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
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
“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
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
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
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
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
“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
“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.
researchers at Tufts, the vitamin — if taken in the
right doses — has been shown to have some important
In a clinical study of
older adults, Tufts’ Dr. Simin Meydani along with Dr.
Jeffrey Blumberg found that vitamin E helped boost
“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
Vitamin E appears to
work. In the Tufts study, 200 milligrams was an
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
But nutrition experts
caution that the nutrient can’t reverse the aging
process, and it can be harmful if taken in too large a
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.