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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:
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.
Diabetes Health is the essential resource for people living with diabetes- both newly diagnosed and experienced as well as the professionals who care for them. We provide balanced expert news and information on living healthfully with diabetes. Each issue includes cutting-edge editorial coverage of new products, research, treatment options, and meaningful lifestyle issues.