The gastrointestinal tract: a major site of antioxidant action?

Free Radic Res. 2000 Dec;33(6):819-30. doi: 10.1080/10715760000301341.


Diets rich in fruits and vegetables delay the onset of many age-related diseases, and contain a complex mixture of antioxidants (including ascorbate, carotenoids, vitamin E and other phenolics such as the flavonoids). However, diet also contains pro-oxidants, including iron, copper, H2O2, haem, lipid peroxides and aldehydes. Nitrite is frequently present in diet, leading to generation of reactive nitrogen species in the stomach. In considering the biological importance of dietary antioxidants, attention has usually focussed on those that are absorbed through the gastrointestinal tract into the rest of the body. In the present paper we develop the argument that the high levels of antioxidants present in certain foods (fruits, vegetables, grains) and beverages (e.g. green tea) play an important role in protecting the gastrointestinal tract itself from oxidative damage, and in delaying the development of stomach, colon and rectal cancer. Indeed, carotenoids and flavonoids do not seem to be as well absorbed as vitamins C and E. Hence their concentrations can be much higher in the lumen of the GI tract than are ever achieved in plasma or other body tissues, making an antioxidant action in the GI tract more likely. Additional protective mechanisms of these dietary constituents (e.g. effects on intercellular communication, apoptosis, cyclooxygenases and telomerase) may also be important.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antioxidants* / administration & dosage
  • Antioxidants* / therapeutic use
  • Carotenoids / therapeutic use
  • Diet
  • Flavonoids / therapeutic use
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Gastrointestinal Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Humans


  • Antioxidants
  • Flavonoids
  • Carotenoids