Reading through the New York Times I came across a cool article describing an unusual relationship between antioxidant type vitamins and health. The NYT article point to the Journal of Physiology article which contains a number of very cool insights. You can take a look at that article here.
The coolest part about all this is how much it makes sense, though at this point, be forewarned, all of this is speculation. During exercise the body needs lots of oxygen, and that is just what the individuals in this study did. Now these individuals were divided into two groups, one taking antioxidant vitamins C and E, the second placebo.
Both groups went through training and both groups showed improvement in running performance. Yet the antioxidant group lacked an increase in “mitochondrial COX4 protein content”. “Big deal”, you say but here is the kicker, and the reason for my little mitochondria picture. COX4 protein content is a proxy for measuring how many new mitochondria are being added to cells. The exercise that the participants are doing should do a number of things to their muscles. Satellite cells should start dividing, muscle mass may increase; skeletal muscles will adapt to the new stresses being placed on them. One of those adaptions are increases in the number of mitochondria within muscle cells.
The authors have a hypothesis that this disruption of mitochondrial biogenesis is intimately tied to the redox state of the cell. If the cells don’t built up enough free radicals, the mitochondrion producing machinery doesn’t get turned on. In the literature this is refered to as the connection between mitochondrial biogenesis and the cellular redox state. That assertion is well supported in the literature; for a quick review of this, have a look here. What is cool about this study is the connection between reasonable oral does of antioxidant vitamins (maybe not reasonable, but have a look here) and endurance training. We will have to see what happens next.