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Sports Health | Vitamins C,  E, Beta-Carotene & Strenuous Exercise

Vitamins C, E, Beta-Carotene & Strenuous Exercise

Athletes who participate in “extreme” exercise, such as marathon running, may benefit from taking daily supplemental antioxidants, according to a new report in the European Journal of Physiology.1 The findings of this study suggest that taking daily supplemental antioxidants, such as a mixture of vitamins C and E and beta-carotene, provides extra protection during strenuous exercise that helps maintain adequate levels of antioxidants, possibly decreasing risk of developing infections.

Antioxidants are compounds that inhibit the formation of free radicals: highly reactive molecules that can damage different tissues and organs, including the immune system, and lead to the development of several chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

Studies have shown that vigorous exercise overwhelms the antioxidant defenses that protect immune function and protect the body against tissue damage. As these defenses become compromised, risk of infection increases. While this study did not measure the effect of antioxidant intake on developing infections, the authors note that other studies have shown that taking nutritional antioxidant supplements reduce the risk of developing upper respiratory infections after prolonged exercise, such as running a marathon.

In this 90-day study, twenty regular runners or cyclists were assigned to receive either a placebo or 500 IU of vitamin E plus 30 mg of beta-carotene per day. During the last 15 days of the trial, those taking the antioxidants also received 1,000 mg per day of vitamin C. Each of these athletes continued their training regimens, which averaged 14 hours of exercise per week. Vitamin levels and several markers for determining antioxidant activity were taken initially and at the conclusion of the study.

The athletes consuming antioxidants had a significant increase in blood levels of vitamins E and C and beta-carotene, while no change was seen in the group taking a placebo. In addition, at the end of the study, the activity of certain enzymes that maintain antioxidant balance in the body were significantly higher in the antioxidant group than in the placebo group.

The authors did not mention whether these athletes consumed a diet high in antioxidants, so their dietary intake is unknown. It is possible that higher intake of antioxidants in the diet would provide even greater benefit, but it is unclear at this time whether this is the case. Nonetheless, the amounts of vitamins E and C investigated in this study require supplementation, as it would be almost impossible to obtain those amounts through diet alone.


1. Tauler P, Agullo A, Fuentespina E, Tur JA. Diet supplementation with vitamin E, vitamin C and beta-carotene cocktail enhances basal neutrophil antioxidant enzymes in athletes. Eur J Physiol 2002;443:791–7.

Darin Ingels, ND, MT (ASCP), received his bachelor’s degree from Purdue University and his Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. Dr. Ingels is the author of Garlic and Cholesterol: Everything You Need to Know (Prima, 1999) and Natural Treatments for High Cholesterol (Prima, 2000). He currently is in private practice in Southport, CT, where he specializes in environmental medicine and allergies. Dr. Ingels is a regular contributor to Healthnotes and Healthnotes Newswire.

Copyright © 2002 Healthnotes, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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The health information contained in this site is not intended as medical advice and should not be considered a substitute for appropriate medical care. Any products mentioned in studies cited in Healthnotes articles are not necessarily endorsed by Bastyr. As with any product, consult with a natural health practitioner to discuss what may be best for you.


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