Science + Technology

Moderate Exercise and Simple Vitamin Supplements Significantly Reduce Risk of Atherosclerosis, UCLA Study Shows


Moderate exercise in conjunction with common dietarysupplements significantly reduce the risk of atherosclerosis because, combined,they boost the body's production of nitric oxide, which protects against avariety of cardiovascular disorders, a new UCLA study led by 1998 NobelLaureate in medicine Louis J. Ignarro shows.

The study, "Long-TermBeneficial Effects of Physical Training and Metabolic Treatment onAtherosclerosis in Hypercholesterolemic Mice," will be published the week ofMay 24 in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy ofSciences ( The study foundthat moderate exercise reduced the development of atherosclerosis, or hardeningof the arteries, in mice that are genetically prone to heart disease, becauseexercise alone has been shown to increase nitric oxide in the body. Adding theamino acid L-arginine and the anti‑oxidants Vitamins C and E to the mix,however, significantly magnified the effect, said Ignarro, professor ofmolecular and medical pharmacology in the David Geffen School of Medicine atUCLA.

And what's good for mice isgood for humans, said Ignarro, who shared the Nobel Prize for his discoveriesin the role that nitric oxide (NO) plays in the cardiovascular system.

"It wasn't just exercise,it was exercise combined with two common dietary supplements," he said. "Thisis the first study that shows that if you exercise in addition to takingdietary supplements you have a markedly enhanced production of nitric oxide —in science, we like to call it a synergistic effect."

The researchers studied sixgroups of eight-week-old LDL receptor-deficient male mice with high cholesterolover 18 weeks. The mice were randomly divided into three dietary groups: onefed a high-cholesterol diet alone, another fed a high-cholesterol diet alongwith the antioxidant vitamins C and E, and a third fed a high-cholesterol dietand given both the antioxidants and L-arginine. Some of the mice also were puton a swimming regimen, while others did not exercise.

Researchers found that themice from all three dietary groups lost weight and had lower cholesterol whenthey exercised. They also found that atherosclerotic lesions were significantlyreduced in the mice whose diets included the antioxidants and amino acid.

Here's how exercise,L-arginine and vitamins C and E work together. Exercise increases the amount ofendothelial NO synthase, an enzyme that converts L-arginine to nitric oxide,which in turn lowers abnormally elevated blood pressure, prevents unwantedblood clotting and early inflammation associated with coronary artery disease,and protects against stroke and myocardial infarction. The antioxidant vitaminsC and E work together to remove destructive oxidants from the blood stream,thereby stabilizing the nitric oxide, which can thus rise to higher levels inthe blood stream and produce a more beneficial effect.

Sedentary mice fed with thesupplements showed a 40 percent reduction in atherosclerosis lesions comparedwith the mice that were on a regular, high-cholesterol diet but neither giventhe supplements nor put on an exercise regimen. The mice that exercised, butwere not fed the supplements, showed a 35 percent reduction in the lesions.

"This is interesting,because it shows that the supplements work well even in the absence ofexercise," Ignarro said.

Ignarro recommends makingsimple lifestyle changes that include doing moderate exercise, eating a low-fatdiet and taking dietary supplements that are commercially available anywhere,which together can make a difference in one's vascular health. "I would sayjust do it," he said. "It works in mice, it'll work in humans."

Grants from the NationalInstitutes of Health, the Mayo Foundation and National Research Funds from theUniversity of Naples supported the research.

Other researchers includedSharon Williams-Ignarro of the division of anesthesiology at the UCLA medicalschool; Claudio Napoli, Filomena de Nigris, Loredana Rossi, Carmen Guarino,Gelsomina Mansueto, Francesco Di Tuoro, Orlando Pignalosa, Gaetano De Rosa andVicenzo Sica of the University of Naples in Italy; and Lilach O. Lerman of theMayo Clinic Foundation in Rochester, N.Y.



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