August 3, 2007 / 7:07 PM / 12 years ago

No proof probiotics aid athletic performance

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Foods containing probiotics, live microbial ingredients that can provide health benefits, may be healthy, but athletes shouldn’t count on them to boost their performance, a research review suggests. However, probiotics provide some indirect benefits.

Probiotics are live microorganisms, usually bacteria, which are beneficial to the body. They are sold in supplement form, but are also found naturally in many fermented foods, including yogurt, certain juices and soy products, like miso and tempeh.

It’s thought that consuming probiotics helps maintain a healthy balance of good bacteria in the digestive tract.

This is important because the friendly bacteria residing in the gut compete with illness-causing bacteria for space and nutrients, helping to crowd the bad bugs out. They also secrete enzymes that aid in digestion, and may enhance the workings of immune-system cells in the digestive tract.

There is research showing that probiotic foods may indeed keep the gut’s “microflora” in order and boost immune function, according to Dr. Andrew W. Nichols, the author of the review, which appears in the journal Current Sports Medicine Reports.

However, he told Reuters Health, “no research has demonstrated that these agents have direct effects upon improving athletic performance.”

Still, that doesn’t mean probiotic foods are no use to athletes, according to Nichols, a sports medicine specialist at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

In principle, the health benefits of probiotics might aid athletes’ performance indirectly, he explained.

For example, it’s known that “overtraining” can dampen athletes’ immune system function. So by boosting immune function, Nichols said, probiotics might help athletes recover more quickly from intense training and competition.

Similarly, he noted, competitive athletes are prone to gastrointestinal problems — due to both heavy physical activity and regular travel — and probiotics might help them avoid these digestive woes.

SOURCE: Current Sports Medicine Reports, August 2007.

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