Love Ya Guts
It is now known that the gut is home to trillions of gut bacteria, known as microbiota, which play a role in the metabolism of food and the development and regulation of our immune system which protects us from infection, chronic inflammation and other immune regulated disorders; but this is only the beginning.
Some microbiotas also produce vitamins or other essential minerals and have the ability to break down drugs and other toxins. (1, 2) Research has also found that loss of gut microbiota diversity is linked to an increasing number of conditions such as auto-immune diseases, gastro-intestinal diseases, obesity and associated inflammatory markers, and depression. (1, 2) But the research hasn’t stop there; although far from conclusive, researchers have begun to look at gut microbiota to understand, explain or even attempt to treat, conditions such as Alzheimer’s, autistic spectrum disorders, MS and even food cravings – it’s all pretty amazing stuff with so much more to be discovered. (1, 2)
Exercise for Gut Health
Thus far, much of the attention around improving gut health has focused on diet – but fermented foods such as yoghurt, kefir and Sauerkraut might just be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to promoting ‘good’ gut health. Exercise is well known as an integral component of overall health and wellbeing and the beneficial effects appear to also extend to that of promoting ‘good’ gut health. It has been suggested that exercise may affect its role on gut health by modulating host-microbiota interaction. That is, by changing the climate of the gut in such a way that it is more favourable for microbiota and/or microbiota diversity. (3)
At present many of the studies that have examined the effect of exercise on gut flora have used animal models, but none the less the findings are very interesting and indicate positive results.(4) Unlike in human studies, in animal models it is possible to isolate the effects of diet or other health promoting behaviours from those of exercise.
In humans, the effects of exercise on gut microbiota have still been examined but as I said, it is far more difficult to account for other confounding factors. None the less, in a study involving a professional rugby team in Ireland aimed to examine the effects of exercise on gut flora with results confirming differences in the composition and diversity of the microbiota of the athletes when compared with control groups. These differences did also correlate with differences in dietary habits, particularly in relation to intake of protein, fruits and vegetables, which the rugby players consumed significantly more compared with control groups (this was not part of the experimental protocol).(1) This study concludes that exercise plays a huge role in gut flora diversity although the difficulty of separating the effect of exercise from diet remains.
Psychological stress also has an impact on gut flora so a further possibility is exercise has an indirect beneficial effect on gut health via reducing stress, improving mood and fighting depression.
At the end of the day, the evidence is still unclear. Exercise may or may not play a role, directly, indirectly, and/or independently in promoting good gut health but either way it is an important and enjoyable component of a healthy lifestyle and an interesting area of research to watch in the future.