Excessive exercise linked to gut problems

10 June 2017

Vigorous exercise for long periods may damage cells in the intestine.

Exercising for more than two hours at a time can cause gut problems, researchers claim.

A team of sports scientists, led by Dr Ricardo Costa of Australia’s Monash University, reviewed published studies on the topic and discovered that vigorous exercise for long periods may damage cells in the intestine, potentially causing short and long-term problems with digestion.

“Specifically, the cells of the intestine are injured and the gut becomes leaky, allowing pathogenic endotoxins normally present and isolated to the intestine to pass into the bloodstream,” the study authors reported. “This scenario of 'exercise-induced gastrointestinal syndrome' may lead to acute or chronic health complications.”

The researchers explained that two or more hours of exercise at 60 percent of a person's maximum intensity level was the threshold at which gut problems appeared “irrespective of fitness status”, and stated that running and exercising in hot ambient temperatures appear to exacerbate the gut disturbances.

Read more: Frequent exercise won’t make you lose weight

In the analysis, it was also found that for patients who have irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease, low to moderate physical activity may be beneficial and “more strenuous” movement is likely to be detrimental.

"Despite excessive exercise being confirmed to compromise gut integrity and function, we have identified several exacerbating factors which can be controlled, and prevention and management strategies that can attenuate and abolish the damage and compromised function," said Dr Costa. "It is recommended that a full gut assessment during exercise should be undertaken by individuals with symptoms of gut disturbances during exercise, to ascertain what is causing the issue and to develop individually tailored management strategies."

The full review has been published in Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics.

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