Sickle Cell Trait Improved by Regular Exercise

Physical activity reduces sickle cell trait complications

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Regular physical activity benefits the body in many ways, from weight loss to improved blood pressure. Those with the sickle cell trait might find an added benefit -- longevity and fewer complications.

Unlike sickle cell disease, a painful inherited condition in which red blood cells are an abnormal crescent shape, those with the sickle cell trait inherit only one copy of the disease and have a mixture of normal and misshapen red blood cells.

They tend to suffer from an increased risk of sickness and higher death rate.

"Ask your doctor about exercise if you suffer from sickle cell."

Vincent Pialoux from Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1 in France and a team of researchers found that patients with sickle cell trait who engaged in regular physical activity had lower levels of molecules associated with oxidative stress, which occurs when free radicals overtake the body's natural antioxidants. Exercise increases the levels of antioxidants in the body, which defends against oxidative stress.

During the study researchers followed 18 participants with sickle cell trait and 22 without the trait. The groups were then divided into those who had regularly exercised by playing soccer at least eight hours a week and those who considered themselves sedentary for the previous two years.

They took blood from the patients to test for molecules that could indicate oxidative stress, antioxidant molecules and nitric oxide, which is important for opening blood vessels. Nitric oxide could play a role in blood vessel occlusion that can occur with sickle cell trait or sickle cell disease.

Participants then pedaled on a stationary bicycle, with the workout increasing very few minutes until they stopped from exhaustion. Blood was tested at regular intervals after the workout to check for the same molecules.

They found that patients that exercised often had significantly lower levels of molecules linked to oxidative stress, and higher levels of antioxidant molecules and nitric oxide metabolites.

Pialoux noted that among those with sickle cell trait, regular exercise might be seen as a treatment. The findings also could be significant for patients with sickle cell disease. Sickle cell disease patients are often told to skip exercising because it can trigger painful episodes. But Pialoux said regular physical activity and training over time might also reduce their oxidative stress and improve their condition.

“We think that regular physical exercise that’s controlled by a physician and performed at low intensity could be a strategy to limit the disease burden in (sickle cell disease) patients,” he said.

This strategy is currently being tested in animals with eventual plans to test humans with sickle cell disease.

The research was recently presented at the Experimental Biology 2012 meeting in San Diego, Calif.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 25, 2012
Last Updated:
May 7, 2012