What is Vanadyl Sulfate? Vanadyl Sulfate is a type of Vanadium compound – a trace element that is found in our bodies in extremely small quantities. The exact physiological role of Vanadium in humans is not completely understood, but it appears to play a role in normal growth and development. A number of research studies, in animals and humans, have shown that Vanadium (especially Vanadyl Sulfate) can help to lower blood sugar levels, increase glucose uptake and glycogen synthesis. As such, a number of nutritional companies promote Vanadyl Sulfate as a weight loss, and muscle building supplement.
Who might benefit from Vanadyl Sulfate? Vanadyl Sulfate may be of benefit to people looking to control blood glucose levels (i.e. type II diabetes) and for weight loss. It is also promoted by nutritional companies as a muscle building supplement.
What does research say about Vanadyl Sulfate? A number of research studies have demonstrated that Vanadyl Sulfate can help to normalise, or reduce, blood sugar levels in diabetic animals and humans (Thompson et al., 1993; Boden et al., 1996; Kopp et al., 1997; Bolkent et al., 2005). Both Vanadium and Vanadyl Sulfate stimulate glucose intake into cells and thus lower blood glucose levels (Rehder, 2003; Bolkent et al., 2005). It is believed that Vanadyl has this effect through an insulin mimicking effect, which increases glucose uptake by surrounding tissues such as muscles (Schechter et al., 2003; Bolkent et al., 2005) and by enhancing insulin sensitivity (Cam et al., 1999; Bolkent et al., 2005).
People who have decreased insulin sensitivity, like type II diabetes sufferers, are known to have elevated blood sugar levels, which puts them at risk of developing high blood pressure, coronary heart diseases and excessive weight gain (Harati and Ani, 2004). So by lowering, or normalising, blood sugar levels, Vanadyl Sulfate may help to reduce the risk of these diseases and help to control excessive weight gain. However, some researchers have found that when Vanadyl Sulfate was taken at a level of 300mg/daily – significantly above the level commonly used by a number of nutritional companies – insulin sensitivity was not dramatically improved in all individuals. Therefore, although some individuals may see good results with Vanadyl Sulfate, many people may be simply wasting their money.
Many nutritional companies market Vanadyl as a “muscle pump” product that increases muscle fullness and hardness. It is also claimed to increase muscle strength and size. There is no research to support these claims. In fact the only study to look at Vanadyl Sulfate (Fawcett et al., 1996) found it to be ineffective in changing body composition in weight-training athletes (i.e. there was no change in body fat levels or muscle mass).
The muscle pump idea is based around the increased storage of glycogen within muscle cells. However, you should note that most nutritional companies use small quantities of Vanadyl Sulfate (50-100mg) and research has found that even at higher doses (300mg) a significant proportion of subjects fail to gain any benefit. There is also no benefit to support the muscle pump idea. Muscle pumps, following exercise, are attributed to the release of nitric oxide, but Vanadyl Sulfate does not stimulate nitric oxide. Researchers have found that it actually inhibits the release of nitric oxide (Zhuowei et al., 2004). Since adequate nitric oxide production is vital for the regulation of blood pressure, the researchers stated that Vanadyl Sulfate, at the level used in health supplements, may increase the risk of high blood pressure.
The only plus side of Vanadyl Sulfate for body builders is that it appears to help to maintain normal levels of DHEA (Harati and Ani, 2004). DHEA is known to be the most abundant circulating adrenal steroid in humans. However, the study only found that levels of DHEA were normalised (not increased) in insulin resistant rats – one of the problems associated with insulin resistance is low levels of DHEA. Therefore, Vanadyl Sulfate could be of benefit to bodybuilders who are insulin resistant (like type II diabetes patients) but is unlikely to be of great benefit to normal bodybuilders.
Some studies have suggested that Vanadyl Sulfate may have cholesterol lowering properties (Werden et al., 1982; Cusi et al., 1997). However, not all studies have found this (Goldfine et al., 2000). Goldfine et al., (2000) found a slight decrease in total cholesterol levels, following consumption of 300mg/daily of Vanadyl Sulfate. However, this decrease was due to decreases in the high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. Since HDL cholesterol is considered the “good” cholesterol, the researchers stated: “it is a concern that the decrease in cholesterol was associated with a decrease in HDL cholesterol”.
There is increasing evidence that Vanadyl Sulfate may have negative health effects by increasing the amount of circulating free radicals, causing oxidative damage, and oxidising HDL cholesterol (Keller et al., 1988; Oster et al., 1993; Thompson and McNeill, 1993; Lapenna et al., 2002). The oxidation of HDL cholesterol can have serious health consequences. Firstly, when cholesterol is oxidised it becomes sticky and tends to accumulate as fatty deposits on artery walls (Berliner and Heinecke, 1996). This increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Secondly, HDL cholesterol is the good cholesterol that actually removes fatty deposits from the artery walls. When it is oxidised it is unable to do this. Therefore, Vanadyl Sulfate may have the combined negative effects of increasing the fatty deposits on artery walls as well as decreasing the numbers of natural protectors of this process.
Vanadyl Sulfate can also increase the numbers of circulating free radicals. These damaging molecules are known to cause damage to any structure that they come into contact with, even DNA. In fact, recent research (Wozniak and Blasiak, 2004) demonstrated that Vanadyl Sulfate caused damage to the DNA of human lymphocyte cells and HeLa cells.
Another negative health effect is that Vanadyl Sulfate can accumulate in body tissue (Oster et al., 1993; Lapenna et al., 2002). The researchers suggested that prolonged use of Vanadyl Sulfate, without adequate antioxidant supplementation, needs caution. Therefore, it is advisable that if you are using Vanadyl Sulfate you should combine it with good antioxidants like alpha-lipoic acid, vitamin C and E, turmeric or Pycnogenol to combat the increased amounts of free radicals.
Is Vanadyl Sulfate effective? A number of animal studies have shown positive effects but results from human studies have been less conclusive. Some people may see benefits but around half of subjects in trials have seen little or no benefit on control of blood sugar levels. There is no evidence, at present to support its use for weight loss or for bodybuilding. There are a number of serious questions that still need to be answered, regarding the safety of Vanadyl Sulfate, specifically: 1) To what extent does it does increase the levels of circulating free radicals?; 2) To what extent does it affect artherosclerosis?, and; 3) Does it increase blood pressure by inhibiting nitric oxide production and release?
How should I take Vanadyl Sulfate? At present research on the use of Vanadyl sulfate is inconclusive. As such we cannot make recommendations regarding dosage. Research using 300mg/daily – significantly greater than the amount in a number of nutritional products – failed to find a significant blood sugar lowering effect. Also, until there is further research performed to evaluate its safety it would be wise to use alternative products. Consider using alternatives such as alpha-lipoic acid, Pycnogenol or American ginseng, which have all been shown to have blood glucose lowering properties and have good safety records.
If you do decide to take Vanadyl Sulfate you should consume additional antioxidants to combat the increase in free-radicals.
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