A team of Appalachian State University researchers is traveling to the Ironman Triathlon World Championship in Hawaii to study the effects of high doses of Vitamin E on reducing negative health effects associated with extreme exercise.
Led by Dr. David Nieman, faculty members Dru Henson, and Steve and Lisa McAnulty, will collect blood, saliva and urine samples from 40 competitors before and after the race. The race will be run Oct. 19 and consists of a 2.4-mile ocean swim, 112-mile bike race and 26.2-mile run.
The athletes participating in the study have been taking 800 I. U.'s of Vitamin E or a placebo for the past two months. They also have been following a prescribed diet.
The study is funded by a $60,000 grant from the Gatorade Sports Institute.
Nieman and others theorize that high doses of the lipid soluble Vitamin E may help reduce the athletes' oxidative and immune stress. "It's our hypothesis that taking Vitamin E at this level will help blunt some of the oxidative stress experienced by racers competing at this level," Nieman says. Vitamin E is an antioxidant.
Nieman said that the large amounts of oxygen breathed by athletes during intense competition create free radicals, which can damage cell membranes and DNA. Also, stress to an athlete's immune system often leads to sickness following competition.
A study conducted by Nieman showed that high doses of Vitamin C, which is a water-soluble vitamin, did not improve the immune system function of runners competing in a high-distance (50 mile) race.
"There are 13 different immune factors that change in negative ways during intense competition," Nieman said. "Some changes we can attenuate with carbohydrate intake."
Studies conducted at Appalachian since the mid-1990s show that drinking a liter a day of a carbohydrate sports drink, such as Gatorade, does reduce some of the negative impact on the immune system that occurs following extreme exercise, Nieman said.
Nieman does not advocate taking supplements for the average person. "If you are eating a healthy diet, you're getting the vitamins and nutrients that you need."
While in Hawaii, Nieman will speak at the Ironman Sports Medicine Conference on the "Effects of Exercise on Immune Function and Respiratory Infections," "Physical Activity and Cancer: Prevention and Treatment," "Exercise-Induced Immunosuppression: Nutritional Countermeasures" and "Effects of Fitness on Immune Function."