Exercise is one of the greatest ways to stay healthier, stronger and live better. That’s a statement you’ll find very few people in disagreement about. But it’s not all sunshine and lollipops when it comes to the effects of exercise on the body. Working out also causes a burst of highly reactive chemicals in your body; these are free radicals and peroxides that induce what is called “oxidative stress.” Don’t be confused by the term “stress” here. These byproducts of exercise go to war with your cells, damaging everything right down to your DNA, and have been linked to many diseases that are best to avoid at all costs, like cancer.
Your body can protect itself against this damage, and in the first line of defense are the antioxidants you hear so much about. Antioxidants can neutralize the free radicals and mitigate the damage, and they do a pretty good job of it. Here’s the kicker though, if you exercise chronically – that is to say, if you exercise on a regular basis over time – the constant assault of free radicals and peroxides in your system drains your antioxidants. As they protect you, they are depleted, and this continual depletion wears your defenses down over time, like a river carving out a canyon.
There are answers though. Much like repairing exercise damaged muscle with the protein you consume, a diet and supplements high in antioxidants can help maintain your reserves. A recent study published by BioMed Central reviewed colostrum as one supplement in particular that may help protect you against the damaging side-effects of exercise.
Colostrum is a kind of milk produced in all kinds of mammals, but the type you supplement with comes from cows. Yup, it’s cow milk. But not just any cow milk, it’s a special kind of milk a mother first produces for her child. It’s lower in fat, higher in protein, and loaded with a baby’s first nutrients – including antioxidants. This is super milk we’re talking about.
In the study, the researchers compared the antioxidant levels of mice supplemented with colostrum with those that weren’t. In each group, some of the mice exercised 30 minutes each day and some did not. As was expected, the mice that did not consume the supplement and did no exercise had no real change over time. Those that exercised and didn’t take colostrum had a drop off in antioxidants. And that drop off continued throughout the 42 day trial, getting more and more severe as time went on. The mice that took colostrum and did nothing had the reverse effect. Over the trial their antioxidants went up and up, and so did their ability to protect themselves from damage. Now here’s the fun part. The group that exercised and supplemented with colostrum increased their antioxidant levels even more over time than the group that did no work on the supplement. Perhaps it’s like carb loading, and when you deplete your antioxidants, they begin to absorb better and are stored in higher quantities. Antioxidant loading. I like it.
There are many antioxidants, and colostrum isn’t the only supplement you can take to get the protective benefits. Whether you supplement or focus on foods high in antioxidants is up to you, but if you work out on a regular basis it’s a great idea. The researchers noted that exercise alone has a beneficial impact on health, but there are even more substantial life extending benefits beyond just exercising when you supplement with antioxidants.
1. Mahenderan Appukutty, et. al., “Colostrum supplementation protects against exercise – induced oxidative stress in the skeletal muscle in mice,” BMC Research Notes, 5:649 (2012)
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.