Animal study: oatmeal fibre protects athletes against viruses
Athletes who are worried that their heavy training schedules might weaken their immune system can protect themselves against viruses by eating oatmeal at breakfast or lunch. This suggestion comes from an animal study done in 2004, published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.
Beta glucans & the immune system
Immune cells recognise many pathogens by their beta-glucans. These chains don't occur naturally in the human body. They are found in the form of fibre in foods such as mushrooms, oatmeal, algae or brewer's yeast. The theory is that if you consume these products they will shake your immune cells into action. Your immune cells are put on alert and as a result you are more likely to remain disease-free if pathogens enter your body.
Beta-glucans are found in immunomodulatory supplements, mostly in concentrations of several hundreds of milligrams per capsule. But taking beta-glucans in the form of supplements derived from oatmeal is really unnecessary as the oatmeal you can buy in the supermarket contains loads of the stuff. Half a cup of Quaker Oatmeal contains 2-3 g beta-glucans [structural formula shown below].
Immunomodulatory products containing beta-glucans are of most interest to endurance athletes. Their long training sessions take a toll on the immune system. Strength training also reduces the performance of the immune system, but to a much lesser extent.
In 2004 researchers at the University of South Caroline did an animal study in which they got male mice to run on a treadmill until the point of exhaustion. After that they exposed the mice to Herpes simplex virus Type 1.
On the day of the session, and two days beforehand, half of the mice were given beta-glucans from oatmeal [OBG] in their drinking water. The study does not reveal how much beta-glucan the mice consumed, but if we do a bit of calculated guesswork and then translate the doses into quantities for adult humans weighing 80 kg, we come out at about 600-700 mg per day. The other half of the mice were given drinking water with nothing added to it [H2O].
The researchers repeated their tests with mice that had not been made to run [Con].
The animals in both the sedentary Con group and the active Ex group were protected against viral infection by the beta-glucans. In the mice that had run and not had not been given beta-glucans, after three weeks 40 percent of them were still healthy and 60 percent were still alive. In the animals that had received supplementation, the percentages were 60 and 80 percent respectively.
The figure above reveals something about how beta-glucans work. It shows that the decline in viability of immune cells in the intestines of the mice was statistically significant three days after the exercise session to exhaustion and after administration of herpes virus. Supplementation with beta-glucans removed this effect.
The research was funded by the Quaker Oats Company and Gatorade.
Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2004 Aug;36(8):1321-7.
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