The Healing Power of Probiotics
Regular exercise is an optimum way to promote longevity, ward off disease and maintain a healthy body weight. But as many endurance athletes know, extreme exercise can increase the risk of infections and gastrointestinal (GI) disturbances.
One possible cause is that high-performance exercise can lead to harmful changes in the gut. During exercise, blood flow is shunted away from the digestive system to working muscles providing them with much needed oxygen and nutrients. The repeated undersupply of blood in the GI tract can cause inflammation and stress leading to increased intestinal wall permeability, commonly known as “leaky gut.”
Suffering from leaky gut can increase one’s susceptibility to infections and GI trouble.
There is hope; however, for ailing athletes. One area of scientific research gaining much attention is the health promoting properties of probiotics.
Probiotics refer to live micro-organisms that have positive effects on our health when consumed. Studies on athletes taking probiotics have shown both a reduction in the incidence and duration of respiratory tract infections and GI episodes compared to those athletes given a placebo.
These beneficial bacteria are credited with improving the integrity of our intestinal barrier so unfriendly microbes can’t slip through causing infection and illness. Research also showed that consuming probiotics regularly increased the body’s production of immune boosting antibodies.
While there are many bottled probiotics on the market, there is another way to ensure your body reaps the rewards of these marvelous microbes. The trick? Consuming a variety of fermented foods.
Fermented foods, such as yogurt, kimchi and miso are not only loaded with beneficial flora, they increase the availability of tough-to-absorb minerals including iron, zinc and calcium — key nutrients for the active athlete.
Don’t be afraid to try your hand at fermenting at home. Follow this easy-to-make kraut to add to your salads, chicken and pork dishes, on top of grains or anywhere that needs a little zing!
Haley Barton, MSc., is Nutritionist and Health Educator at Nutrition Savvy in Vancouver, B.C.