Although numerous studies point to the fact that exercise may assist in promoting healthy bowels, the latest findings suggest that high-intensity exercise can result in gut damage. The researchers say that gut function shuts down during vigorous exercise.
Lead author Ricardo Costa explained, “The redistribution of blood flow away from the gut and towards working muscles creates gut cell injury that may lead to cell death, leaky gut, and systemic immune responses due to intestinal bacteria entering general circulation.”
The researchers found that the risk for gut injury increases during vigorous and prolonged exercise. They referred to this condition as “exercise-induced gastrointestinal syndrome.”
The threshold for exercise and gut damage is two hours. Exercise beyond two hours working at 60 percent of maximum intensity results in gut damage. Examples of this type of exercise include cycling and running.
But what causes damage to the gut during prolonged intense exercise? Costa suggests that heat is a large contributing factor. Furthermore, individuals who are predisposed to gut diseases or disorders are at a higher risk of this type of damage.
Normally, the gut receives steady blood to ensure it functions properly. During exercise, this blood flow is significantly lost, which results in inflammation that damages the guts lining. This can contribute to toxins being released into the circulatory system, also known as the leaky gut syndrome.
Too much exercise?
Although extreme and intense exercise can lead to gut damage, moderate exercise has been linked to many benefits to the gut and digestive system. Dr. Elena Ivanina, senior gastroenterology fellow, explained, “Specifically, through exercise, patients can maintain a healthy weight and avoid the consequences of obesity.” Obesity has been tied to numerous digestive disorders including fatty liver disease, gallbladder disease, and a variety of cancers including colon, esophagus, liver, and stomach.
To reduce the risk of gut damage during exercise, Costa recommends staying hydrated along with consuming a few carbohydrates and protein beforehand. Additionally, always exercise in your comfort level—if something “doesn’t feel right” or you begin to experience discomfort, you should stop your activity.
Costa also suggests that following the FODMAP diet when heavily training can also reduce gastrointestinal symptoms and prevent gut damage. The FODMAP diet is often prescribed to those with IBS and other gastrointestinal disorders. The term FODMAP stands for “fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols.” FODMAPs are specific types of carbohydrates (sugars) that pull water into the intestinal tract. You should always speak with your doctor prior to beginning a new diet.
As of now, Costa does not recommend specific supplements or antioxidants to prevent gut damage during intense exercise.
The findings were published in the journal Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics.