There is a growing interest in the link between leaky gut and a normally functioning immune system in sports. Too much inflammation will reduce recovery, reduce energy levels and affect mood. Since the majority of our immune cells reside in and around the intestines, local inflammation and immune activation in the intestines has a great impact on systemic inflammation pain and injury recovery.
Leaky gut is a major factor that allows undigested food and microbial particles to cross the intestinal lining leading to immune activation and an inflammatory response. Release of zonulin, a protein that relaxes the intestinal barrier is a marker of leaky gut. Among the factors that may pathologically up-regulate zonulin release are, NSAID use, antibiotics, alcohol consumption, emotional stress and extreme physical exertion. Lowering leaky gut and local inflammation can greatly speed up injury recovery, and increase nutrient absorption. Leaky gut has been linked to a whole range of conditions from IBD to autism, what is however becoming clear that healthy sports athletes that go through rigorous exercise are also prone to this condition. In our work with professional athletes we tend to see a rise in leaky gut markers as the training and competition season advances. One of the major issues linked to leaky gut in athletes is the emotional stress levels that increase during competition season.
During exercise, body temperature increases, blood is diverted away from the intestines. This can cause thermal damage and leaky gut, followed by an inflammatory response. The effects of running on intestinal permeability were studied in 17 athletes of whom a proportion suffered with recurrent intestinal symptoms and a proportion who were symptom free. The participants were asked to run for 90 minutes at 80% of their best 10Km pace. Results revealed that running induced a significant increase in intestinal permeability in both groups of participants following the completion of the task. Leaky gut in athletes can lead to augmented systemic inflammation and a delay in recovery from training or injury.
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