The probiotic Lactobacillus substantially cuts the rate and length of respiratory illness in professional long distance runners, reveals a small study. Intensive exercise can subdue the normal immune response, and as a result, some athletes are vulnerable to respiratory viruses, such as colds and flu.
During four months of intensive winter training, 20 elite, endurance athletes were given either three freeze dried capsules twice daily of the probiotic Lactobacillus fermentum or a dummy capsule (placebo).
The treatments lasted 28 days each, interspersed by a month of nothing (“washout period”) so that by the end of the period all the athletes had each had the probiotic and the dummy formulation.
Lactobacillus is a lactic acid bacteria that has been used in the treatment of gut infections.
The researchers assessed treadmill performance, immune response, and the length and severity of respiratory tract infections. There was no difference in running performance between those taking the probiotic and those taking the placebo.
But athletes taking the probiotic had less than half the number of days of symptoms of their colleagues taking the placebo.
Respiratory symptoms while taking Lactobacillus lasted 30 days compared with 72 days while taking the placebo. Symptoms also tended to be less severe. The probiotic treatment doubled levels of interferon gamma, an important component of the body’s immune response.
Probiotics seem to increase systemic immunity, possibly by boosting the activity of T cells, say the researchers. The potential of this probiotic to be used as a treatment to ward off illness merits further investigation, they say.
“An improvement in resistance to common illnesses constitutes an important benefit to elite athletes undertaking high level training in preparation for national and international competitions,” they conclude.
Journal reference: Oral administration of the probiotic Lactobacillus fermentum VR1-003 and mucosal immunity in endurance athletes Online First Br J Sports Med 2008; doi 10.1136/bjsm.2007.044628
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