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.