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Antioxidants prevent health-promoting effects of physical exercise

“Antioxidants prevent health-promoting effects of physical exercise in humans”

This is the title of a ground-breaking paper by a highly respected group of scientists (Ristow et al. 2009).   It is already received more than 320 citations in other peer-reviewed journals. That is phenomenal for any paper, let alone a paper that is just 4 or 5 years old.  Still, when someone posted the paper on a professional board as a topic of interest today, some readers tried to shoot it down as either sounding like “crap” or being old news of little interest.  The fact of the matter is it is a big-news high-impact paper that has led to a lot of interesting additional research.    All nine team members:

  • Michael Ristow
  • Kim Zarsea
  • Andreas Oberbach
  • Nora Kloting
  • Marc Birringer
  • Michael Kiehntopf
  • Michael Stumvoll
  • C. Ronald Kahne
  • Matthias Bluher

Deserve recognition and respect for the work they have done.  And generous license fees for replicas of their lab coats and various, sundry other merchandise such as that enjoyed by Dr. Who.  Dr. Who is frankly the envy of us all.

As with many papers, articles and books, the title does not tell the entire story.  If it did there would have been no need for hundreds of other researchers to continue working in this area.  While

Antioxidants prevent health-promoting effects of physical exercise in humans

Fighting about Anti-oxidants?

A Flatt posed in front of CrossFit Seven ladies Toilet. Don’t fight over antioxidants. Its going to end badly.

is a title that sounds like antioxidants should be consigned to the wastebasket the paper has a more interesting message.  Their purpose was to evaluate:

“the possibility that ROS are required for the insulin-sensitizing capabilities of physical exercise in healthy humans and that commonly used antioxidants, such as vitamin C and vitamin E, may abrogate the health-promoting effects of both physical exercise and oxidative stress in humans.”

ROS means Reactive Oxidizing Species.  ROS are what anti-oxidants are supposed to protect against.

The study found that giving healthy young men 1000mg or Vitamin C and 400IU of Vitamin E interfered with a beneficial effect of exercise.  That effect was increasing insulin sensitivity.  This is very important for diabetics.  Diabetics are encouraged to exercise in order to increase their insulin sensitivity.  If a diabetic takes vitamin C and/or vitamin E he or she may not benefit as much from exercise.  This doesn’t mean that anti-oxidants are bad.  Its that ROS and anti-oxidants are in a much more complicated relationship than we thought.  And that we should be careful with what we do to ourselves in the name of protecting our health.

ROS apparently play important signaling roles. In some contexts we need them. It is possible that taking high doses of anti-oxidants can interfere with the important function of ROS.

Ristow M, Zarse K, Oberbach A, Klöting N, Birringer M, Kiehntopf M, Stumvoll M, Kahn CR, & Blüher M (2009). Antioxidants prevent health-promoting effects of physical exercise in humans. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 106 (21), 8665-70 PMID: 19433800


Ristow M (2012). Interview with Michael Ristow. Aging, 4 (1) PMID: 22317964


Vitamin C Fitness and Performance

Vitamin C may help reduce pain of exertion during intense exercise

The Pain of CrossFit WODs

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Knowing you look awesome can help make workouts easier too.

The agony of a CrossFit WOD may be worse than the agony of any other sport. There are many little voices to that big voice telling you to slow down. Let’s not dwell on that voice. Let’s dissect it a little. Two things pushing you to ring the quit bell are core temperature and insufficient oxygen. Read this article for more information. Another thing is pain. Some research has been done on the discomfort side of exercise. Researchers measure “perceived level of exertion.” Research on intake of Vitamin C and “perceived level of exertion” indicates taking vitamin C supplements (500 mg/day) results in a lower rating of how hard the workout was. Taking vitamin C once a day also lowered heart rates compared to people who took a placebo during a 4 week exercise program. That is interesting.

Should I take Vitamin C before a CrossFit WOD?

It might be worth trying during CrossFit WOD competitions. Low vitamin C intake is associated with higher levels of fatigue. Taking a supplement if your vitamin C intake from diet is good might not help. It hasn’t been studied yet. Vitamin C has a history of being touted as a cure-all. Cure-alls are things we should be suspicious of. Along with writers who don’t know that a preposition is not something one ends a sentence with.  There is also some evidence that taking vitamin C before a challenging workout can block the body’s production of its own anti-oxidants, which might not be good.

In the meantime Vitamin C may be helpful for CrossFit WOD competitors for whom every rep counts. It should not be taken before every workout. Exercise causes the body to produce its own anti-oxidants. And these may be very important in the falling dominos of our physiology. Tweaking one thing may tweak that which is better left untweaked. As an example, taking vitamin C may result in your body synthesizing less of its own anti-oxidants.  Best to eat a good diet with lots of vegetables and fruit.

Huck CJ, Johnston CS, Beezhold BL, & Swan PD (2013). Vitamin C status and perception of effort during exercise in obese adults adhering to a calorie-reduced diet. Nutrition (Burbank, Los Angeles County, Calif.), 29 (1), 42-5 PMID: 22677357