The Importance of Gut Health for Athletes

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New research is uncovering an often-overlooked aspect of athletic training that may in fact be a secret weapon to peak performance: the health of our microbiome.

What is a Microbiome?Simply put, our microbiome is the collective colonies of bacteria in and on our body. From unique populations in our gut and urogenital system to bacteria in our mouth, nose, throat, and breasts, our body is host to trillions of microbes.

The good news is that the vast majority of these microorganisms—around 85% in a healthy microbiome—have a helpful, symbiotic relationship with our body. In other words, we provide them with food and a place to live, and in return, they help to support our health in a myriad of ways. From balancing our blood sugar and regulating our emotions to helping with digestion and boosting our immune function, friendly flora perform countless functions in our body that benefit our health and well-being.

5 Ways Probiotics Benefit Athletes

Everyone needs a plentiful supply of good bacteria (aka probiotics) for optimal health, but probiotics can be especially beneficial for athletes. And the good news? It works both ways—not only do probiotics boost athletic performance, but athletes tend to have healthier and more diverse microbiomes than non-active folks1.

So, how do probiotics help the athlete in all of us? Probiotics can:

1. Strengthen your immunity. With 80% of your immune system in your gut, it’s no wonder that the good microbes living there help to regulate immune function. But, endurance exercise and heavy training can suppress your immune system, leading to upper respiratory issues that could keep you from training2. Fortunately, studies show that regularly consuming fermented foods can reduce the incidence, severity, and frequency of these types of health issues in athletes3. In one study, researchers discovered that concentrations of immune and antibody agents—which often decrease during intense training—returned to normal levels after just one month of increased probiotic intake4.

2. Boost your antioxidants. Due to the increased amount of unstable molecules—or oxidative stress—produced during endurance exercise, heavy training can overwhelm the body’s innate ability to counteract, leading to cell damage and health challenges. The good news is that regular consumption of fermented foods can increase antioxidant levels in athletes, effectively neutralizing the free radicals5.

3. Increase your energy and endurance. By improving nutrient absorption and optimizing digestion, the probiotics and enzymes in raw cultured foods help you assimilate all the healthy nutrients in the foods you eat, so you have the energy you need to train. Some strains of beneficial bacteria also produce short chain fatty acids that provide an additional source of energy for working muscles6. Did you know that probiotics can also improve your endurance? It’s true! In one trial, researchers discovered that a month of regular probiotic intake increased runners’ time to fatigue in extreme heat7.

4. Reinforce your gut lining. High-intensity exercise can lead to gastrointestinal flare-ups like temporary diarrhea, cramps, bloating, and gas. Scientists theorize that these uncomfortable occurrences are likely due to increased permeability of the gut barrier, which enables toxins and unwanted bacteria to slip into the bloodstream. Fortunately, probiotics work with your own cells to line and reinforce your gut barrier, blocking out molecules that can keep you from training at your best8.

5. Reduce temporary inflammation and support bone health. Exercise in and of itself can lead to temporary inflammation as overworked muscles repair and heal. By reinforcing your gut barrier, regulating your immune system, and secreting short-chain fatty acids, probiotics can modulate your body’s inflammatory response, speeding recovery time so you can train at your best9. Probiotics can also support your bone and joint health by synthesizing vitamins that help metabolize calcium, and by producing enzymes that can increase mineral absorption10.

Now that we know all the ways probiotics can work to improve athletic performance, how do we incorporate them into our training?

Probiotics for Athletes

Unfortunately, the good bacteria in our microbiome are under constant attack from modern factors like processed foods, antibiotics in the food supply and as medicine,antibacterial cleaners, overzealous hygiene habits, and even stress and aging.

So, to feel and function our best, we must proactively (and consistently) replenish the good guy bacteria throughout our body. The most effective way to introduce probiotics into your training regimen is to eat nutrient dense, raw, cultured foods.

Eat Your Probiotics

Fermented vegetables not only provide a wider variety of beneficial bacteria than probiotic supplements, they also provide far more of them. The highest level of colony-forming units found in supplements is 10 billion. Fermented veggies, however, can produce 10 trillion colony-forming units of bacteria. That means one serving of fermented veggies provides the same benefit as an entire bottle of high-potency probiotics.

Fermented Farmacy makes is easy for athletes to get the most delicious probiotic and enzyme-packed cultured foods through their subscription service. By subscribing, you not only get the best tasting, sustainably-sourced ferments without the hassle of making your own, you also get them at a greater discount than you can find anywhere else!

Fermented Farmacy delivers every month. One quart of Kickapoo Kimchi or Seasonal Ferment has enough 2-4 ounce daily servings to last the average athlete one month. These ferments are uniquely formulated to include a variety of not only probiotics, but powerful prebiotics and medicinal herbs, like organic turmeric and liver-cleansing burdock. They are also gluten-free and vegan!

Master Your Microbiome

In addition to regularly consuming fermented foods, eating a whole foods diet, high in plant-based foods (and rich in prebiotics) while steering clear of chemicals, unnecessary medications, antibiotics, and toxins that can deplete your populations of good bacteria will go a long way towards supporting optimal microbial health.

We all have an inner athlete that strives to be the best we can be. Whether you are a champion marathoner, or you count your daily exercise in the number of minutes spent chasing your toddler in the yard, the health of your microbiome is a critical determining factor in both the quality and quantity of your training. Living a gut-healthy life that is in harmony with your microbes can keep you at the top of your game, if not at the top of the podium.

 

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References:
1. Clarke, S. F., Murphy, E. F., O’sullivan, O., Lucey, A. J., Humphreys, M., Hogan, A., . . . Cotter, P. D. (2014). Exercise and associated dietary extremes impact on gut microbial diversity. Gut, 63(12), 1913-1920.
2. Gleeson, M. (2015). Immunological aspects of sport nutrition. Immunology and Cell Biology, 94(2), 117-123.
3. Haywood, B. A., Black, K. E., Baker, D., Mcgarvey, J., Healey, P., & Brown, R. C. (2014). Probiotic supplementation reduces the duration and incidence of infections but not severity in elite rugby union players. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 17(4), 356-360.
4. Clancy, R. L. (2006). Reversal in fatigued athletes of a defect in interferon 𝛾 secretion after administration of Lactobacillus acidophilus. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 40(4), 351-354.
5. Martarelli, D., Verdenelli, M. C., Scuri, S., Cocchioni, M., Silvi, S., Cecchini, C., & Pompei, P. (2011). Effect of a Probiotic Intake on Oxidant and Antioxidant Parameters in Plasma of Athletes During Intense Exercise Training. Current Microbiology, 62(6), 1689-1696.
6. Mach, N., & Fuster-Botella, D. (2016). Endurance exercise and gut microbiota: A review. Journal of Sport and Health Science.
7. Shing, C. M., Peake, J. M., Lim, C. L., Briskey, D., Walsh, N. P., Fortes, M. B., . . . Vitetta, L. (2013). Effects of probiotics supplementation on gastrointestinal permeability, inflammation and exercise performance in the heat. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 114(1), 93-103.
8. Lamprecht, M., & Frauwallner, A. (2012). Exercise, Intestinal Barrier Dysfunction and Probiotic Supplementation. Acute Topics in Sport Nutrition Medicine and Sport Science, 47-56. doi:10.1159/000342169
9. Lescheid, D. (2014). Probiotics as regulators of inflammation: A review. Functional Foods in Health and Disease, 4(7), 299-311.
10. Parvaneh, K., Jamaluddin, R., Karimi, G., & Erfani, R. (2014). Effect of Probiotics Supplementation on Bone Mineral Content and Bone Mass Density. The Scientific World Journal, 2014, 1-6.

Eating Probiotic Foods Eases Anxiety and Depression

 

probiotics & depression

Did you know 75-90% of the body’s serotonin is in the intestines, NOT in the brain? Yet prescription antidepressants only raise serotonin levels in the brain and are often ineffective for treating depression. Perhaps it is time to consider a simpler solution, one without a long list of serious side effects.

Groundbreaking research has shown a common strain of probiotic can create GABA within the gut while also enhancing brain receptors for this neurotransmitter. Naturally produced GABA is a safe alternative to dangerous psychiatric drugs – it calms the nervous system, promotes tranquil sleep, minimizes anxiety and alleviates depression.

A common bacterium may serve as a safe, natural and economical solution for depression, anxiety, and insomnia. Canadian neuroscientist Jane Foster found the micro flora of the gut have a significant connection with the central nervous system. “The cross talk between the gut-biome and the brain is continual. That’s the important take-home message. These are not two separate systems; they are two parts of a single system,” says Foster in the Psychology Today article “Your Back-up Brain.”

John Cryan of the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre at University College Cork in Ireland took this idea further by studying how lactobacillus bacteria in the gut specifically influence the brain. Cryan discovered lactobacillus actually alters the brain-cell receptors for GABA in a positive manner, thereby reducing anxious behavior. The bacteria not only create more GABA receptors, but also produce the neurotransmitter itself which then circulates in the blood. All of this has a profound impact on emotional balance and the nervous system. As observed by Emily Deans, MD, “GABA is a nice glass of wine in front of the fire. GABA is restful sleep. GABA is tranquility and yoga.”

Because patients with anxiety and depression also frequently suffer from digestive disorders, researchers theorize a probiotic deficiency may be linked to mood.

It’s easy to cultivate a healthy dose of this calming neurotransmitter by traveling no further than the refrigerator. Simply enjoy fermented foods and beverages, like sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha!

Fermented Farmacy offers a convenient and unique way to eat your probiotics with their seasonal Ferment of the Month subscription. Their regionally-sourced, mindfully crafted recipes include a wide variety of organic produce, wild plants, and medicinal herbs.

Fermented vegetables not only provide a wider variety of beneficial bacteria than probiotic supplements, they also provide far more of them. The highest level of colony-forming units found in supplements is 10 billion. Fermented veggies, however, can produce 10 trillion colony-forming units of bacteria. That means one serving of fermented veggies provides the same benefit as an entire bottle of high-potency probiotics.

Could a healthy gut be key to stopping MS in its tracks?

MS GUT (1)

According to neurology journals, researchers have seen compelling evidence in animal studies that the gut microbiome plays a significant role in the progression of demyelinating disease, and that modulation of the microbiome can lead to either exacerbation or amelioration of symptoms. The science of healthy gut theory is strong, that multiple clinical trials going on now are aimed at modulating the gut microbiota in MS patients and may prove to be a promising and lower-risk treatment option.

Differences in diet, vitamin D insufficiency, smoking, and alcohol use have all been implicated as risk factors in MS, and all have the ability to affect the composition of the gut microbiota.

 

Microbiota in the human body reside in various areas, including the oral cavity, the vagina, and the skin. As many as 500 trillion bacteria and other organisms live in the 300 m² of the intestinal tract, explained Dr. Weiner, Robert L. Kroc Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School in Boston; founder of the Partners MS Center in Brookline, Massachusetts; and Codirector of the Center for Neurologic Diseases at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

“There are more genes in our gut than in any other part of our body,” he said. “The gut is probably the largest lymphoid organ in the body and it is where you can induce all kinds of immune responses.”

“The most exciting possibility is that the gut holds the key to the cause of MS, especially since it has been theorized that MS may be caused by a virus or bacterium,” said Howard L. Weiner, MD, “It is also possible that the microbiome, diet, oral tolerance, and antibiotic use relates to MS susceptibility. Modulating the microbiome with probiotics or specific bacteria may be a way to treat MS.”

 

 

Sources: Curr Treat Options Neurol. 2015 Apr;17(4):344. doi: 10.1007/s11940-015-0344-7.

Neurology Reviews. 2015 23(8):27-30.

 

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12 Tasty Ways to Use Fermented Foods

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You can use fermented fruits and vegetables in so many different ways!  If your family hasn’t adjusted yet to the sour taste that many fermented foods have, you can ‘hide’ them in a variety of meals.

12 TASTY USES FOR FERMENTED FOODS:

1.  As a side dish.

You can simply serve a small serving of fermented veggies or fruit as a side dish with your meal.  The seasonal Ferment of the Month from Fermented Farmacy always has a tasty combination of cultured veggies, wild plants, and medicinal herbs and makes a great side dish.

2.  In green salads.

Chop up your fermented veggies and serve on a green salad.

3.  In smoothies.

Fermented fruits (and the juice) are the perfect addition to smoothies.

4.  Pureed as a sauce

You can use fermented fruits pureed as a sauce for pancakes, waffles, ice cream, yogurt, etc. Puree fermented veggies to add to pasta sauces.

5.  In pasta or bean salads

Chop up fermented veggies are an excellent addition to pasta salads, tuna salads, egg salads, bean salads, etc.  I add fermented carrots/peppers/cucumbers to these types of salads all the time.  You could ferment cloves of garlic for this purpose too!

6.  On a wrap or sandwich.

A small amount of fermented veggies make a crunchy topping for your favorite wrap or sandwich.  Kickapoo Kimchi from Fermented Farmacy is delicious inside a grilled cheese!

7.  As a dip.

You can add almost any fermented veggie to your favorite guacamole recipe, sour cream dip, artichoke dip, etc.. Your family will never know!  Fermented salsas are a great dip too.  If your family doesn’t care for the taste, mix fermented salsa with regular salsa.

8.  As a condiment.

Try different krauts on your hotdog! Also,almost any homemade condiment can be fermented.  Simply adding whey or culture starter to your favorite homemade ketchup, mustard, bbq sauce recipe (tighten lid and allow to sit at room temp overnight) will enable you to have probiotic goodness for condiments.

9.  Use the juice to flavor soups and sauces.

Don’t waste the precious juice of the vegetables that is laden with good bacteria.  Add a little to soups or when making sauce. (Be sure to add at the end of cooking, so the temperature has less chance to kill the good bacteria!)  Adds a nice bite to spaghetti sauce.

10.  As a topping

Fermented fruits make great toppings for pancakes, ice cream, and more.  Use fermented veggies to top tacos and nachos!

11. On a pizza

If you haven’t tried sauerkraut on pizza, you’re missing out! Fermented Farmacy’s German kraut goes great with Italian sausage and lots of mozz!

10.  As a gift

Give the gift of health! Help friends and family keep their gut bacteria in check and maintain natural immunity with a gift subscription from FermentedFarmacy.com!

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