Even though intense exercise has traditionally been associated with a statistically significant accumulation of blood-borne biomarkers of free radical-mediated lipid peroxidation, it remains to be determined if the oxidative stress response is biologically significant. To examine biological significance, we calculated the critical difference of selected biomarkers of oxidants–antioxidants in the peripheral circulation of ten male subjects aged 24 ± 3 years. Venous blood was drawn in the resting supine position every hour over an 8-h period (Study 1). As proof-of-concept, supine venous blood was also obtained at rest and following maximal cycling exercise in a separate group of 13 males, mean age 22 ± 3 years (Study 2). The critical difference of electron paramagnetic resonance spin-trapped alkoxyl free radicals, lipid hydroperoxides, malondialdehyde, ascorbic acid, retinol, lycopene, α-tocopherol, β-carotene and α-carotene was calculated as 121%, 28%, 50%, 9%, 29%, 106%, 13%, 28% and 107%, respectively (Study 1). Maximal exercise was associated with a statistically significant (P < 0.05 vs. rest) reduction in α-tocopherol and retinol, and a corresponding rise in alkoxyl free radicals and lipid hydroperoxides (Study 2). However, these changes were all within the critical difference percentage value. In conclusion, these findings highlight the importance of distinguishing biological from statistical significance when assessing the physiological and clinical impact of exercise-induced oxidative stress.
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