Good bugs ward off flu in elite athletes

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Melbourne, Feb 15 (UNI) Marathon runners may be less likely to get sick if they stock up on good bacteria, according to Australian researchers.

The study found endurance runners given a probiotic supplement suffered less severe flu and cold symptoms than other athletes.

Their illness also generally lasted only half the time of those not taking the supplement, lead researcher Dr David Pyne said.

Extreme and intensive exercise can subdue the normal immune system, making elite athletes vulnerable to respiratory viruses, the report said.

The researchers enrolled 20 elite male athletes competing in events ranging from 800m to marathon runs to trial the effects of a bug called Lactobacillus fermentum, often used to treat gut problems.

The volunteers were given the probiotic for four weeks and then later given a placebo capsule containing harmless starch for a further four weeks, the scientists informed.

The study by the Australian Institute of Sport found the supplement did not affect the athletes' performance but it significantly shortened and softened the symptoms of the illness.

While taking placebo capsules, seven runners reported respiratory illness such as sore throat, coughs, runny nose, chest congestion and sneezing, lasting a total of 72 days. But while on probiotics, only three runners reported illness lasting a total of 30 days.

Dr Pyne said the probiotic treatment, sold in Australia as Probiomics PCC, also doubled levels of interferon gamma, an important component of the body's immune response.

''This is an encouraging clinical outcome but we are still exploring the mechanisms to explain this,'' Dr Pyne was quoted by The Bulletin as saying.

''Probiotics seem to increase systemic immunity, possibly by boosting the activity of T-cells,'' he added.

The lead researcher said the improvement in resistance to common illnesses constitutes an ''important benefit to elite athletes undertaking high level training in preparation for national and international competitions.'' The study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, by the Australian Institute of Sport is part of broader research on the health benefits of supplements on people with high energy jobs, like athletes, military personnel and emergency services workers.

UNI XC RJ KP1805

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