A study in Ireland links the health and diversity of the microbiome to exercise (we know diet is key — more on that below). Researchers at University College Cork compared the gut microbiome in 40 professional rugby players to those of healthy men who are not professional athletes. They found that the rugby players each had a much more diverse microbiome than the non-athletes whose weight was normal. The difference was even greater when the athletes’ diverse microbiomes were compared to those of overweight men. The researchers reported that the rugby players had less inflammation and better metabolism than the other men in the study.
The study also found that the rugby players’ diet was higher in protein than those of the other guys in the study — protein comprised 22 percent of the athletes daily calories compared to 16 percent in the normal weight men and 15 percent for those who were overweight. In addition the athletes had high levels of creatinine kinase, a blood marker of extreme exercise that was positively correlated with microbiome diversity. What we don’t know for sure is whether exercise or diet — or both — actually led to the microbiome diversity seen in the rugby players.
As for diet, experts have expressed concern that the human microbiome is becoming unbalanced because of increased consumption of processed foods, overexposure to antibiotics from medical treatment and residues in food, as well as the growing incidence of cesarean section deliveries, which deprive infants of beneficial microbes they would otherwise pick up as they travel through the birth canal.
Scientists have lots to learn about the microbiome, but research so far suggests that we would be doing ourselves — and our microbiome — a big favor by consuming unprocessed foods that are low in sugar. Taking probiotics may also help overcome deficiencies in the microbiome.
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