In recent years, bacteria have gained popularity on the health and wellness scene. Most commonly, you hear of the wonders probiotic bacteria can work for your gastrointestinal health. But now there’s evidence to suggest they may play a beneficial role in staving off respiratory tract infections too. This could be welcome news for endurance athletes who might have compromised immune systems that leave them more susceptible to these types of illnesses.
After results from an earlier study in fatigued exercisers showed favorably toward probiotic therapy, researchers in Canberra, Australia set out to see if feeding healthy endurance runners capsules of the bacteria Lactobacillus fermentum would have any effect on their immune response and whether the runners would still become sick during treatment. According to the paper published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, the runners who were given the probiotic treatment spent less than half as many days ill as those who’d received the placebo.
The researchers followed 20 male distance runners for 14 weeks. After one month of taking either the L fermentum treatment or the placebo, the runners had a “washout month” in which they took neither. In the third month, the runners who were originally given the treatment were then given the placebo and vice versa. Alongside taking their three capsules twice a day, the runners, whose average mileage was around 100 km a week, also kept daily training and illness logs.
At the beginning of the study and at the end of each month, the participants completed treadmill tests, and gave saliva and blood samples so the researchers could check the levels of immune function indicators. However, the most prominent finding from the study came from the illness logs. Although the duration of each illness reported was about the same, treatment group runners got sick less often and with less severity than placebo group runners.
Though it was a small study in extremely fit athletes, it appears it might be worth delving more deeply into the mechanisms behind these results. In the end, these bacteria might turn out to be good for more than just our guts.