Antioxidants and Vitamins


We hear a lot of talk about how good “antioxidants”  are for a healthy body.

They are even more important for someone with LHON or carrying a LHON gene mutation.

Antioxidants in the diet or diet supplements

The common antioxidants are Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E and Selenium.

There are many chemicals in the diet, especially fresh fruit and vegetables that act as antioxidants in the body.

sometimes scientists call Co-enzyme Q10 an antioxidant.  This is very common in all the foods we eat.

Antioxidants are essential to the normal processes going on inside the body.  They also “mop up” dangerous chemicals called Reactive Oxygen Species or Free Radicals.

Antioxidants as a therapy


Doctors often use daily antioxidant supplements as a therapy, or part of a therapy.

This is to help the body keep the number of Reactive Oxygen Species or Free Radicals down as low as possible.

Antioxidants usually work as part of a “chain” of chemicals.

One antioxidant reacts with an ROS to make it safe.  It then needs to be “recycled” so it can work again. It reacts with a second antioxidant and so on.

A bucket chain representing antioxidants in the cell passing protons from one to another safely
A bucket chain representing antioxidants in the cell passing protons from one to another safely

You can think of antioxidants working together like people in a bucket line.  They are passing electrons around like the people passing the water along.


Takinn a lot of one antioxidant is not as good as keeping a good well-balanced diet with all of the antioxidants.

This is like one person in the chain being bigger than everyone else. the whole chain still can’t move the water any quicker.

Antioxidant bucket chain 4



Oxidation and Reduction

Many vital processes inside your body depend on the movment of electrons from one chemical to another.

If chemical A passes an electron to another chemical called B.

A is Oxidised because it loses the electron, and B is Reduced because it gains an electron.

Diagram of electron transfer from an Oxidesed molecule to a Reduced molecule



You can think of an electron as just a very tiny particle carrying a negative electrical charge.

The mitochondria inside your body break up molecules of food and pass high-energy electrons along a chain of chemicals until eventually they are used to make water  by combining Hydrogen and Oxygen.

An “oxidant” is a chemical that is “hungry” for electrons.  An oxidant called a Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) or Free Radical  is jiggling around inside the cell, trying to “grab” electrons from anything it touches.  This can damage the delicate proteins and other chemicals inside the cell.

An “antioxidant” protects the cell from ROS or Free Radicals by reacting with them.

The antioxidant can safely give an electron to the ROS molecule without being damaged itself.

Some “antioxidants” are part of this process

Inside the mitochondria, electrons pass along a chain of chemicals to release energy from food. A chemical in the chain can receive electrons, then pass them on to another chemical.

So chemical A is oxidised by Chemical B.

Chemical B is oxidised by chemical C.

and so on.

Electrons moving between 3 chemicals


Ubiquinol is a good example of a chemical that behaves like chemical B.  It gains electrons from one place (Complex I or Complex II) and then loses them to another place (Complex III).

Antioxidants can also act outside the process


The normal chemical processes in the mitochondria make some ROS or Free Radicals. When one of the Complex proteins is damaged by a LHON gene mutation, the process of transferring electrons is less controlled, and more ROS or Free Electrons “escape”.

Other chemical processes going on can also make ROS or Free Radicals as by-products.

Antioxidant chemicals can react with these dangerous chemicals and make them safe before they do damage inside the mitochondria or inside the cell.

Sometimes doctors call this “scavenging” ROS or “scavenging” Free Radicals.

A chemical might accidentally lose an electron and become a ROS.

This might happen if it touches part of the chain, such as chemical B, and loses an electron to it.  This is shown by chemical X losing an electron to chemical B in the diagram.

An Antioxidant can stop the ROS doing damage to its surroundings by reacting with it. the antioxidant loses an electron to X and makes it “safe”.

Antioxidants react with Reactive Oxygen Species Antioxidant-role-1



What are Vitamins?


Vitamins are chemicals that we can’t make for ourselves. We have to have them in the food we eat.

A Vitamin Deficiency is a disorder caused by lack of a vitamin.

Here are some  ways you might have a vitamin deficiency.

  • You might not have enough of the vitamin in the food you eat.
  • You might have a medical condition that stops you absorbing the vitamin.
  • You might be eating something that stops you absorbing the vitamin.

There are some vitamins that we can store inside the body. We don’t have to eat these every single day, but we’d be in trouble living without them for long.

One of the main aims of a “healthy diet” is to make sure that your body gets the right amount of vitamins.

Harvard Medical School – getting your vitamamins and minerals through a healthy diet

National Institute on Aging – Vitamins and Minerals

Mayo Clinic – Nutrition and Healthy Eating for Vegetarians

WebMD Food Sources for Vitamins and Minerals

Vitamin Poisoning

Some vitamins are essential in ismall doses, and poisonous or toxic in large doses.  That harmless-seeming vitamin capsule you buy from the health food store might kill you if you take too much!

Always check with a qualified medical professional before taking vitamins or other food supplements.

Some food supplements have high doses of vitamins even if they are not sold as vitamin pills.  An example is fish liver oil.  That has high doses of vitamin A.

For more information see the Medscape article on Vitamin Toxicity

Antioxidant Vitamins

Vitamins A, C and E are powerful antioxidants.  They are often sold together in a combined daily antioxidant tablet.

Vitamin B3

This vitamin is essential for the function of mitochondria.

Doctors think that a form of Vitamin B3 called Nicotinamide Riboside seems to encourage the body cells to make more mitochondria.  This is a way for the body to fight mitochondrial disorders. (24711540)(24838280) (25974041)(24838280)(23868305)(24814483)(24184921)

Vitamin B12

Some cases of LHON seem to have been triggered by Vitamin B12 deficiency. (23572439)(16705513)(16523300)

The vitamin deficiency might be caused by an inability to absorbe Vitamin B12.  This is a medical condition called Pernicious Anemia.

Vitamin B12 Deficiency can also be linked to heavy drinking and smoking.  (23398673)

Sometimes the patients’s eyesight has improved when the vitamin deficiency is treated. (23506347)

CYANOCOBALAMIN ( a common form of Vitamin B12).

Many drug manufacturers warn that people with LHON or carrying a LHON gene mutation should not take Cyanocobalamin.  This seems to be based on a very old  (1960’s) theory that optic nerve damage in many diseases, including LHON, is due to a build up of cyanide in the body.  This theory was discredited in the 1980’s (3479705)

Biochemistry of Brain  by Sudhir Kumar published in 1980  refers to this theory in the section on Vitamin B12, effects of alcohol, tobacco and LHON.  This might explain the source of this idea.


This page was last updated September 21 2015


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