Oxidation & Reduction Reactions in the Metabolism: Process & Significance

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  • 0:01 ATP
  • 0:46 Redox Reactions
  • 2:29 Cellular Respiration
  • 4:17 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

Oxidation and reduction reactions, collectively known as redox reactions, take place in body cells and are important for the production of energy, namely ATP. Oxidation involves the loss of electrons and reduction involves the gain of electrons.


Every minute of every day your body is building bones, repairing tissues, moving your muscles and performing all types of processes vital to your existence. All these actions require energy, and you get raw energy from the foods you eat, but there's a problem; you see, your body doesn't run on cheeseburger energy or broccoli power. So in order for the body to have energy, it must change the energy from the food into the form of energy your body likes to use, namely ATP, which stands for adenosine triphosphate. To produce ATP, your body cells use oxidation-reduction reactions, so let's take a look at how this works.

Redox Reactions

When we consider metabolism, which is the chemical processes of the body, oxidation and reduction reactions are best friends, meaning one cannot exist without the other. Because of this tight relationship, we often refer to them collectively as redox reactions, which is simply a combination of the terms reduction and oxidation reactions. And, like best human friends, these best chemical friends share things, namely electrons.

We know a few things about electrons. First of all, electrons always carry a negative charge. Secondly, electrons do not exist by themselves, instead they need to be attached to an atom. In fact, when you look at any atom, you see electrons circling around the outer shells, kind of like planets revolving around little solar systems. Third, when electrons move it's a form of energy. In fact, the electricity that you plug into in your home is really just the movement of electrically-charged particles, like electrons.

Like your home, your body generates energy through the movement of electrons, and this movement takes place within reactions that are called oxidation and reduction. Specifically, we see that oxidation reactions involve the loss of electrons, and reduction reactions involve the gain of electrons. You can recall how these reactions work by using the simple acronym OIL RIG. OIL stands for Oxidation Is Loss, meaning electrons are lost in this reaction, whereas RIG stands for Reduction Is Gain, meaning electrons are gained in reduction reactions.

Cellular Respiration

These reduction and oxidation reactions can be used to explain how we get energy from the foods we eat. Basically, electrons lost from the food molecules help to make ATP. For example, here we have a red food molecule that meets up with another molecule that we colored green:

Movement of electrons
red molecule with electron and green molecule

If we were to move an electron from the red food molecule to the green molecule, the red molecule would lose an electron and be oxidized - remember the acronym OIL tells us that Oxidation Is Loss. The green one is gaining an electron, and because we know from our acronym RIG that Reduction Is Gain, this molecule is being reduced. This movement of electrons produces energy along with a couple of byproducts.

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