Benefits of Exercise Reduced by Vitamins

Our quest for eternal youth is a funny thing.   We exercise to stay youthful and supplement with vitamins loaded with anti-oxidants to minimize the effects of aging.  Well, here’s some new research that indicates that this combination of exercise and vitamins may create an interaction that is undesirable.

Our bodies burn sugar in the cells of our muscles to create movement and normal function.   This is the foundation of metabolism.   There’s one catch, the muscle cell can’t recognize the presence of the sugar molecule on its own.  The sugar molecule is like a package left on the front porch by UPS, but no one rang the door bell to let you know that the package arrived so you can bring it into the house.  So enter insulin, a wonderful hormone manufactured by the pancreas that delivers a package of sugar to each muscle cell and rings the bell so the cell opens up and receives the sugar from the front porch.

It’s an amazing design, unless the cell stops answering the door when the bell rings.  This is what happens with type II diabetes, or insulin resistance, which  is nearly epidemic in our culture.   The cell stops recognizing the ringing door bell and the sugar packages start piling up on the front porch while the cell starves because of a lack of sugar that is just on the other side of the door.

Research has shown that the best way to reverse the process of type II diabetes insulin resistance is exercise.   Regular exercise has the ability to keep the cell listening for the door bell when insulin leaves a sugar package and even to reverse the process when the cell has lost the ability to hear the bell as with type II diabetes.   This is a good thing.  However, the universe has a sense of humor, because all of this burning sugar of our metabolism produces some highly reactive oxygen molecules (free radicals) that can cause damage to our cells the main reason behind our present theories on aging.  So what to do?  All this good stuff that keeps us healthy – exercise and oxygen –  is causing us to die!  Did I mention that the universe has a sense of humor?   Being the vain species that we are, we’ve found a simple solution by taking supplements of vitamins loaded with anti-oxidants to counteract the effects of all this sugar burning that we need to live.

Well not so fast.   Researchers at the University of Jena in Germany and the Harvard Medical School in Boston have found that when people take anti-oxidant supplements, specifically vitamin C and E, the beneficial effects of increased insulin sensitivity (hearing the door bell) is reduced if not eliminated by the anti-oxidants.  The researchers took 40 men placed them on a 4 week exercise regimen.  Half of the group took supplemental vitamin C (500 mg twice daily)  and vitamin E (400 iu once daily), while the other half did not supplement.   The study showed that the men who supplemented, saw no improvement in insulin sensitivity, while the men who did not supplement saw a significant increase in their body’s ability to respond to insulin.  This means that for someone trying to re-mediate a type II diabetes condition, the anti-oxidants prevented the proven benefits of exercise from occuring.

Additionally, the body seems to have a natural defense mechanism to the oxidative free radicals produced by metabolism and sugar burning.  Researchers also found that because the anti-oxidants were cleaning up all the free radicals, the body’s natural mechanism to handle the free radicals was suppressed.    Researchers also noted that this anti-oxidant conflict only happens with supplementation and does not happen with anti-oxidants consumed from fruits and vegetables.   Apparently there are other bio-active compounds in the complete fruit or vegetable that create a more complex synergy that promotes the optimum scenario – exercise and anti-oxidants working together.

So my conclusion to all of this:  if you are going to exercise, skip the vitamins and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.  If you are not going to exercise – do what ever you want, because with out the exercise it really won’t matter much while your insulin keeps ringing the door bell and no one answers.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

New York Times


About Paul Kulpinski, LMT

Paul Kulpinski is a licensed massage therapist, holistic wellness coach and co-founder of Mountain Waves Healing Arts in Flagstaff, Arizona with over 15 years experience in helping people achieve their optimum state of well being. Information contained in this blog should not be taken as medical advice. Readers are advised to validate the information presented here with other sources including your personal physician for information specific to you.
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4 Responses to Benefits of Exercise Reduced by Vitamins

  1. Chris Yevcak says:

    Paul, great insight and information on how cells process sugar for energy and how insulin is plays such a primary role in the function of metabolism.
    I will forward this on to my father who has type-II diabetes. One major question that I have is what level (or levels) of exercise are required to make the natural meabolic process premium? (especially for a 68-year old man).

    I’ts good to know that vitamin supplements are not a good substitute for exercise but even more shocking to know they do more harm than good. I”ll continue to abstain from using them.

  2. Holly Troy says:

    Curious – what kinds of supplements were used in the experiment? Synthetic or natural?

    I wonder what Dr. Weil would think of the study.

    I have to look into more studies, as I am a firm believer that our food supply does NOT offer optimal vitamins and minerals – and more exercise plus fruits and vegetables is not enough to sustain our bodies healthfully. Especially if the fruits and vegetables eaten are not organic. Americans, especially, simply eat too much processed foods, and we eat while we are stressed out. A huge part of the Diabetes problem.

    I have been very involved with supplements and nutrition for the last 20 years and have over and over again, seen them do good. The harm stories have most often been blown out of proportion with backing by pharmaceutical companies.

  3. Chris,

    Here’s a good article from WebMD that has information specific to your question about how much and the types of exercise that is needed to have an effect on type II diabetes ( Basically, they cover strength training and cardio workouts and they are recommending at least 20-40 minutes 3-4 times per week.

  4. Holly,

    While I can’t say what Dr. Weil might think, the researchers honed on supplemental vitamin C and vitamin E because of their anti-oxidant properties. I believe that in general, supplementation would certainly be a better choice than not if on a poor nutritional diet. It’s my guess that most people who are supplementing are probably getting balanced nutrition and adequate exercise – they’re probably supplementing as an “insurance policy” to ensure they’re covering all their bases. These are the folks who don’t need to supplement and as the research illustrates may be doing themselves more harm than good.

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