Preventing Exercise-Induced Oxidative Stress with Watercress

Preventing Exercise-Induced Oxidative Stress with Watercress
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Those eating a more plant-based diet may naturally have an enhanced antioxidant defense system to counter the DNA damage caused by free radicals produced by high-intensity exercise.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

If oxidizing glucose to produce energy for our bodies is so messy, creating free radicals the way cars burning their fuel produce combustion by-products out the exhaust, even if we’re just idling, living our day-to-day lives, what if we rev up our lives, and start exercising—really start burning fuel? Then, we create more free radicals, more oxidative stress, and so, need to eat even more antioxidant-rich foods.

Why do we care about oxidative stress? Well, it’s “implicated in virtually every known human disease and there is an increasing body of evidence linking free radical production to the process of aging.” Why? Because free radicals can damage DNA, our very genetic code. Well, if free radicals damage DNA, and exercise produces free radicals, “Does physical activity induce DNA damage?”—if we don’t have enough antioxidants in our system to douse the free radicals?

Yes. In fact, ultra-marathoners show evidence of DNA damage in about 10% of their cells tested during a race, which may last for up to two weeks after a marathon. But, what about just short bouts of exercise? We didn’t know, until recently.

After just five minutes of moderate or intense cycling, you can get an uptick in DNA damage. We think it’s the oxidative stress, but “[r]egardless of the mechanism[s] of exercise-induced DNA damage the fact that a very short bout of high-intensity exercise can cause an increase in damage to DNA is a cause for concern.”

But, we can block oxidative damage with antioxidant-rich foods. Of course, when drug and supplement companies hear antioxidant-rich foods they think, pills! You can’t make billions on broccoli, so “Pharmacological antioxidant vitamins have been investigated for a prophylactic effect against exercise-induced oxidative stress. However, large doses are often required, and [in pill form,] may ironically lead to a state of pro-oxidation, and [even more] oxidative damage.” For example, guys doing arm curls taking 500 milligrams of vitamin C appeared to have more muscle damage, inflammation, and oxidative stress.

So, instead of vitamin supplementation, how about supplementation with watercress, the badass of the broccoli family? What if, two hours before exercise, you eat a serving of raw watercress, and then get thrown on a treadmill whose slope gets cranked up higher and higher, until you basically collapse? In the control group, without the watercress preload, which I imagine would describe most athletes, here’s the amount of free radicals in their bloodstream at rest, and after exhaustive exercise—which is what you’d expect.

So, if you eat a super-healthy antioxidant-packed plant food, like watercress, before you exercise, can you blunt this effect? Even better. You end up better than you started! At rest, after the watercress, you may start out with fewer free radicals. But, only when you stress your body to exhaustion can you see the watercress really flex its antioxidant muscle.

So, what happens to DNA damage? Well, in a test tube, if you take some human blood cells bathed in free radicals, you can reduce the DNA damages it causes by 70% within minutes of dripping some watercress on them. But, does that happen within the human body, if you just eat it? We didn’t know, until recently.

If you exercise without watercress in your system, DNA damage shoots up. But, if you’ve been eating a single serving a day for two months, your body’s so juiced up on green leafy goodness, no significant damage after punishing yourself on the treadmill. So, with a healthy diet, can you get all the benefits of strenuous exercise without the potential risks?

We know regular physical exercise is “a key component of a healthy lifestyle,” but it can elicit oxidative stress. To reduce that stress, some have suggested pills to improve one’s antioxidant defense system. But, those eating more plant-based diets may naturally have “an enhanced antioxidant defense system” without pills, to counter exercise-induced oxidative stress, due to the increased quantities of plants!

Remember, plant foods average 64 times more antioxidants than meat, fish, eggs, and dairy. And, on top of that, the animal protein itself can have a pro-oxidant effect. But, look, anyone eating sufficient quantities of whole healthy plant foods could plausibly reach an antioxidant status similar to those eating vegetarian. It’s not just about what you’re eating less of—saturated fat and cholesterol—but what you’re eating more of: the phytonutrients. Whether it’s about training longer or living longer, we’ve got to eat more plants.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to @alviseni, calvinfleming, and ChineseSoupPot via flickr. Thanks to Ellen Reid and Shane Barrett for their Keynote help. 

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

If oxidizing glucose to produce energy for our bodies is so messy, creating free radicals the way cars burning their fuel produce combustion by-products out the exhaust, even if we’re just idling, living our day-to-day lives, what if we rev up our lives, and start exercising—really start burning fuel? Then, we create more free radicals, more oxidative stress, and so, need to eat even more antioxidant-rich foods.

Why do we care about oxidative stress? Well, it’s “implicated in virtually every known human disease and there is an increasing body of evidence linking free radical production to the process of aging.” Why? Because free radicals can damage DNA, our very genetic code. Well, if free radicals damage DNA, and exercise produces free radicals, “Does physical activity induce DNA damage?”—if we don’t have enough antioxidants in our system to douse the free radicals?

Yes. In fact, ultra-marathoners show evidence of DNA damage in about 10% of their cells tested during a race, which may last for up to two weeks after a marathon. But, what about just short bouts of exercise? We didn’t know, until recently.

After just five minutes of moderate or intense cycling, you can get an uptick in DNA damage. We think it’s the oxidative stress, but “[r]egardless of the mechanism[s] of exercise-induced DNA damage the fact that a very short bout of high-intensity exercise can cause an increase in damage to DNA is a cause for concern.”

But, we can block oxidative damage with antioxidant-rich foods. Of course, when drug and supplement companies hear antioxidant-rich foods they think, pills! You can’t make billions on broccoli, so “Pharmacological antioxidant vitamins have been investigated for a prophylactic effect against exercise-induced oxidative stress. However, large doses are often required, and [in pill form,] may ironically lead to a state of pro-oxidation, and [even more] oxidative damage.” For example, guys doing arm curls taking 500 milligrams of vitamin C appeared to have more muscle damage, inflammation, and oxidative stress.

So, instead of vitamin supplementation, how about supplementation with watercress, the badass of the broccoli family? What if, two hours before exercise, you eat a serving of raw watercress, and then get thrown on a treadmill whose slope gets cranked up higher and higher, until you basically collapse? In the control group, without the watercress preload, which I imagine would describe most athletes, here’s the amount of free radicals in their bloodstream at rest, and after exhaustive exercise—which is what you’d expect.

So, if you eat a super-healthy antioxidant-packed plant food, like watercress, before you exercise, can you blunt this effect? Even better. You end up better than you started! At rest, after the watercress, you may start out with fewer free radicals. But, only when you stress your body to exhaustion can you see the watercress really flex its antioxidant muscle.

So, what happens to DNA damage? Well, in a test tube, if you take some human blood cells bathed in free radicals, you can reduce the DNA damages it causes by 70% within minutes of dripping some watercress on them. But, does that happen within the human body, if you just eat it? We didn’t know, until recently.

If you exercise without watercress in your system, DNA damage shoots up. But, if you’ve been eating a single serving a day for two months, your body’s so juiced up on green leafy goodness, no significant damage after punishing yourself on the treadmill. So, with a healthy diet, can you get all the benefits of strenuous exercise without the potential risks?

We know regular physical exercise is “a key component of a healthy lifestyle,” but it can elicit oxidative stress. To reduce that stress, some have suggested pills to improve one’s antioxidant defense system. But, those eating more plant-based diets may naturally have “an enhanced antioxidant defense system” without pills, to counter exercise-induced oxidative stress, due to the increased quantities of plants!

Remember, plant foods average 64 times more antioxidants than meat, fish, eggs, and dairy. And, on top of that, the animal protein itself can have a pro-oxidant effect. But, look, anyone eating sufficient quantities of whole healthy plant foods could plausibly reach an antioxidant status similar to those eating vegetarian. It’s not just about what you’re eating less of—saturated fat and cholesterol—but what you’re eating more of: the phytonutrients. Whether it’s about training longer or living longer, we’ve got to eat more plants.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to @alviseni, calvinfleming, and ChineseSoupPot via flickr. Thanks to Ellen Reid and Shane Barrett for their Keynote help. 

Doctor's Note

I should do more videos on watercress! The only other one I think I have is Sometimes the Enzyme Myth Is True.

This is the third video in my three-part series on enhancing athletic recovery times. Check out the first two, if you’re interested: Reducing Muscle Fatigue with Citrus and Reducing Muscle Soreness with Berries.

For more on the free radical theory of disease, see Mitochondrial Theory of Aging.

For the 64 times more video, see Antioxidant Power of Plant Foods vs. Animal Foods.

Why else is it important to eat antioxidant-rich diets? See, for example, The Power of NO and Anti-Inflammatory Antioxidants. And, why else is it important to eat broccoli family (cruciferous) vegetables? Check out:

Crucifelicious!

Check out my associated blog posts for more context:  Which Common Fruit Fights Cancer Better? and Preloading with Watercress before Exercise.

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

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