We’re forever being told that exercise is good for us, but a new study has found that excessive exercise can cause gut problems.
The research has been published in the journal Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics. Scientists have dubbed the condition ‘exercise-induced gastrointestinal syndrome’, and what’s more, the effects may be made worse by running or exercising in hot temperatures – not good news in our current Indian summer…
What is exercise-induced gastrointestinal syndrome?
The team of Australian sports scientists discovered that strenuous exercise may be actually damaging cells in the intestine, causing toxic substances to leak through the weakened gastrointestinal wall and into the bloodstream.
The researchers, who reviewed existing studies on the topic from the past 20 years, noted that this could result in short and long-term digestion problems. Symptoms are similar to those reported by sufferers of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), such as cramps, heartburn, bloating, nausea and flatulence.
How much exercise is too much?
Exercising intensely for two or more hours at 60 per cent of a person's maximum intensity level – so energetically - was the threshold at which gut problems appeared, “irrespective of fitness level,” said the study.
While the researchers found evidence for health benefits of moderate exercise in patients with inflammatory bowel disease or gastrointestinal disorders, the safety of more strenuous exercise wasn’t established.
How to protect against gut problems during exercise
If you have suffered any gut problem symptoms during exercise, you should seek out a full gut assessment from a professional, who can identify what’s causing any issues, and tailor treatments to suit your individual needs.
Get help for gut problems
If you have a general awareness of your digestive system not working well or feeling uncomfortable, it is likely there is something wrong.
‘Don’t be embarrassed and don’t suffer in silence,’ urges Stephanie Moore, a clinical nutritionist, who runs a nutritional therapy clinic at women’s clinic Twenty-five Harley Street, and who is also head of nutrition at Grayshott Health Spa. ‘A dysfunctional digestive system is not something to be ignored,’ she adds.
By taking a thorough dietary and medical history, a nutritional therapist can begin to see patterns regarding specific triggers, be this exercise or specific foods. Once these factors are addressed and better managed the internal irritation is able to calm and eventually heal, ultimately relieving the symptoms long-term.
Healing a damaged gut
A damaged, inflamed gut that is under-functioning, with an inadequate number and variety of beneficial bacteria, will need to be coaxed back into good health gently.
Foods to be avoided
Until the digestive system has had the chance to heal try to eat less of:
- High fibre foods, such as raw veggies and salads, which take a lot of effort by the digestive system to break down, which can trigger painful bloating and acute diarrhoea
- Onions and garlic - these are common bloaters.
As your gut heals, you can reintroduce certain foods. This is where a nutritional programme to support bacterial balance and digestive robustness is essential, to get you up and running.