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Fruit and vegetables in a pill: does it work?

August 15th, 2010

The more we study antioxidants, the more it looks like — despite the hype — popping big doses of vitamin C and so on doesn’t do much to help your muscles recover from strenuous exercise. In fact, some researchers now suggest popping antioxidants might actually hurt your recovery.

On the other hand, no one doubts that eating lots of fruit and vegetables is just about the best thing you can do, nutritionally speaking. So how about taking a supplement that is, essentially, concentrated fruit and vegetable, like Juice Plus+, which is “whole food based nutrition, including juice powder concentrates from 17 different fruits, vegetables and grains“? That’s what researchers from the University of North Carolina Greensboro decided to test, in a study now appearing online in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise (funded, needless to say, by the makers of Juice Plus+).

The 41 volunteers in the study took Juice Plus+ (or a placebo) for four weeks  prior to an intense, muscle-damaging workout. They continued taking it for another four days after, while various measures of antioxidant status, muscle soreness, strength, and range of motion were recorded at intervals. The conclusion:

This study reports that 4 weeks of pretreatment with [Juice Plus+] can attenuate blood oxidative stress markers induced by [eccentric exercise] but had no significant impact on the functional changes related to pain and muscle damage.

So what does this tell us? Yes, fruit and vegetable concentrates supply antioxidants (along with, presumably, other interesting ingredients). These substances may have some health benefits — though whether the benefits are greater or less than taking pure vitamins, we don’t know. But, as far as exercise and recovery goes, antioxidants don’t seem to have anything to do with it.

So for now, my feeling is: why take a powder that might have some benefits when you can take the actual fruits and vegetables that definitely have benefits, and taste better anyway? That being said, I’ll give some credit to Juice Plus+. I’m sure they didn’t get the results they were hoping for, but at least they’re making the effort to fund independent studies — which is a lot more than can be said for most of the products on health-food store shelves!