Vitamins E and C, beta-carotene, and other carotenoids as antioxidants

Am J Clin Nutr. 1995 Dec;62(6 Suppl):1315S-1321S. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/62.6.1315S.


Tocopherols and tocotrienols (vitamin E), ascorbic acid (vitamin C), and the carotenoids react with free radicals, notably peroxyl radicals, and with singlet molecular oxygen (1O2), which is the basis for their function as antioxidants. RRR-alpha-Tocopherol is the major peroxyl radical scavenger in biological lipid phases such as membranes or low-density lipoproteins. Ascorbic acid is present in aqueous compartments (eg, cytosol, plasma, and other body fluids) and can reduce the tocopherol radical; it also has several metabolically important cofactor functions in enzyme reactions, especially hydroxylations. These micronutrients need to be regenerated on oxidation in the biological setting, hence the need for further coupling to nonradical reducing systems such as glutathione-glutathione disulfide, dihydrolipoate-lipoate, or NADPH-NADP+ and NADH-NAD+. Carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, lycopene, and some oxycarotenoids, eg, zeaxanthin and lutein, exert antioxidant functions in lipid phases by quenching 1O2 or free radicals. There are pronounced differences in tissue carotenoid patterns, extending also to the distribution between the all-trans and various cis isomers of the respective carotenoids. Physical quenching leaves the structure intact, so that in this mode the carotenoids do not require a regeneration reaction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antioxidants / pharmacology*
  • Ascorbic Acid / pharmacology*
  • Carotenoids / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Vitamin E / pharmacology*
  • beta Carotene


  • Antioxidants
  • beta Carotene
  • Vitamin E
  • Carotenoids
  • Ascorbic Acid