Updated 14 February 2013

Living bugs for athletes in action

For many athletes, fatigue is synonymous with hard training. There might be a good explanation for this, as well as a possible solution.

For many athletes, fatigue that is associated with recurrent infections and a decline in performance is synonymous with hard training. There might be a good explanation for this, as well as a possible solution.

High-intensity exercise is associated with changes in many scientific measures of the immune function. Stress experienced by the body of the "over-trained" athlete can cause the suppression of the immune system, which may lead to the reactivation of Epstein Barr Virus (EBV) infections.

EBV is a recognised cause of fatigue and occurs in 70-90% of the population. The reactivation of the EBV infection may lead to inflammation. Due to inflammation, the well-trained athlete will be more sensitive to recurrent sore throats and upper respiratory tract infections, which may impair performance.

A study of elite swimmers over a 30-day period of intense training showed that two thirds had symptoms of a viral infection or sore throats.

A simple solution
Should performance-driven athletes, who work really hard, accept that fatigue is inevitable? No, experts say. The solution may be as simple as taking a probiotic supplement.

Probiotics are "live" bacteria which, when consumed in sufficient numbers on a regular basis, have numerous health benefits, specifically in strengthening the immune system.

Lactobacillus acidophilus, the good bacteria often used in probiotic supplements, have been shown to activate an immune response to antigens and is also known for its protection in mucosal infections commonly found in fatigued athletes.

A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine investigated the effect of a selected strain of L. acidophilus on fatigued athletes. This group included well-trained athletes complaining of fatigue, recurrent sore throats and impaired performance.

The fatigued athletes were compared to healthy athletes who did not experience any of these symptoms. Both the healthy and the fatigued athletes took capsules containing L. acidophilus for four weeks.

Better resistance to infections
After a month of daily administration, the probiotic had a restorative effect among the fatigued athletes and the immune-performance parameter in the fatigued athletes improved by 311%.

This means that after only a month of taking the probiotic supplement, the fatigued athletes had a similar level of resistance to infections as the healthy athletes.

- (Martie de Wet, registered dietician)

R L Clancy, M Gleeson, A Cox, R Callister, M Dorrington, C D¡¦Este, G Pang, D Pyne, P Fricker, A Henriksson. Reversal in fatigued athletes of a defect in interferon ƒ× secretion after administration of Lactobacillus acidophilus. Br J Sports Med 2006; 40:351¡V354.

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Fatigued athletes and probiotica


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