Athletes exposed to high-intensity exercise show an increased occurrence of gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms like cramps, diarrhea, bloating, nausea, and bleeding. These problems have been associated with alterations in intestinal permeability and decreased gut barrier function. The increased GI permeability, a so-called 'leaky gut', also leads to endotoxemia, and results in increased susceptibility to infectious and autoimmune diseases, due to absorption of pathogens/toxins into tissue and the bloodstream. Key components that determine intestinal barrier function and GI permeability are tight junctions, protein structures located in the paracellular channels between epithelial cells of the intestinal wall. The integrity of tight junctions depends on sophisticated interactions between the gut residents and their expressed substances, the intestinal epithelial cell metabolism and the activities of the gut-associated lymphoid tissue. Probiotic supplements are an upcoming group of nutraceuticals that could offer positive effects on athlete's gut and entire health. Some results demonstrate promising benefits for probiotic use on the athlete's immune system. There is also evidence that probiotic supplementation can beneficially influence intestinal barrier integrity in acute diseases. With regard to exercise-induced GI permeability problems, there is still a lack of studies with appropriate data and a gap to understand the underlying mechanisms to support such health beneficial statements implicitly. This article refers (i) to exercise-induced intestinal barrier dysfunction, (ii) provides suggestions to estimate increased gut barrier permeability in athletes, and (iii) discusses the potential of probiotic supplementation to counteract an exercise-induced leaky gut.
Copyright © 2012 S. Karger AG, Basel.