When it comes to exercise, there is definitely a happy medium that provides health benefits. Too little activity is associated with detrimental health effects, including a compromised immune system, decreased resistance to stress, and decreased resilience of circadian rhythms. However, too much (too strenuous, too intense) activity also negatively impacts health, including causing dysregulated cortisol, increased susceptibility to immune-related diseases and infection, and a leaky gut.
While not all endurance athletes suffer overt symptoms, strenuous exercise does appear to increase intestinal permeability in everyone who indulges in exhaustive exercise, albeit to varying degrees. A variety of studies have documented increased intestinal permeability in athletes who reported no gastrointestinal symptoms. And one study showed that well-trained athletes who suffered from exercise-induced gastrointestinal symptoms experienced significantly more intestinal permeability after exercise than asymptomatic athletes.
The way that exercise increases intestinal permeability is multi-faceted:
Stress & Cortisol
First, intense activity is a stress on the body and activates the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) Axis, i.e., the Stress Axis or the Fight-or-Flight Response. This causes the release of two important hormones that directly affect gut health.
Blood Flow (or not)
In order to prioritise blood flow to the heart and skeletal muscles during exercise, blood flow is diverted away from the gastrointestinal tract and other visceral organs (like the liver and spleen). This lack of sufficient blood flow results in what is called ischemic injury (injury that results from inadequate blood supply) to the gut, which disrupts the intestinal barrier and thus increases intestinal permeability (aka, the dreaded leaky gut).
Food, Drink, Supplements, and Medication
One study showed that the use of ibuprofen, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), significantly exacerbated both intestinal permeability and intestinal damage caused by strenuous exercise in well-trained athletes (ironically, popping ibuprofen is a common practice for endurance athletes).
There is also a strong correlation between both food intake and the consumption of carbohydrate-dense, electrolyte-enhanced beverages and gastrointestinal symptoms in endurance athletes. Strenuous exercise inhibits gastric emptying (the movement of food from the stomach to the small intestine), which is then further inhibited as the concentration of carbohydrates and salt in the stomach increases, so sugary sports drinks can actually make the problem worse.
Of course, it goes without saying that dehydration also causes heightened symptoms. The consequence is a poor absorption of nutrients such as Iron and B vitamins, imperative to cellular energy production. Not only is running outstripping supply but the compromised gut health is inhibiting the optimal absorption of the key nutrients required to perform at our best.
Heat = More Stress
Environmental conditions also have an impact. One study showed that a sixty-minute run in both hot (91°F or 33°C) and cool (72°F or 22°C) conditions caused increased intestinal permeability, but that the amount of endotoxin (bacterial protein from Gram-negative bacteria) detectable in the blood was much greater after strenuous exercise performed in hot conditions but not in cool conditions.
Further Factors that Exacerbate Athlete’s Gut:
Gut problems, especially Athlete specific poorly understood and treated by conventional med.
Continued overuse of certain recommended supplements: Iron Sulphate, Magnesium Citrate, Artificial Sweeteners, Protein Supplements.
Volume of food required as a consequence of a heavy training load = chronic ‘hypoxic gut’ secondary to lack of blood supply during exercise.
Trigger heavy foods > bacterial and yeast overgrowth secondary to the hypoxia and inflammation.
How we can support:
Remove trigger = Food sensitivities, toxins in food - MSG (Chinese/Asian food) gastric irritants, food allergies, sensitivities, or reactions plus chronic low-grade infections in the gut (e.g., yeast and parasites). (Consider Fibr elimination diet),
Boost the “Good Army’ up - Your Gut’s Defence System: Cycle probiotic supplements. Increase prebiotic Foods. = Restore beneficial bacteria to re-establish a healthy balance of microflora in the gut = PROBIOTICS, and PREBIOTICS.
Repair lining by providing nutrients to heal the gut wall or lining and support the immune functioning of the gut. (Fibr Gut Protocol to include: Colostrum Zinc carnosine, lipo C).
Support digestive environment = Bitters pre food - ACV - consider digestive enzymes.
Switch protein powder supp to an organic raw plant based such as Revolution Foods.
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Gut inflammation Status.
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Get in touch today to get your gut health back on track.