Exercise helps increase insulin sensitivity and ward off diabetes, but taking supplemental antioxidants such as vitamins C and E actually blunts that benefit, researchers report.
Exercise helps increase the body's sensitivity to insulin by making reactive oxygen species, or "free radicals," which antioxidants work against. These free radicals are thought to damage cells and speed the aging process, but they are also used by the body to prevent cell damage after exercising, the researchers say.
"When you exercise you do improve your insulin sensitivity, and if you are at risk for diabetes improving insulin sensitivity is good," said researcher Dr. C. Ronald Kahn, the Mary K. Iacocca Professor at the Joslin Diabetes Center and Harvard Medical School.
Part of the reason that exercise improves insulin sensitivity is that it causes oxidative stress on the muscles. The muscles respond to this stress by creating free radicals, Kahn said.