Many studies have shown that long distance runners, due to the stresses imposed on the body by training, occasionally have their immune systems weakened, making them prone to develop respiratory and gastrointestinal (GI) infections. Last year, when I first attempted to train for a marathon… my training was hampered by successive colds that I had (of course, I may have been overtraining then, hence increasing my chances of getting sick). And because of those, I totally had to abandon my marathon aspiration.
A couple of months ago, I decided to restart training for the marathon. This time, I was conscious in following my training program to avoid overtraining. In addition, I wanted to find out if there was something I could take that would help boost my immune system. Of course there were the usual vitamins and supplements, but I wondered if there was anything else. So I searched the internet and I came across sites that were advocating the use of probiotics as immune boosters.
Probiotics, simply defined, are “good bacteria” that when ingested, do not cause illness, but instead are beneficial by improving one’s immune system. These probiotics are the bacteria that transform milk to yogurt (hence the health claims of eating yogurt).
In a study done in Finland in 2007, marathon runners who took in Lactobacilli (a good bacteria) for 3 months, did not have any difference in the number of GI/respiratory infections they contracted as compared to runners who just took placebo. However, it was shown that for the probiotic group, they recovered twice as fast as compared to the placebo group. This however was only observed for GI infections, and not for the respiratory infections. Just recently, an Australian study observed that a lesser number of runners developed respiratory infections when they took in probiotics.
Admittedly, these studies are quite limited in scope and fail to really establish the role of probiotics as immune boosters. However, since the studies show that there might be some benefit and that no harmful side effects are to be expected, I’ve decided to include it into my daily regimen (masarap din kasi e 🙂 . I’ve been drinking 1 Yakult (R) daily and so far and I think it has already started to help me (though it may just be the placebo effect). For one, I haven’t contracted any illnesses yet (this could be due to me not overtraining), so I say that its been effective so far 🙂 So for those out there looking for ways to improve your immune system, daily ingestion of probiotics (in the form of yogurt or yogurt drinks) maybe a good alternative/addition in your daily regimen. Keep on running!