.
In addition to these, there are many other specialized antioxidants
that you'll want to know about. You'll find them all here, throughout
The primary job of this network is to continually replenish the other members when they are lost through oxidative stress. When one member of the network neutralizes a free radical, it becomes a free radical itself, although much weaker. It is then replenished by one or more of the other network members. The newly regenerated molecule moves on to find and repair another free radical molecule.
This cycle then repeats itself continuously, maintaining a healthy balance in your body. This process of cell oxidation and recovery happens more times than you could imagine—about 10,000 times every day for each of the trillions of cells in your body.
The Network works as a team.
Although these members of the network all work together, each has its own distinct function. Because each cell in your body has a fat-based membrane (outer shell) and a water-based nucleus (center), it needs different antioxidants in different areas.
Fat-soluble vitamin E and coenzyme Q-10 protect the fatty cell
membrane and the mitochondria, while water-based vitamin C and
glutathione protect the cell interior. Lipoic acid has the unique
ability to go anywhere. One member of the network rescues another one
when they become oxidized by free radicals. This clearly demonstrates
the principle that you need all of these antioxidants in sufficient amounts.
Your body normally makes its own supply of lipoic acid, glutathione and CoQ-10, but this ability declines drastically with age. By age 40, you may be producing only enough of these to meet your body's most basic metabolic needs, and not enough to get any protection against oxidative stress. The network then becomes overwhelmed with work. It doesn't see problems and fails to respond when it should, and that's when diseases take hold.
Your diet is not a reliable source of these antioxidants. Since there are no food sources high enough in vitamin E, lipoic acid, and CoQ-10, supplements are the only way to get therapeutic amounts. This becomes increasingly more important as you get older and your needs increase, while at the same time, your body's ability to manufacture these critical antioxidants is diminishing.
You can learn much more about these important antioxidants by going to the individual pages for each one; just click on the link for the antioxidant you're interested in: