Exercise and the Immune System

- Dr. James Meschino, DC, MS, ROHP


Moderate exercise (run 20-30 km per wk) increases immune function, but intensive training can weaken immune function. (1) After 3 hrs of endurance training:

  1. Epinephrine and cortisol levels 59% above baseline (catabolism).
  2. This weakens immune system (high cortisone levels).
  3. 25-46% decline in natural killer cells (NKC) at1.5-6 hrs post ex.
  4. NKC responsible for 10-15% of all lymphocytes (1st line defense against viral infections).
  5. NKC also destroy cancer cells and mutated cells.
  6. Increased WBC count (leukocytosis) lasting for 21 hrs post ex, likely due to inflammation and elevated cortisol levels.
  7. Marathon runners show higher incidence of URT post-race than non competitors. Vitamin C at 600 mg per day shown to reduce URT in this group. (Also glutamine supplementation) (2- 11)

Study By Peters et al (1993 –Am J Clin Nutr):

14 days after a 90 km road race on foot, the vitamin C group (600 mg per day during training and after) showed 33% incidence of URT infections vs 68% in the placebo group, who’s symptoms were more severe and lasted longer.

A 21 km run produced a 20% decline in plasma Vitamin C, (on average) with increased Vitamin C excretion in urine and sweat.

Vitamin C used to quench oxygen free radicals generated during aerobic metabolism, hence its requirement increases (12-14).

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Exercise and

the Immune System

Dr. James Meschino, 



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12. Peters-Futre EM. Vitamin C, neutrophil function and upper respiratory tract infection risk in distance runners: the missing link? Exerc Immunol Rev 1997; 3: 32-52.
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