Physiology Friday #71: Exercise as Medicine, Plant-based vs. Real Meat, and Questioning COVID’s Vascular Effects

Listen to the audio (podcast) version of this post HERE.

In this week’s edition of Physiology Friday, I review 3 recently published studies (well, 2 studies and 1 letter to the editor) discussing the effectiveness of exercise for “replacing” medication in individuals with the metabolic syndrome, comparing the nutritional value of plant-based meat to real meat, and which question some published data on the long-term effects of COVID-19 on blood vessel function. Enjoy!

Study #1: Exercise Reduces Medication for Metabolic Syndrome Management: A 5-Year Follow-up Study

This longitudinal study tracked two groups of participants over 5 years who were randomized to an exercise intervention group or a control group. The exercise group performed a 4-month exercise training program once per year over the 5-year study. Exercise involved 3 days/week of high-intensity interval training (HIIT). At baseline and follow up, assessments of metabolic syndrome risk factors, metabolic syndrome z-score, VO2 max, body weight and body composition, and number of medications used were made in each group.

At the 5-year follow up:

– VO2 max increased in the exercise training group and decreased in the control group

– The control group increased their medication use by 2-fold, while the exercise group had no change in medication use

– The number of metabolic syndrome risk factors tended to decrease in the exercise training group

These results indicate that exercise training can prevent the increase in medication use and decline in VO2 max that occur with age in individuals with the metabolic syndrome.

Study #2: A metabolomics comparison of plant-based meat and grass-fed meat indicates large nutritional differences despite comparable Nutrition Facts panels

This article is getting a LOT of press, and for good reason, as the plant-based meat vs. real meat debate has never been more topical. Researchers in this study used a metabolomics-based approach to compare a plant-based meat alternative to regular grass-fed beef to determine if the metabolite profiles of each product were different, even while having similar overall nutrient profiles (i.e. similar amounts of fat and protein.)

Despite having similar nutrition labels, the two products were found to vary highly in their metabolite profiles, differing by about 90%. Several nutrients including DHA, vitamin B12, carnitine, the amino acids glucosamine and hydroxyproline, and anti-oxidants including allantoin, anserine, cysteamine, spermine, and squalene were found exclusively in grass-fed beef, while the meat alternative was found to exclusively contain nutrients including vitamin C, phytosterols, and other phenolic antioxidants.

The authors summarize their findings as evidence that “these products should not be viewed as truly nutritionally interchangeable, but could be viewed as complementary in terms of provided nutrients.” They do not make any firm conclusions as to whether one is healthier than the other based on their analysis.

Study #3: Vascular complications from SARS-CoV2: a unique finding or a common feature of viral infections?

This is not a study, but rather a short “letter to the editor” about a study I have covered in this newsletter before. The study found that individuals with prior COVID-19 infection had reduced endothelial function compared to controls (individuals who had never been infected.)
This letter raises concerns about the study design, claiming that a proper control group should have included individuals who had had some previous viral infection, but not specifically COVID-19. This would be a more rigorous way to determine whether COVID-19 has unique vascular effects, or rather if these post-infection complications are a quality shared by ALL viral infections.

I hope you found these studies to be interesting. Thanks for reading!

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