Thursday, February 13, 2014

Study Confirms Antioxidants (C+E) Are Bad For Healthy People Who Train, But in Some Subjects C+E Increase the Fat Loss Effects of HIIT + HIT by a Whopping 60%

The anti-long-term health, but pro short term fat loss effects of vitamin C + E
I must admit that I filed the study by Paulsen et al. (2014; accepted manuscript) under "further evidence that high doses of anti-oxidants do more harm than good to active individuals" the very moment I posted the information from the corresponding press release in the SuppVersity Facebook News (read it!).

A couple of days ago, I wanted to cite the paper in a different context and took a closer look at the actual results (yeah, even I sometimes only read the abstract) and as it turns out,...

...the scientists left out some information, you may be interested in, ...

...even though it may not be relevant from a statistical perspective. How I know things about your interests?Based on the visitor statistics of the SuppVersity. I just have to take a brief look at them to know that the vast majority of you will be intrigued to hear that the "daily vitamin C and E supplementation" (1000mg vitamin C and 235mg vitamin E per day), although it may have "attenuated increases in markers of mitochondrial biogenesis following endurance training", led to an albeit non-significant, but highly conspicuous 60% increase in body fat reduction.
Figure 1: Pre- & post-levels of body fat mass (left, in kg) and relative changes in type I and type II muscle fiber size (right; in % of baseline) in the subjects in the vitamin C + E and placebo arm of the study (Paulsen. 2014)
Yes, I know. The inter-group difference did not reach statistical significance. If you look at the exact figures, though you will have to concede that the intra-group difference did. In other words: While the subjects who took the anti-ergogenic anti-oxidants lost a significant amount of body fat, those who took the placebo did not. This is because the fat loss in the supplementation groups was much more evenly distributed than in the placebo group (the corresponding standard deviations were "only" 1.6x, not 3.6x (placebo) higher than the average fat loss of -5.3kg).
Table 1: Overview of the exercise component of the study (Paulsen. 2014)
Due to the minimal loss or marginal gain of lean body mass (and fiber size; see Figure 1) in the vitamin and placebo group, respectively, the relative difference of the change in body fat % (-4.6% in the vitamin and -2.0% in the placebo group) is even more pronounced.

This does not mean that these effects on the body composition are "real", i.e. actually due to the provision of vitamin C + E. What it does mean, though is that the occurred, although there was no visible training effect on the mitochondrial capacity and thus in the absence of any visible / measurable training effects.
The fat loss effects are not significant and my ad hoc hypothesis to explain them merely speculative. Therefore I still advice against the use of high dose "kamikaze" antioxidants (mere ROS-scavenger) like vitamin C + E - not just in the vicinity of a workout, but in general.
The absence of structural changes and the corresponding long-term health benefits that will always outweigh those of temporary reductions of body fat, should be reason enough to understand that someone who is not sick and chronically inflamed as the animals and human subjects in the studies you will see referenced in the write-ups of the supplement industry not to consume copious amounts of vitamin C, vitamin E or NAC.
Bottom line: I am certainly no advocate of high dose vitamin supplements and there is accumulating and in my humble opinion convincing evidence that they blunt the adaptive response to exercise training - including the potentially life-saving changes in mitochondrial capacity.

Still, the data from the Paulsen study does also support the conventional wisdom that a high level of baseline inflammation hampers the loss of body fat and that in spite, or rather because of the fat-burning prowess of IL-6, of which Knudsen et al. (2014) have recently been able to show that it is responsible for the exercise induced increase in UCP1 expression in subcutaneous white adipose tissue that will have your love handles melt away.

That does not make sense? Well, maybe it does. If you think about it as a vitamin-induced alleviation of the IL-6 analog to insulin resistance that allows the fat cells to finally "see" the IL-6 again and would thus propel the loss of body fat in those of the 14 women and 13 men in the supplement arm of the study who had a high baseline inflammation and correspondingly low "IL-6 sensitivity", this would be similar to the beneficial effects of ALA on weight loss int he obese and their absence in lean people.
  • Knudsen, Jakob G., et al. "Role of IL-6 in Exercise Training-and Cold-Induced UCP1 Expression in Subcutaneous White Adipose Tissue." PloS one 9.1 (2014): e84910.
  • Paulsen, G, et al. "Vitamin C and E supplementation hampers cellular adaptation to endurance training in humans: a double-blind randomized control trial." Journal of Physiology (February 2014; accepted manuscript).


Anonymous said...

Sometimes your comments are a bit over the top - so are you saying antioxidants have no antioxidant effect? Or is it just limited to fat loss?

Charles Grashow said...

What type of Vitamin E was given? Full spectrum with all eight tocopherols and tocotrienols?

John Velden said...

Vit C & E cooling chronic inflammation in subjects with high visceral fat vs antioxidant blunting of exercise stimulus in trained individuals.
Certainly sounds plausible.

majkinetor said...

This stuff appears now and then for any antioxidant, and it is what I hear the most when people don't want to take vitamin C. It surpasses IMO any other perceived concern like kidney stones etc.

But there is the following problem:

1. Animals produce vitamin C in huge amounts and I am not sure if I can characterize lions as 'not fit' or having ill-adapted cells...

2. Its perfectly natural. You don't need to adapt to stress if there is none of it. The fact that cells of control groups had to adapt means that they had cellular stress. As body always over compensate in anticipation of future similar events with supplementation you obviously lose this type of adaptation. But:

2.1 If you had to devote your resources to mitogenesis or other stuff of adaptation, you have to ask yourself what other body functions you didn't do since there is only so much resources and according to Bruce Ames good hypothesis body activates triage system. This means that you adapt to exercise but are less adapted to other things in life, such as infections, detox etc.

2.2. Since you can tolerate more stress with exogenous antioxidants this simply means that you need higher level of stress to accomplish the same level of adaptation. So you can train more which is important as you have more time to let brain plasticity evolve with exercise (very important with many sport activities) and this depends only on time spent doing particular actions. In this manner I am arguing that antioxidants allow for different kind of adaptation.

3. The level of ill adaptation is in some studies minimal. You still adapt only a bit less.

4. Many studies found the opposite effect and many are flawed. See for instance: (crucial)

Martin said...

After lifting (targeting hypetrophy) I get brainfog similar to hangover – I assume this is the symptom of endotoxins getting to the blood stream . No other supplement helps me better than Vitamin C

Could it be slowing down my progress?

JJ22 said...

Bingo. Context as usual.

majkinetor said...

So you want faster progress + more toxins in the body ? Unless you are going for olympics, I doubt its a good idea.

That could be symptom of endotoxins or hard metals or many other things. None of them is good. Without C you will not only damage yourself but you will also be more prone to infections.

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grant said...

This is a silly question but this is just referring to supplements, right? I started lifting and I combine quite a lot of vegetables and fruits, even around my workouts (usually berries) with my other meals... This can't be bad lol.