Unless you’ve been living under a rock lately, I am sure you have read about a recent study published in May that has been a hot topic in the news. According to researchers in Germany and Boston, exercising to improve your metabolism or prevent diabetes and taking antioxidant supplementation like vitamins C and E don’t go hand-in-hand. In fact, news outlets are publishing headlines such as “Vitamins Found to Curb Exercise Benefits” and “Wait, Now Antioxidants are Bad?”
However, being a part of the industry and knowing that media coverage is usually negative towards vitamins and supplements, my first reaction was to question the reports. Thankfully, after digging a little deeper and getting beyond the hype created by the media, I found I wasn’t alone.
First, let me give you a little background (hopefully in layman’s terms) because trust me, you almost need a medical degree to read the study! Read the full article here: Antioxidants prevent health-promoting effects of physical exercise in humans. Now, on to the background.
Free radicals caused by oxidation can damage our bodies. Antioxidants are taken to crackdown on those free radicals when the body’s own defense system for combating oxidative damage isn’t enough.
The first recommendation by doctors given to people at risk of diabetes is “get more exercise.” It is known to have many beneficial effects on health, including the body’s sensitivity to insulin. When you exercise, muscle cells metabolize glucose, which causes the tissue-damaging oxygen molecules (free radicals) to be released.
The study says that those free radical molecules seem to increase the body’s sensitivity to insulin and may prevent Type II diabetes. So, taking antioxidants would seem to be counterintuitive.
The new study was based on a small population of 40 young, healthy men. They underwent a four-week exercise program (85 minutes per day), where they were given either 1,000 mg of vitamin C and 400 IU of vitamin E or a placebo every day.
Insulin sensitivity was measured at the beginning and end of the study. This measures how efficiently the body responds to insulin. Insulin resistance is a risk factor for diabetes, heart disease and other conditions.
In the men that received the placebo, the physical activity increased both insulin sensitivity and the levels of superoxide dismutase and glutathione peroxidase, which are the body’s natural antioxidant defenses. None of these measures increased in response to physical activity in those taking vitamins C and E.
Before anyone jumped to conclusions on such a complex issue one should have looked at the bigger picture. There have been many studies done on supplementing with vitamins C and E that found a positive interaction with exercise.
Earlier research found that adding vitamins C and E improves immune function in joggers, but not in sedentary individuals. Another study showed adding vitamin E and exercise improved heart and lung functions in men living at high altitudes, however exercise or vitamin E alone had no effect. Vitamin C has also been reported to decrease muscle soreness after exercise.
A quick search on nutraingredients.com resulted in many specialists in the industry questioning the validity of the claims from the study. Alexander Schauss, PhD, from AIBMR Life sciences said, “This is a small gender-biased study of 40 male subjects, 25 to 35 years of age. When I read through the study for the first time I had to wonder how could the authors have come up with such a title for their paper.”
Dr. Schauss also noted that the authors presented no evidence of adverse effects by any of the individuals from vitamin C and E supplementation. Dr. Shauss said it best: “This paper does NOT deserve media attention for many reasons, [it certainly does not deserve] headline news that might discourage the use of vitamin C and/or E by individuals engaged in exercise routines, or those contemplating exercise.”
The study has gotten a huge response from national and international papers, but it took a lot of digging to find someone who at the very least questioned it. This is an example of why we should take preliminary data from news reports with a grain of salt and research all sides of a story ourselves to find the bigger picture.