| By Dr. Christine Davis, B.Sc., ND |
Physical training is understood by almost everyone as a positive, health-related activity. However, extreme athletes undertaking regular strenuous training walk a fine line between physical well-being and impaired immune function. This is likely due to the immunosuppressive effects of stress hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol. Competitive athletes have to take extra precautions to keep their immune system strong; eliminating the chance of getting sick and losing valuable training time. Probiotics can play a key role in maintaining healthy immune function.
Probiotics are “live microorganisms, which when administered in adequate amount confer a health benefit on the host (FAO 2001).” In each normal and healthy gut, there are approximately 100 trillion microorganisms (bacteria). These gut-friendly bacteria help to keep harmful bacteria in check. It can be likened to a healthy gut bacterial army, fighting off unwanted invaders.
Probiotics are gut-friendly bacteria that help to keep harmful bacteria in check.
Probiotics enhance the immune system. Probiotics have been found to modulate the functions of epithelial cells, phagocytic cells (monocytes, macrophages, and neutrophils), and natural-killer cells (NK-cells). This interaction could impact anything from infectious diseases, inflammatory disease and allergies to autoimmune disorders and cancer. Different types of probiotics are able to stimulate or moderate many aspects of innate and acquired immune responses. Therefore, choosing an appropriate probiotic for your condition is important.
Several probiotics have been shown to increase antimicrobial compounds including organic acids (lactic acid and acetic acid), hydrogen peroxide, carbon dioxide, and bacteriocins. These substances decrease intestinal pH (therefore inhibit bacterial metabolism), inhibit both gram negative and gram positive bacteria and kill bacteria. This immune protection happens systemically. It can aid in protection of upper respiratory tract infections, gastrointestinal infections, genitourinary infections and skin conditions.
Probiotics play a key role in maintaining digestive health. In hard-training athletes, you need every inch of that body functioning at peak capacity. Digestive difficulties, including; acute diarrhea, Chrohn’s disease, Colitis, Celiac disease, IBS, antibiotic-induced diarrhea and food intolerances can all be assisted by a therapeutic dose of probiotics. Even those with apparent healthy bowel function, can benefit from the use of probiotics to enhance digestion and nutrient absorption. In addition, probiotic bacteria are capable of delivering enzymes or other functional proteins to help with digestion. For example, intake of probiotics has been shown to increase the delivery of enzymes, therefore improving the digestibility of lactose in those with difficulty digesting this sugar.
Probiotics enhance the immune system and play a key role in maintaining digestive health.
Probiotics also stimulate mucin (a gel-like mucous layer in the intestine) which provides a slippery shield, protecting the gut surface from direct contact with pathogenic organisms and toxins. The integrity of the gut lining can be compromised by bacteria, toxins, inflammation and stress, leading to intestinal permeability. This allows substances that would normally pass through the gut, to pass across the gut membrane and into the body. Probiotics preserve the integrity and function of the mucosal barrier, therefore decreasing autoimmunity and allergies.
When looking for a probiotic supplement, there are three characteristics you need to look for:
- Look for a high dose, multi-strain probiotic blend.
- Aim for a 10-20 billion bacterial count in adults.
- A high-quality, pharmaceutical grade manufacturing process.
For more specific, condition-based recommendations speak to your naturopathic doctor.
Dr. Christine Davis
Dr. Christine Davis is a Naturopathic Doctor currently practicing in Aurora at the Magna Health Centre. Dr. Christine Davis obtained an Honours Bachelor of Science from the University of Toronto. Upon graduation, she completed a four-year program in Naturopathic Medicine at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine. Naturopaths emphasize an individualized approach using a variety of different modalities including acupuncture, botanical medicine, homeopathic medicine, nutritional supplementation, counselling and cutting-edge western medical research.
Christine has a special interest in athletics, weight management, detoxification and fitness. Christine is an avid fitness enthusiast who also enjoys skiing, snowboarding and swimming. She loves spending time outdoors and believes in practicing what you preach. She is passionate about food and emphasizes natural sources when designing nutrition plans that optimizes your wellbeing and addresses your individual health and performance needs. Christine is excited about health and she encourages and empowers each individual with new skills to achieve their personal fitness goals.