Nothing can turn back time, as we all know, but a University of Florida researcher reports a combination of exercise and vitamin E may at least slow it down.
UF nursing researchers found that older men and women who exercised regularly and took vitamin E supplements became healthier and significantly decreased their levels of a blood marker that signals the destruction of certain cells by unstable molecular fragments called free radicals. That process, known as free radical-induced oxidative stress, contributes to aging and disease.
In fact, study participants who did not exercise but still took vitamin E also showed significant decreases in oxidative stress and blood pressure. The study appears in the current issue of the journal Biological Research for Nursing.
“The results of this study suggest that people who are over 40 can benefit from regular moderate exercise and vitamin E to protect against the destructive properties of free radicals and their effects on our aging bodies,” said James Jessup, the study’s principal investigator and an associate professor in UF’s College of Nursing. Jessup also is affiliated with UF’s Institute on Aging.
Oxidation caused by free radicals damages cells, tissues and organs, much as the process causes a car to rust or an apple to brown. Exposure to ultraviolet radiation, smoke and environmental pollutants increases production of free radicals.
Researchers elsewhere have shown that free radicals play a role in the development of cancer, obstructed arteries, Alzheimer’s disease and some 200 other diseases, as well as in the aging process itself. However, studies also have revealed that antioxidants, such as beta-carotene and vitamins C and E, help protect the body.
“The body produces free radicals constantly,” Jessup said. “When we are young, however, our body also creates antioxidants to battle these free radicals. Yet in our late 30s and early 40s, we begin to produce more free radicals and fewer antioxidants.”
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that can be consumed in the diet, Jessup said. Good sources of vitamin E include spinach, almonds and avocadoes. But most people - old and young - are vitamin E deficient, as it is difficult to get enough of the antioxidant from diet alone. For that reason, Jessup said, older individuals are more susceptible to the physiologic and physical effects of aging.
Over a two-year period, Jessup and his research team studied 59 healthy men and women ages 60 to 75 who lived in a community retirement facility in North Central Florida and were not regularly exercising. Half were randomly assigned to a group that exercised routinely and half to a control group that did not. Participants in each group were then randomly assigned to take daily vitamin E supplements or placebos.
All study participants maintained their usual eating habits. Those in the vitamin E groups were supplied with and asked to take 800 international units of vitamin E, well over the U.S. recommended daily allowance of 30 international units. However, no specific guidelines exist for older Americans, and previous research has shown that exercise may increase the production of free radicals and the requirements for dietary antioxidants such as vitamin E.
Both exercise groups completed 16 weeks of supervised endurance exercise on treadmill, cycle and stair-climber machines for 60 minutes twice a week, with intensity and duration increasing in the fourth and fifth weeks of the regimen. The sedentary group did not change their usual daily activities or begin an exercise routine.
Results showed that, on average, a key byproduct of free radical damage in the two groups taking vitamin E was cut in half. In addition, those in the sedentary group taking vitamin E did show a significant reduction in their systolic blood pressure, which dropped an average of almost seven points. The group who exercised and took vitamin E had an average drop of about 15 points in their systolic blood pressure and about 5 points in their diastolic blood pressure, as well as increased weight loss and significant improvement in resting oxygen uptake, a measure of cardiovascular fitness and endurance. The sedentary group not taking vitamin E showed no significant changes.
The two groups taking vitamin E did not differ in their concentrations of a byproduct of free radical damage, leading researchers to hypothesize that such damage can be prevented only up to a point, with or without exercise. However, other benefits derived from exercise, such as weight loss, improved cardiovascular health and lower blood pressure, cannot be duplicated, Jessup said.
“To benefit, older adults do not need to be doing strenuous exercise,” Jessup said. “Mowing the lawn, dancing, vacuuming - something that will get your heart rate up for 30 minutes is enough. Even adults who cannot physically perform this type of activity should take vitamin E because of its clear benefits to aging and systolic blood pressure.”
Results from the UF study and from others around the country indicate that consuming antioxidants and getting the right amount of exercise can help slow the aging process and protect against destructive free radicals, Jessup said.
“Research by Dr. Jessup and others defining optimal intakes of vitamin E is essential to our ability to provide sound recommendations, especially for older adults, about dietary supplements that can promote health and reduce the risk for chronic diseases,” said Jeffrey Blumberg, chief of the Antioxidants Research Laboratory at the Jean Mayer U.S. Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University.
Eighty years after vitamin E was discovered, Tufts researchers have found that most Americans don’t know how to get enough of the important vitamin.
In the eighty years since its discovery, vitamin E has been credited with a wealth of healthy benefits — everything from boosting immunity and fighting cancer to reducing the effects of aging. But most Americans aren’t getting enough of the powerful antioxidant, say Tufts researchers, because they don’t know which foods are good sources of the vitamin.
“An analysis by Tufts University shows that consumers are woefully uninformed on how to meet minimum daily requirements for this important nutrient,” reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “To achieve maximum health benefits, people need 15 milligrams per day of alpha-tocopherol — vitamin E’s most potent form.”
But many Americans are falling short of the mark, largely due to the food they eat.
“The study says most adults get a daily dose only in small amounts from foods such as white bread, cookies, doughnuts and cakes,” reported the newspaper.
Better sources of the vitamin, Tufts Nutrition researchers said, include nuts, seeds, whole grain breads and leafy green vegetables including spinach and broccoli.
For example, just a handful of almonds, reported the Journal-Constitution, provides about half of the recommended intake of the alpha-tocopherol form of vitamin E — which is best used by the body.
The extra “E” could go a long way.
According to researchers at Tufts, the vitamin — if taken in the right doses — has been shown to have some important health benefits.
In a clinical study of older adults, Tufts’ Dr. Simin Meydani along with Dr. Jeffrey Blumberg found that vitamin E helped boost immune response.
“One of the things we know is that as a person grows older (50 and above), their immune response declines,” the nationally-renowned expert on antioxidants and the chief of Tufts’ Antioxidant Research Laboratory told the Houston Chronicle. “We have been looking at ways for people to help maintain their immune systems while they age.”
Vitamin E appears to work. In the Tufts study, 200 milligrams was an effective dose.
Other studies have shown that the antioxidant can help fight heart disease, reduce the effects of hot flashes during menopause and even slow the effects of Alzheimer’s disease and arthritis.
But nutrition experts caution that the nutrient can’t reverse the aging process, and it can be harmful if taken in too large a quantity.
Because the vitamin has an anticoagulant effect, Dr. Norman Krinsky — a biochemistry expert at Tufts — suggests that adults should not consume more than 1,000 milligrams of vitamin E each day.