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March 02, 2008

Oxidative Stress And Exercise - Too Much of a "Good Thing"

Marathon72"Good timber does not grow with ease; the stronger the wind, the stronger the trees."
- J. Willard Marriot

Trees which grow amidst harsh winds, and which are continually forced to flex and sway, are known to develop particularly strong trunks and branches as a result.  Botanists call this phenomenon wind firmness, and this response to stress is what's largely responsible for the hardness of different types of lumber.

But, even though trees are biologically suited to adapt to wind in this way, still, a particularly strong wind, delivered at just the right angle, can be enough to snap even the mightiest of the mighty oaks.

Similarly, exercise - that supremely virtuous endeavor which can make us stronger - also has the potential to do our bodies' much more damage than we often suspect.  Not only can exercise lead to obvious injuries like aching joints, pulled muscles, or twisted ankles, but it can also impart symptomless cumulative damage to our body, and can even accelerate the aging process itself if we don't take the steps to protect ourselves.

How Exercise Works

We've all heard our entire lives about the health-promoting benefits of exercise - so much so, in fact, that many of us (at least subconsciously) tend to believe that exercise may be able to counter the effects of a less-than-healthy diet or lifestyle.  For instance, just think about how many people you've heard justify their dietary indiscretions by uttering something along the lines of, "I'll have to do extra cardio to burn off this meal."

And because of their high energy demands, it's even common for many athletes and workout enthusiasts to purposely consume high amounts of calories from any and every available source - including junk foods and the junk foods cleverly marketed as nutritional supplements (for instance, if you're a male who's been working out for a while, chances are good that you may have been suckered into buying a tub or two of high-calorie "weight gainer" powder in your younger days).

But this sort of thinking exhibits a fundamental misunderstanding of how exercise actually works.  We don't become leaner simply by "burning off" what we've eaten, we don't build strength or large muscles by filling our body with garbage (no matter how expertly this garbage happens to be marketed by the supplement industry), and we don't become healthier just by moving our body in any old way.

Exercise can help us improve our health if, and only if, our body - right down to a cellular level - becomes stronger and more resilient because of it.  Building this sort of body requires that the exercise we engage in not be excessive, and that we always supply our body with proper nutrition for protection, growth, repair, and recovery.

In the Integrated Supplements Blog, we've written previously on the effects of exercise at a cellular level, and we've shown you why strong antioxidant status is needed for the protection of our cells, and the protection of the energy-producing structures called mitochondria. 

Because healthy antioxidant levels are needed to protect us from exercise-induced damage, and because our antioxidant status is largely a function of our diet, nutrition and exercise training are inseparable.  This point can't be stressed enough - not only is proper nutrition an important part of exercise success - it's essential to it.  We'll even go so far as to say that exercise combined with improper nutrition can be even worse for your health than no exercise at all.

As concrete evidence of this message, after writing the previously mentioned blog post, we came across this article on ScienceDaily.com:

Heart Disease In A Marathon Runner: Is Too Much Exercise A Bad Thing?

Doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center had a mystery on their hands. A 51-year-old physician colleague who looked the picture of health - no cardiovascular risks, a marathon runner who had exercised vigorously each day for 30 years - had just flunked a calcium screening scan of his heart.

The patient had expected a score indicating a healthy cardiovascular system. Instead, the images indicated a high score: a build-up of calcium in his coronary arteries put him at high risk for blocked blood vessels and a possible heart attack.

The mystery was all the more intriguing because his resting blood pressure and fasting cholesterol levels, the usual measures of cardiovascular health, were in the normal range.

In the March 1, 2007, issue of the American Journal of Cardiology, the researchers say this is the first case, to their knowledge, of advanced coronary calcification in an otherwise healthy middle-aged male marathon runner who lacked traditional cardiac risk factors and had no symptoms of heart disease.

The researchers conclude that the physician's intense, long-term exercise regime, coupled with a predisposition toward a type of hypertension, contributed to his cardiovascular disease. "In this particular individual, we think that oxidative stress was an important contributor," says the study's senior author, Michael Miller, M.D., director of preventive cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center and associate professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

The opening sentence of the above quote mentions that the scientists interpreting the tests "had a mystery on their hands."

But the presence of heart disease in a middle-aged, physically active person isn't a mystery at all when we realize just how much of a toll exercise can actually take on the body.  The researchers from the above article recognized this, and proposed that the calcified arteries and high blood pressure they found in their colleague (a doctor himself mind you) was attributable to the cumulative effects of oxidative stress.  In The Integrated Supplements Newsletter, we've written about how oxidative stress, a term denoting the bodily damage caused by inefficient energy production, is known to be an underlying factor in every disease of aging, including, and especially, heart disease.

And, because it increases our bodies' energy-demands so significantly, it's well-known that exercise also increases our level of oxidative stress. 

Enter Antioxidants

The researchers who conducted the above-mentioned study were able to reduce further exercise-induced damage somewhat by supplying their colleague with antioxidant vitamins C and E.  But heart disease is notoriously difficult to actually reverse once it's begun, and such an intervention probably represents little more than a modest amount of damage-control (the fact that an active, and supposedly health-conscious physician wasn't already supplying himself with a full antioxidant regimen, including vitamin C, E, and a whole host of other nutrients should give you a clue as to how many people within the medical community are still living in the dark ages when it comes to nutrition and training).   

Of course, even the best diet and supplementation program may never be able to fully counter the effects of marathon training, or similar types of grueling exercise - there is, after all, a limit to how much abuse our bodies can take.  But if people are going to engage in these sorts of activities anyway, natural, nutrient-rich foods combined with an individualized nutritional supplement regimen  could literally be life-saving.  And it's also especially important that for hard-training athletes to go out of their way to avoid the many pro-aging foods, and food supplements which are so common today.

Beware of Most "Sports Supplements"

When we originally wrote about oxidative stress in The Integrated Supplements Newsletter, our focus was on the mechanism by which certain foods and nutritional supplements could increase it because of the oxidized cholesterol and fats which they contained (oxidized fats and cholesterol are major contributing factors to oxidative stress). 

But, as we noted above, exercise is also a major source of oxidative stress.  We simply cannot expect the combination of exercise and poor nutrition to result in anything except the acceleration of the aging and degenerative process.  This fact isn't too terribly surprising to most people, but in actual practice, most athletes (and would-be athletes) have been suckered into accepting low-quality and potentially harmful foods and supplements simply because such items are specifically marketed as proper nutrition for athletes.

Like a wolf in sheep's clothing, what can only be objectively described as poor nutrition has made its way into the realm of "sports nutrition" en masse.  It seems that, as is too often the case, a little fancy marketing is all that's been needed to fool even the highest-level athletes and their coaches.

In light of what we now know about exercise and oxidative stress, it's clear that many of the nutritional products currently being promoted to athletes (products which are not only lacking in nutrients, but which often contain substances known to be harmful, such as oxidized cholesterol and oxidized fats) could be a recipe for disaster.

Whey Protein Done Right

Whey_single_straw_wThese rapidly declining standards (in the sports nutrition side of the nutritional supplement industry especially) are what led us at Integrated Supplements to produce 100% Natural CFM® Whey Protein Isolate - a protein supplement produced with the cleanest whey protein isolate available.  You'll notice that, unlike most of our competitors' whey proteins, our product contains zero milligrams of cholesterol per serving.

Despite the baseless marketing hype which the sports nutrition industry is famous for, the actual scientific research makes it clear that only a properly produced, undenatured whey protein isolate like this will deliver the full benefits of whey protein.  Such a product will, in fact, be among the most powerful substances on earth for supporting antioxidant status, and growth and recovery from exercise.   

Of course, such quality protein may cost a little bit more than the cheap tubs of cholesterol-loaded whey, or the fat-loaded "muscle milkshakes" which have become so common, but in light of what you now know about exercise, oxidative stress, and oxidized lipids, you should ask yourself if you can really afford anything else.

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