If you have type 2 diabetes, you know that regular sustained exercise is one of the best and easiest ways to manage the disease. At the same time, proper nutrition-eating low glycemic foods, avoiding carbohydrates, and taking supplements, such as vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids-is the other key to non-medicinal control of blood sugar levels.
But what happens if some of the vitamins you’ve been told over the years are essential components to your diabetes management turn out to work against the beneficial effects of exercise?
A joint German and American research team has found that exercisers who take vitamins C and E for their antioxidant effects may actually experience decreased insulin sensitivity, thus negating one of the major benefits of exercise. Additionally, the vitamins, intended to combat damage from reactive oxygen molecules that are liberated by the body’s metabolization of glucose during exercise, may actually inhibit the body’s own built-in antioxidant ability.
Antioxidants have long been touted as a way to slow the aging process and prevent the cumulative damage brought on by reactive oxygen compounds. But it turns out that while exercise creates these free-ranging oxygen molecules, it also “turns on” the body’s own natural defenses against them. In other words, the vitamins, although consumed with good intent, work against the body rather than for it. By destroying the reactive oxygen before the body can get to it, the vitamins short-circuit a natural process that is one of the chief benefits of exercise.
The researchers were led by Dr. Michael Ristow, a nutritionist at the University of Jena in Germany, who also worked with a team from the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston. They tested their suspicion that vitamins C and E might be working against exercisers by dividing 40 young men into four groups and tracking them over four weeks of identical exercise programs:
- One group, whose members were already in athletic training programs, took 1,000 mg of vitamin C and 400 IUs of vitamin E daily over the four weeks.
- A second group, whose members had not previously been in athletic training programs, also took 1,000 mg of vitamin C and 400 IUs of vitamin E per day over the four weeks.
- A third group, whose members were already in athletic training programs, took no vitamins over the four weeks.
- A fourth group, whose members had not previously been in athletic training programs, also took no vitamins over the four weeks.
At the end of the study, the young men who had taken vitamins experienced no improvement in insulin resistance and almost no activation of their bodies’ natural antioxidant defenses.
The researchers said their findings carry enough weight for them to strongly suggest that people who exercise regularly should not take antioxidant vitamins. However, they cautioned against extending their conclusions about vitamins C and E to fruits and vegetables, which are high in antioxidants. Those foods, they said, contain other substances that probably counter or alter the strength of their antioxidant properties.