Antioxidants and the liver
Date: 2017-02-02
Author: Corinne Bett BHSc Nat, Dip RM, Cert IV Nursing
Access: Public

Antioxidants are well known for their health benefits. Often derived from plants, they come in the form of phytochemicals that protect the plant from external damage in their environment. Antioxidants have a similar protective effect in the human body, exerting a safeguard against damaging free radicals found both in the external environment and the body, as a result of normal metabolism. But did you know that your body can also make its own antioxidants?

What antioxidants can be found in the body?

The main antioxidants present in the body include enzymes (catalase, glutathione peroxidase, superoxide dismutase), small molecules (vitamin E, vitamin C) and the sulfhydryl protein group.1 The liver synthesises many of the antioxidants our body uses, the most important being glutathione. This is the most powerful antioxidant the body produces and recycles, and is made from the amino acids cysteine, glycine, and glutamate.2

What is antioxidant ‘deficiency’?

Sometimes the body may not be producing enough antioxidant support to help defend cells as optimally as it could. This may put the body into a state of ‘oxidative stress’, whereby the antioxidant defence capabilities are outweighed by oxidative processes, both from the internal and external environment.3 Signs of oxidative stress can vary depending on the individual but may include:

  • Increased signs of ageing such as premature wrinkles and greying hair
  • Increased susceptibility to infections
  • Sensitivity to noise
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Memory loss and/or brain fog
  • Muscle and/or joint pain

What issues can affect the body’s synthesis of antioxidants?

The antioxidant defence system of the body is working under constant pressure from our modern way of life. Some factors that may effect the body’s ability to produce antioxidants include:

  • Poor diet (low in antioxidant containing fruits and vegetables)
  • Environmental influences e.g. pollution, pesticides in the diet
  • Chronic inflammation
  • Nervous system stress
  • Genetic factors: related to poor liver detoxification and methylation ability.3

What dietary changes may help antioxidant ‘deficiency’?

There are various dietary choices that can help the body to produce the antioxidant support it needs:

  • Adequate dietary protein: will ensure there are sufficient amino acids needed to produce antioxidants such as glutathione.3
  • Selenium is used in the synthesis of several antioxidant enzymes, including glutathione peroxidase and superoxide dismutase.2
  • Vitamin C is a highly effective antioxidant that also regenerates other antioxidants in the body, such as glutathione, tocopherol (vitamin E) and flavonoids.2
  • Vitamin B2 and B3 are both involved in the regeneration of glutathione.2
  • Alpha-lipoic acid is an important antioxidant which has the ability to regenerate other antioxidants including glutathione, vitamin C and vitamin E.2
  • Minerals such as zinc, copper and manganese help to regenerate the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase.2
  • Resveratrol (found in some berries and grapes) can help with the synthesis of gluthatione.4
  • Glutathione is found in fresh fruits and vegetables including asparagus, avocado and garlic, as well as eggs and whey protein.5 Glutathione may also be taken in supplement form to provide antioxidant support.2


  1. Brody T. Nutritional Biochemistry. San Diego: Academic Press, 1999.
  2. Natural Medicine Comprehensive Database 2015,
  3. Hechtman L. Clinical naturopathic medicine. Chatswood: Elsevier, 2012.
  4. Wenzel E, Somoza V. Metabolism and bioavailability of trans-resveratrol. Mol Nutr Food Res 2005;49(5):472-481.
  5. Osiecki H. The nutrient bible. Eagle farm: Bio Concepts, 2008.