There’s a lot of talk of gut bacteria these days; you know, that stuff in your stomach that keeps you healthy?
Gut bacteria is critical to our well-being, helping with metabolism and immunity, and it might even play a role in dealing with obesity. Unfortunately, the Standard American Diet, full of processed foods and sugars, leads to a less diverse gut, which in turn make us less healthy. Fortunately, gut bacteria can be improved by your diet, for example, consuming more fermented foods. But if you’re after a healthy gut, food isn’t the only thing to pay attention to; exercise may help as well.
While exercise has long been a part of an overall healthy lifestyle, there has been little science to link it to what happens in our digestive system. But a new study published this month shows that there is in fact a link, and if we want a healthy gut, we should certainly think about exercising more.
The study compared the national rugby team in Ireland to two groups of healthy adult men, one with a normal body mass index and who exercised regularly, and the other who lived more sedentary lifestyles. Why do a study with professional athletes?
“We chose professional athletes as a study group, because we wanted to be sure not to miss any effect of exercise and needed a group who were safely performing at the extremes of human endeavor,” Dr. Fergus Shanahan, an author of the study who is a professor of gastroenterology and director of the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Center at University College Cork, told The New York Times.
After taking samples, the researchers found that the gut bacteria of the rugby team was quite different from that of their counterparts, with “considerably more diversity in the make-up of their gut microbiomes.”
An interesting component of the study was that the rugby players had large numbers of a particular bacteria, Akkermansiacea, that has been linked with decreased risk for systemic inflammation, and in turn, their blood levels showed low markers of inflammation. Despite exercising intensely, their bodies weren’t feeling the effects. The group of men that rarely exercised had much lower amounts of Akkermansiacea, and much higher markers for inflammation in their bloodstream.
It is important to note that the athletes were also on a much better diet than the control group. They ate more of all of the food groups than the control participants and they also ate more fruits and vegetables and fewer snacks. This dietary difference can also affect the gut microbe, which means that it might not all be thanks to exercise. Yet while the results are preliminary, they “draw attention to the possibility that exercise may have a beneficial effect on the microbiota,” Dr. Shanahan told the New York Times.
Shanahan and his team are continuing to study the link between gut bacteria and exercise, now looking at whether moderate exercise changes the makeup of gut bacteria in both men and women. While we wait for the results of that one, best to go ahead and go out on an extra run. Then drink a glass of kombucha.
Photo Credit: E'Lisa Campbell