One of the most common treatment recommendations for people who are overweight is that they get some form of exercise daily. However, studies have shown that fewer than half of those who are diagnosed as obese actually follow this advice.
Now, the obese and exercise-averse have a new weapon in their arsenal: vitamin C supplementation.
The Los Angeles Times reports that overweight and obese people who take a high dose of Vitamin C supplementation daily can get some of the same cardiovascular benefits of exercise without having to work out, according to new research.
In a small trial involving sedentary adults who were obese or overweight, participants who took 500 milligrams of Vitamin C daily saw equal improvement in blood vessel tone – a principle measurement of heart health – as those who engaged in a three-month campaign of brisk walking five to seven times per week did, according to researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Their results were presented recently in Atlanta at the American Physiological Society’s annual meeting, but they have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed science or medical journal so they are considered preliminary.
Both groups showed similar results
The Los Angeles Times further reported:
The study’s small size — 15 subjects got the walking treatment, while 20 took the Vitamin C supplements — may also limit the uptake of its findings by public health officials, who have struggled, with limited success, to get sedentary Americans off the couch. Some 4 in 10 American adults are thought to be entirely sedentary.
However, the study’s invasive measures of “endothelial function” – the ability of blood vessels to dilate and contract as necessary – provided evidence that the benefits of low-level aerobic exercise and Vitamin C were significant.
At the outset of the limited clinical trial, all of the study’s participants were overweight or obese as well as sedentary. All of them also showed levels of vascular tone that were impaired.
“In a pattern typical for overweight and obese adults who don’t get much exercise, their blood vessels did not respond to experimental conditions with the strength and suppleness seen in normal, healthy adults,” the Times reported.
Poor vascular tone can lead to several effects that are harmful to health, including inflammation and changes in the blood that can lead to clot formations. Therefore, the study’s subjects were all at increased risk of developing high blood pressure, suffering strokes or having heart attacks.
Researchers noted that the average body mass index of those who exercised was 29.3, while the average BMI of those who took the Vitamin C was 31.3. A BMI that is between 25 and 29 is considered overweight; obesity is diagnosed for BMIs above 30. During the study’s three-month duration, none of the subjects lost any weight.
During the research period, subjects in both groups were able to drive their vascular tone back into healthy territory. However, the Vitamin C group did so without having to do any exercise at all.
Not an exercise pill
Caitlin Dow, the study’s lead author, said the results could be substantial for people who might be unable to exercise due to injury or other physical limitations.
“This is not ‘the exercise pill,'” said Dow, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Colorado who studies nutrition and vascular biology.
She further emphasized that people who engage in regular physical activity generally have more positive effects than those who simply take Vitamin C, such as the lowering of “bad” cholesterol, improvements in metabolic function, and a boost to mood and cognitive function. Those who can hit the gym or fit in a good walk should certainly do so.
Nevertheless, taking a supplement to help improve vessel function can help anyone who is unable to engage in physical activity, Dow said.
“If we can improve different measures of risk for disease without changing weight, it takes a little bit of the pressure off some people,” she said. While Vitamin C “certainly isn’t a new cure,” Dow added, “it’s important to know what other lifestyle changes we can offer people who can’t exercise.”