Exercise can increase the diversity of bacteria found in the gut, possibly boosting the immune system and improving long-term health, British researchers report.
High levels of dietary protein might have the same effect, according to their study, published June 9, 2014 in the journal Gut.
Researchers at the Institutes of Medical Sciences at Aberdeen University in Scotland examined the blood and stool samples of 40 professional rugby players in the middle of a rigorous training program. The athletes were chosen for the study because intense exercise regimens are often associated with extreme diets. (Photo via lifestyleupdated)
The rugby players’ samples were then compared to samples taken from 46 similar men who were healthy, but not athletes. Half of these men had a normal body-mass index (BMI) – a measure that can help determine if someone is a normal weight for their height. The rest had a higher-than-normal BMI.
The study revealed the athletes had higher levels of a specific enzyme that signals muscle or tissue damage. These men also had lower levels of inflammatory markers and a better metabolic profile than the men in the “non-athlete” control group with a higher BMI.
The athletes also had greater diversity in their gut bacteria than the other men. This was particularity true when compared to the men with a high BMI.
Not only were there more types of bacteria, they were also found in greater number in the athletes’ guts. An the athletes had much higher levels of one particular species of bacteria linked to reduced rates of obesity and obesity-related disorders, the researchers said.
The researchers found the athletes ate more of all of the food groups than the non-athletes. Protein (mostly meat) accounted for 22% of their energy intake, compared to 15-16% among the non-athletes. The rugby players also consumed protein supplements and ate many more fruits and vegetables than the non-athletes. The non-athletes ate more snack foods.
“Our findings indicate that exercise is another important factor in the relationship between the microbiota, host immunity and host metabolism, with diet playing an important role,” said Dr. Geogina Hold, study director.
Microbiota is the term used to describe the collective of microbes that live in our gut. They out number our cells 10 to 1 and are now considered to be a collective that includes us as the largest member. Your microbiota is as unique to you as your fingerprint. However, family members that live together and are genetically related (mother-daughter, not husband-wife) share many of the same species of microbes.
This concept of exercise increasing the numbers and variety of healthy microbes is interesting. However, looking at the research, I am more inclined to believe it is the increase in fruits and vegetables in the diet that accounts for their findings rather than the exercise or high protein intake.
All fruits and vegetables contain some soluble fiber. Soluble fiber is broken down (to some extent) by the digestive process and serves as food for healthy microbes in the gut. By contrast, insoluble fiber (like that found in bulk laxatives) remains undigested, passing through the entire digestive tract intact.
The unhealthy microbes need fat as their source of food. In a healthy digestive tract, little if any fat enters the large intestine where the bulk of the microbiota lives. However, if excessive fat is consumed (think SAD – standard American diet) or if fat digestion is impaired, then fat enters the large intestine feeding the unhealthy microbes.
The body does try to prohibit fat from entering the large intestine, creating constipation as a response. However, once the fat gets into the large intestine and is digested by the unfriendly flora, the waste product is gas.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
A diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables can markedly improve your microbiota. Regular exercise is important as well, but I really am not convinced it improves the microbiota.
If you suffer from chronic constipation and/or bowel gas, take a look at your fat intake. If it is not excessive, then you probably have a gallbladder issue. Have it evaluated, don’t wait for an acute episode of cholecystitis that sends you to the hospital.
Source - NIH National Institutes of Health –Tuesday, June 10, 2014