|Human study shows: Antioxidant supplements hamper "gains" in elderly individuals, as well. The effects appears to be less pronounced than in younger trainees, though.|
The previous research
By then, Ristow, Zarse, Oberbach et al. had already gotten quite some public attention, when they published the results of an experiment that involved 19 prevously untrained and 20 pretrained healthy young men, a combination of vitamin C (1000 mg/day) and vitamin E (400 IU/day), 4 weeks of training and an analysis of the effects on blood glucose management:
"Exercise increased parameters of insulin sensitivity (GIR and plasma adiponectin) only in the absence of antioxidants in both previously untrained (P < 0.001) and pretrained (P < 0.001) individuals. This was paralleled by increased expression of ROS-sensitive transcriptional regulators of insulin sensitivity and ROS defense capacity, peroxisome-proliferator-activated receptor gamma (PPARgamma), and PPARgamma coactivators PGC1alpha and PGC1beta only in the absence of antioxidants (P < 0.001 for all). Molecular mediators of endogenous ROS defense (superoxide dismutases 1 and 2; glutathione peroxidase) were also induced by exercise, and this effect too was blocked by antioxidant supplementation." (Ristow. 2009)Despite the fact that these results clearly indicate that antioxidant supplementation (in high enough doses) is counter-indicated, researchers and more importantly practitioners have long returned to their old habits, conducting study after study on the benefits of antioxidants and popping the corresponding pills a whole industry whose sales this year are worth $31,000,000,000 and who expects to add another billion $US to its sales over the next 4-5 years.
learn more). I would thus be surprised if the whole issue would be settled anywhere in the close future. If anything, I'd suppose we may identify an age- and exercise-dependent inflammation threshold you have to exceed before additional antioxidants eventually make sense.A study like the one by Thomas Bjørnsen would thus be bad news and it's probably no coincidence that it was up to master student and his supervisors, Sveinung Berntsen Stølevik, Gøran Paulsen, Ken Joar Hetlelid to generate further evidence that the halo of health, longevity and endless youth that surrounds the use of antioxidant supplements could be nothing but an optical illusion.
What does damage in the young, does not help in the elderly
If you have been following my previous posts on the mitohormesis concept you may have read me write that logic dictates that elderly individuals are the ones who are more likely to benefit from the use of antioxidants. Their weakened immune system does not allow for the a similarly rapid and complete restoration of muscular and cellular damage in general.
Against that background it appears only reasonable that older physical culturists would be well advised to keep the damage to their mitochondria in check; and 1000 mg of vitamin C and 235 mg of vitamin E per day don't sound like the worst way to do just that. It is thus only reasonable that Bjørnsen's research hypothesis reads:
"Supplementation with vitamin C and E in high daily dosages (1000 mg and 235 mgSo, if there was a hidden agenda or a bias to deliver the expected results, it would not have favored an outcome like this:
per day, respectively) will enhance adaptations to resistance training, i.e. increased
muscle thickness, lean mass and one repetition maximum in the exercises: leg press,
leg extension and scott curl." (Bjørnsen. 2013; my emphasis)
|Figure 1: Difference of training effects in vit C + E group compared to placebo; all values rel. to placebo (Bjørnsen. 2013)|Table 1: Overview of the exercise program - certainly not a bad one (Bjørnsen. 2013)
- 3 full-body sessions per week,
- an emphasis on free weight exercises where all the major muscle groups were included,
- two of the sessions each week were “moderate” → 8-10 rep, with 1 min break between sets), one was varied between “heavy” → 3- 5 rep, with 2 min break between sets and “light” → 13-15 rep, with 45 seconds break between sets every second week.
- the number of sets per exercise was increased progressively from 1 to 4 sets during the first 10 weeks, and then reduced with 1 set each of the last 2 weeks of the intervention (tapering).
Maximal growth? Only with proper stress
- Baird et al. Vitamins and nutrition supplements sales in U.S. Health, Nutrition & Fitness Report 2012.
- Bjørnsen T. The effect of supplementation with vitamin C and E on muscle growth and maximal strength during 12 weeks of resistance exercise in elderly men. University of Agder, 2013.
- Ristow M, Zarse K, Oberbach A, Klöting N, Birringer M, Kiehntopf M, Stumvoll M, Kahn CR, Blüher M. Antioxidants prevent health-promoting effects of physical exercise in humans. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 May 26;106(21):8665-70.
- Ristow M, Zarse K. How increased oxidative stress promotes longevity and metabolic health: The concept of mitochondrial hormesis (mitohormesis). Exp Gerontol. 2010 Jun;45(6):410-8.
- Stewart VH, Saunders DH, Greig CA. Responsiveness of muscle size and strength to physical training in very elderly people: A systematic review. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2013 Oct 24.