Blog | Monday, October 12, 2015

Vitamin C does not replace exercise


The Los Angeles Times is reporting that vitamin C may have the same benefits as exercise. The Times headline was a bit circumspect, but some outlets have been a bit more enthusiastic. The surprising news that vitamin C may substitute for exercise was reported at a conference of the American Physiological Society. The APS has members doing incredibly interesting research, and I'm sure this study was of some interest, but not enough to justify newspaper headlines. The study enrolled 35 obese, sedentary adults, and put 15 on an exercise regimen and 20 on moderate amounts of vitamin C.

None of the subjects in either group lost significant amounts of weight.

The outcome that was reported was an invasive measurement of how the blood vessels were functioning, and both groups had improvements in this measure.

This was a report at a conference. If the study is ever published I look forward to seeing more details, but not as a clinician. As a doctor who has an interest in physiology, this stuff sounds really cool. But it is just a tiny study, with no clinical significance of any kind. To be clinically significant, it would have to be a much larger study, it would need a control group of subjects who did not get exercise or vitamin C, and it would have to measure a clinically relevant outcome, something like blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, something that would tell us if the findings can help real patients.

The only way to decrease the risks of being sedentary and obese is to eat healthier and to get moving.

Peter A. Lipson, ACP Member, is a practicing internist and teaching physician in Southeast Michigan. After graduating from Rush Medical College in Chicago, he completed his internal medicine residency at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. This post first appeared at his blog at Forbes. His blog, which has been around in various forms since 2007, offers "musings on the intersection of science, medicine, and culture." His writing focuses on the difference between science-based medicine and "everything else," but also speaks to the day-to-day practice of medicine, fatherhood, and whatever else migrates from his head to his keyboard.