zinc

Zinc deficiency and plant based athletes

Zinc deficiency is more common in plant-based athletes.  Fact is, zinc is the powerhouse that supports performance. And knowing how being deficient in zinc can affect your progress, is essential.

Most athletes understand zinc’s role in supporting the immune system and wound healing, and its requirement for a proper sense of taste and smell but few understand its role in muscle function. It is a nutrient that needs to be consumed every day as the body doesn’t naturally produce zinc.

In our blog Robust immunity in athletes we outline the common signs of zinc deficiency, including frequent and prolonged colds, acne, dermatitis, low stomach acid, poor digestion, fatigue, and white spots or bands on nails.

In our previous blog Am I Deficient in Zinc? we outline how the high demands of sports make the elite athlete more vulnerable to illness, meaning over 65% of athletes experience regular colds and infections that sideline them from events and consistent training.

Zinc’s homeostasis is tightly regulated by different transport and buffer protein systems. Exercise has been shown to modulate zinc blood serum and urinary levels and could directly affect zinc transport around the body. The oxidative stress induced by exercise may provide the basis for the mild zinc deficiency observed in athletes and could have severe consequences on health and sports performance.

Importantly for athletes, zinc has been found to affect protein and muscle formation and regeneration due to its effects on muscle cell activation, proliferation and differentiation.

Plant based athletes in particular need to be aware of zinc rich sources, and food containing inhibitors of zinc absorption.

For vegan and vegetarian athletes, wholegrain cereals and legumes provide the highest concentrations of zinc, generally in the range of 2.5–5.0 mg/100 g raw weight. As zinc is contained within the outer layer of grains, unrefined whole grains provide higher concentrations of zinc than refined grains (up to 5.0 mg/100 g, compared with 1.0 mg/100 g).

Wholegrain breads and cereals, rolled oats, brown rice, nuts, seeds, legumes, tofu, soy products and fortified breakfast cereals are important dietary sources of zinc for everyone, not just vegetarians.

Fruit and green leafy vegetables have much lower concentrations of zinc due to their high water content. The good news is there is no evidence of greater risk of being deficient if intake of plant based zinc sources are adequate.

Well-planned vegetarian diets can provide adequate amounts of zinc from plant sources. Vegetarians appear to adapt to lower zinc intakes by increased absorption and retention of zinc. The inhibitory effects of phytate on absorption of zinc can be minimised by soaking, heating, sprouting and fermenting. Absorption of zinc can be improved by using yeast-based breads and sourdough breads, sprouts, and presoaked legumes.

Studies on runners indicate a drop in serum zinc following exercise and a higher excretion of urinary zinc than in sedentary populations. Zinc is vital for skeletal muscle, a tissue whose main function is contraction, force and movement production. As your body actually secretes zinc through sweat, it is essential for athletes to monitor zinc levels often.

It is super important not to just rely on just supplements to increase levels of zinc in your body. The risks of long-term zinc supplementation can have other potentially detrimental effects such as displacing other minerals such as copper and iron needed to form hemoglobin, therefore, increasing the risk of developing anaemia.

Zinc requires a fine balance between adequacy and deficiency and therefore essential to seek advice from a qualified practitioner who can determine the best course of action to avoid issues.

 

About the Author: Kate Smyth is a Sports naturopath, nutritionist and female-centric running coach. She is the founder of the Athlete Sanctuary- a holistic healthcare clinic for athletes of all levels and sporting codes. Kate has a thirst for knowledge with two bachelor’s and a master’s degree under her belt. She has been involved in sports for many decades and competed for Australia in the Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games marathons with a personal best time of 2 hours 28 minutes. For more information visit www.https://https://athletesanctuary.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/normatec-3-lower-body-system-thumb_720x-1.webp.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Seed-Cycle-Blends-scaled-1.jpg.com.au

References

Walsh (2019).  Nutrition and Athlete Immune Health: New Perspectives on an Old Paradigm. Nov 6. doi: 10.1007/s40279-019-01160-3.

J.Hernández-Camacho, C. Vicente-García, D. Parsons, I. Navas-Enamorado (2020).  Zinc at the crossroads of exercise and proteostasis.  101529, ISSN 2213-2317. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.redox.2020.101529 .

Woodbridge, P., Konstantaki, M., & Horgan, G. (2020). Nutritional deficiencies in vegan runners: A comparison of actual versus recommended nutritional intake and dietary recommendations. Journal of Exercise and Nutrition, 3(3).

DE, A. K. (2020). Zinc supplementation. A must for Athletes. Science and Culture.

McClung, J. P. (2019). Iron, zinc, and physical performance. Biological trace element research, 188(1), 135-139.

Low zinc symptoms

The high demands of sports make athletes more vulnerable to illness, with 65% of athletes experiencing regular colds and infections. Zinc is a key nutrient required for immunity and keeping an eye out for low zinc symptoms, may just make the difference between being sick or great performances.

It can be so frustrating to put in many months of hard training only to be sidelined during a taper or on race day by heaving lungs, debilitating fatigue, and a pounding headache. Sports performance is materialised through consistency, akin to writing a book, one page at a time. Forced breaks from training due to illness detract from progress and drains confidence. Not all athletes rest when unwell and opt to “push through” the illness only to experience prolonged symptoms and more disruption to competition. 

Building a robust immunity is all part of a holistic approach to coaching and training. So how do you minimise your risk of getting sick? 

There are many nutrients that contribute to a healthy immune system as discussed previously.

Athletes may be more susceptible to being deficient in zinc because exercise, particularly strenuous and endurance exercise, increases zinc requirements, encourages zinc loss through sweating, and changes zinc transportation and metabolism.  

In our opinion, zinc plays the most critical role in supporting athletes and immunity.

Zinc’s role in hormone control and immunity

Zinc regulates several crucial processes in both your innate and adaptive immune system. Being deficient in zinc can lead to athletes becoming more susceptible to respiratory illness, particularly in the colder months. 

Apart from zinc’s well-established role in immunity, this mineral, contributes to protein structure, regulates gene expression, metabolism and is the second most abundant trace element in the body after iron.  Zinc deficiency can impact an athlete through hormone dysregulation (testosterone, thyroid, and growth hormones to name a few) and may affect erectile function and fertility.

Zinc is essential to maintaining optimum performance due to its function in metabolism and healthy cell division – essential in repairing damaged tissues after you exercise.

Studies show being deficient in zinc can lead to a reduction in the number of fast-twitch muscle fibres and muscle mass and performance decline.  For Masters Athletes this is of particular relevance as aging is also associated with sarcopenia, the age-related loss of muscle mass, muscle strength, and physical performance.

Zinc also helps maintain blood sugar control and assists with muscle contraction during exercise, glucose metabolism, and glycogen storage.

Zinc also plays an essential role in antioxidant production by increasing antioxidant activity and inhibiting free radical production that may damage tissues, impact liver function, and prevent muscle exhaustion.

Low zinc symptoms

Apart from recurrent colds and other infections, there are many low zinc symptoms.

*Anxiety and depression

*Hormone imbalances

*Poor concentration

*Stomach pain and gas

*Slow healing

*White spots on nails

*Skin issues and acne

*Loss of appetite

*Loss or change of smell

*Changes in taste

Zinc rich foods

The most concentrated sources of zinc are contained in animal products, particularly meat, seafood and dairy.   Vegan and plant-based athletes may be more susceptible to zinc deficiency due to reduced dietary intake, lowered gastric acid (which is zinc-dependent) and higher phytate consumption.  Phytates found in plant-based zinc-rich foods such as legumes can inhibit zinc absorption. 

Soaking nuts and seeds and legumes prior to cooking is a great way to minimise this issue and allow for greater micronutrient absorption.

Iron absorption 

The gastrointestinal tract plays an important role in maintaining total body zinc homeostasis by regulating zinc absorption and excretion. In order to boost your absorption, the addition of a probiotic may be beneficial.

In certain situations, zinc supplementation may be recommended. The amount ingested, supplement form, and the timing of zinc matters. Speak to a naturopath or nutritionist with an interest in sport before self-prescribing. You’ll definitely want to avoid zinc toxicity. High zinc levels can have a detrimental impact on your performance through anaemia, copper and iron deficiency and unpleasant gastrointestinal side effects.

Zinc testing

Serum blood testing is used by some conventional practitioners to determine zinc levels in the body. Keep in mind 60% of zinc is stored in muscle and 30% in bone therefore serum may not be the best measure of zinc homeostasis.  A mineral test can be another alternative method of assessing zinc levels and is available through our clinic as explained here.

If you need help building a robust immune system, book an appointment with our naturopath.

 

About the Author: Kate Smyth is a Sports naturopath, nutritionist and female-centric running coach. She is the founder of the Athlete Sanctuary- a holistic healthcare clinic for athletes of all levels and sporting codes. Kate has a thirst for knowledge with two bachelor’s and a master’s degree under her belt. She has been involved in sports for many decades and competed for Australia in the Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games marathons with a personal best time of 2 hours 28 minutes. For more information visit www.https://https://athletesanctuary.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/normatec-3-lower-body-system-thumb_720x-1.webp.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Seed-Cycle-Blends-scaled-1.jpg.com.au

References

  1. N. Walsh.  Nutrition and Athlete Immune Health: New Perspectives on an Old Paradigm.
    2019 Nov 6. doi: 10.1007/s40279-019-01160-3.
  2. A. Venderley, W.Campbell. Vegetarian diets : nutritional considerations for athletes.
    2006;36(4):293-305. doi: 10.2165/00007256-200636040-00002.
  3. J.Hernández-Camacho, C. Vicente-García, D. Parsons, I. Navas-Enamorado.  Zinc at the crossroads of exercise and proteostasis.
    2020, 101529, ISSN 2213-2317. doi.org/10.1016/j.redox.2020.101529.
  4. P. Trumbo, A.  Yates, S. Schlicker, M. Poos. Dietary reference intakes: vitamin A, vitamin K, arsenic, boron, chromium, copper, iodine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, silicon, vanadium, and zinc.
    2010 March.101(3):294-301.
    doi: 10.1016/S0002-8223(01)00078-5.
  5. A. Baltaci, R. Mogulkoc, S. Baltaci. Review: The role of zinc in the endocrine system.
    2019 Jan;32(1):231-239. PMID: 30772815.
  6. P.Ranasinghe, S. Pigera, P. Galappatthy, G. Katulanda, & R. Constantine. Zinc and diabetes mellitus: understanding molecular mechanisms and clinical implications.
    23
    (1), 44.  doi.org/10.1186/s40199-015-0127-4
  7. M. Hambidge, N. Krebs. Zinc metabolism and requirements.
    2001;22(2):126-132  doi: 10.1177/156482650102200202
Do you want to know more about Robust Immunity?

Before we dive into how to maintain robust immunity in athletes, let’s do a quick recap on how our immune system works.

The immune system is a busy network throughout our entire body including cells, vessels, lymphoid tissue, nodes, nodules, bone marrow and organs.

Bone marrow is where millions of new blood cells are produced every day. Bone marrow also serves as the site where cells are stored and matured before they enter the circulatory system.

Our immune system would not be complete without the gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT) – and Peyer’s patches in the small intestine.  Nearly 80% of our immune system is actually based in the digestive tract.

The thymus gland is a small gland known as the “seat of courage” and is located behind the breastbone. Our thymus helps regulate the immune system and is a storage tank for immune cells such as lymphocytes and monocytes responsible for eradicating viruses.

Our spleen is an oval shaped mass of lymphatic tissue which acts as a large blood filter. It recycles iron, captures and destroys pathogens and initiates the maturation and release of immune system when the body requires it (e.g. to fight infections).

Our lymph nodes act as a filtering system for the clear fluid called lymph which contains waste and immune cells. The lymphatic vessels act as the super highway carrying lymph between the 600 lymph nodes in our body located in our limbs, armpits, abdomen and groin.

Lymphatic nodules also contain lymphatic tissue and are positioned on mucous membranes in our respiratory system and gastrointestinal tract, tonsils and adenoids.

The immune system has many lines of defence.

 Our immune system is equipped with a multi-tiered response approach. A healthy immune system is always ready (24-7) to battle with foreign invaders.

The immune system includes our first line of defence which acts like the bouncers of your body deciding what can come in and what can’t such as the skin, mucous membranes, gastrointestinal tract and secretions like mucous, acidic vaginal secretions, bile, gastric acid (HCL), saliva, tears, and sweat.

The next line of defence kicks in when the bouncers have gone on a smoko and a pathogen is detected by the body. This part of our system also houses our infection-fighting cells such as our natural killer cells and phagocytes which act like Pac-men against microbial invaders. Our immune system also releases antimicrobial proteins such as complement and interferon which interfere with virus replication and protein which co-ordinate cell-to-cell communication. This part of the system deals with viruses, fungi, parasites etc.

Our immune system also keeps a record of every germ it has ever defeated so it can recognise and destroy the microbe quickly if it enters the body again.

Maximise what’s needed for robust immunity in athletes

In addition to enjoying a balanced wholefoods diet containing real foods rich in colour and vitality colourful rainbow on your plate, there are key foods to include in your diet you want to enhance your immune system.

The big guns

Vitamin C builds resistance to infection and stimulates immune cells and proteins such as interferon which help eradicate viruses. Vitamin C rich foods include veggies such as red capsicum, spinach, parsley and sweet potato. Fruits such as kiwi, berries, paw paw, pineapple citrus, guava, broccoli, mango, and currants are great sources of vitamin C.  Rosehip, Camu Camu, and Kakadu plum provide concentrated forms of vitamin C and can be found in powdered forms such as Wild C.

To optimise absorption vitamin C is best ingested with bioflavonoids. Lots of foods rich in vitamin C also contain bioflavonoids but they can also be found in celery, garlic, red onions, garlic, grapes, apricots and green tea.  In some circumstances, it is beneficial to supplement vitamin C. Vitamin may cause gastric upset in large doses. Dividing the doses throughout the day can reduce the side effects.

Zinc is responsible for supporting immune cell production and proliferation which fight off infections such as viruses. Common deficiency signs may include frequent colds, extended recovery periods, poor wound healing, low stomach acid changes in smell or taste and white spots on nails.

Zinc is lost through perspiration and displaced when other nutrients such as iron and copper are high as they share a common carrier in the body. Zinc supplementation should be under the guidance of a qualified practitioner to get the right dose and timing correct because high doses can impact other nutrients ( iron and copper) which may then contribute to immune dysfunction.

Foods rich in zinc include pumpkin seeds, fresh local seafood shellfish and oysters, tahini, peanuts, liver, eggs, nuts and seeds and legumes. Just remember to soak or sprout legumes, nuts and seeds to break down the phytates that may bind to zinc and reduce zinc’s bio-availability.

Obtaining adequate protein will supply the amino acids for antibodies and immune protein production.

Keeping well hydrated is also important for our first line of defence. Ginger and lemon drinks are a great alternative to water.

Immune modulators

Vitamin D, A, E and selenium are important antioxidants, immune modulators and help maintain healthy mucus membranes.  Exposing your unprotected skin to direct sunshine for 15-20 minutes daily will help boost vitamin D levels. Vitamin A-rich foods include cod liver oil, orange coloured foods such as carrots, sweet potato and apricots and kohlrabi. Vitamin E is found in nuts and seeds (such as sunflower seeds), eggs, and dark green leafy vegetables. Selenium is rich in Brazil nuts, alfalfa, meat eggs, onion, garlic and broccoli.

Shiitake and reishi mushrooms and green tea are also supportive of the immune system and build robust immunity in athletes.

Look after your gut health with pre and probiotic rich foods (think fibre and fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, tempeh, kombucha, and quality yogurt). Choline found in lecithin from soy, eggs, beef, pork, olives, and broccoli, assists with the formation of the mucosal layer in the respiratory system and gut.

Include herbs and spices in your cooking that support healthy immune responses. Turmeric, ginger, Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum), Cayenne peppers, garlic, horseradish, parsley, garlic, onions, oregano and thyme are all good choices.

What to avoid for robust immunity in athletes

Avoid substances that reduce immune system function.

1. Studies show sugar reduces the capacity of white blood cells within 1 hour of consumption and can last for up to 5 hours afterwards. Sugar can also feed some pathogens. Skip the middle isles of a supermarket where the processed foods are and spend more time selecting fresh foods.

2. Avoid too much caffeine or other stimulants that will stress our nervous system, impact on sleep but also deplete stores of zinc, and magnesium which we need in times of stress.

3. Avoid excessive alcohol and it may also suppress the immune system.

4. Avoid late nights binging on Netflix and obtain adequate sleep. This means at least 8 hours per night ideally hitting the pillow before 10pm. Sleep deprivation can increase your risk of picking up infections and reduce robust immunity in athletes.

5. Avoid or minimise unnecessary stress. Focus on what you can control and let go of the rest. Your mindset matters in times of stress and unpredictability. Be as flexible as you can with everything including your training, work, family and routine. Stress heightens cortisol which in turn smashes your infection-fighting cells.  Consider ways of dispelling stress other than more exercise such as meditation, mindfulness, relaxing activities such as reading or creative activities and watching comedies rather than more bad news stories.

6. Avoid over-exercising. Keep your exercise balanced. Robust immunity in athletes requires regular exercise, however moderation is the key. Too much exercise of long duration and intensity can make athletes more susceptible to respiratory infections.  For more information on exercise and its impact on the immune system click here 

For further information on the suitability of these measures for your particular situation, contact us for an individual assessment.

About the Author: Kate Smyth is a Sports naturopath, nutritionist and female-centric running coach. She is the founder of the Athlete Sanctuary- a holistic healthcare clinic for athletes of all levels and sporting codes. Kate has a thirst for knowledge with two bachelor’s and a master’s degree under her belt. She has been involved in sports for many decades and competed for Australia in the Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games marathons with a personal best time of 2 hours 28 minutes. For more information visit www.https://https://athletesanctuary.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/normatec-3-lower-body-system-thumb_720x-1.webp.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Seed-Cycle-Blends-scaled-1.jpg.com.au

PMS

Many women suffer from period pain and other PMS symptoms.  But what most women fail to realise is that it is NOT normal to have severe period pain, heavy bleeding, breast tenderness or discharge, debilitating drops in energy or significant mood swings as part of premenstraul symptoms. A healthy balanced woman can observe her period without experiencing symptoms that impact her quality of life and ability to function.  Pain is just one of the many issues women experience around their monthly cycle, however, it tends to be what prevents us from enjoying life the most.

In naturopathic medicine the overuse of NSAIDS (non-steroid anti-inflammatories) for menstrual cramping or period pain (dysmenorrhea) is cautioned as it may contribute to the erosion of the gut lining and contribute to a digestive condition called leaky gut where the tight junctions within the gut lumen come apart.

Commonly used NSAIDS such as Ibuprofen may provide temporary relief,  but they may also suppress some of the compounds that look after your gut lining. Once damaged, the tight junctions in your gut start to drift apart creating a “leaky gut”. This then allows toxins and larger particles to enter the bloodstream and trigger an immune response, inflammation and gastrointestinal distress. This may go on to contribute to a whole range of systemic issues such as food intolerances, skin issues and immune dysfunction. The good news is that there are lots of great natural solutions for period pain.

Ultimately getting your hormones balanced will assist with the symptoms, but while you are doing that here are a few options to make you more comfortable:

  • Athletes who are competing in their premenstrual phase may consider magnesium, zinc and fish oil at therapeutic doses for at least 5 days before their period is anticipated to reduce cramping and lower abdomen and back pain
  • A hot water bottle or heat pack on your abdomen and/ or lower back
  • Herbs such as cramp bark, turmeric and Black Cohosh may reduce PMS symptoms due to their anti-inflammatory actions and calming action on the uterus.
  • Consume more anti-inflammatory foods like cherries, blueberries, avocado and chia seeds. Fish such as salmon, cod, mackerel, sardines, bream, snapper or flathead high in omega-3 fatty acids, are also healthy choices. Consume more calcium-rich beans, almonds, and dark leafy greens. These foods contain compounds that combat inflammation.
  • Reduce coffee, refined foods and high sugar intake, bread, pasta and anything processed high in trans-fatty acids. These foods may contribute to inflammation and encourage period pain and tender breasts.
  • Sipping chamomile tea may inhibit the pain-causing prostaglandins associated with PMS without the side effects on your gut.
  • Seed cycling can help your body maintain a subtle balance and transition throughout your natural cycle.
  • Ginger and cinnamon are our favourite remedies for period pain. Studies demonstrated these two natural wonders provide the equivalent pain relief as ibuprofen when taken at therapeutic doses.
  • Fennel- Fennel extract can assist with severe menstrual cramps.
  • A combination of both 100mg of vitamin B1 and 500mgs of fish oil daily for 2 months has been shown to significantly reduced period pain.
  • Exercising-Most women find that exercising helps relieve menstrual cramps. Some women find yoga and tai chi are gentler forms of exercise that are more comfortable during the premenstrual phase.

As women, we need to consider our periods as the scorecard for our greater health. If you would like to understand how you can balance your hormones through practical nutrition, and natural medicines we welcome the conversation.

 

About the Author: Kate Smyth is a Sports naturopath, nutritionist and female-centric running coach. She is the founder of the Athlete Sanctuary- a holistic healthcare clinic for athletes of all levels and sporting codes. Kate has a thirst for knowledge with two bachelor’s and a master’s degree under her belt. She has been involved in sports for many decades and competed for Australia in the Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games marathons with a personal best time of 2 hours 28 minutes. For more information visit www.https://https://athletesanctuary.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/normatec-3-lower-body-system-thumb_720x-1.webp.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Seed-Cycle-Blends-scaled-1.jpg.com.au

accurate pathology tests

In this article, we discuss how to obtain accurate pathology tests. Whilst this article is not meant to serve as a diagnostic tool, it may be helpful to better understand what basic pathology tests are useful and how to prepare yourself so you get the most accurate results.

Pathology test results should always be considered in conjunction with symptoms, a thorough physical examination, and discussed during an appointment so that the context and relevance of your results can be determined. One abnormality in pathology tests does not tell much of your health picture, however, patterns of pathology tests can provide a holistic picture of your overall health, your absorption, and digestion of key nutrients and provide warning signs that require further investigation.

WHAT PATHOLOGY TESTS ARE MOST USEFUL?

Your GP or naturopath can arrange pathology tests for you. Exactly which pathology tests you require, will need to be determined by your healthcare practitioner. As a good starting point, I suggest the following tests for my patients:

*Full blood count and hematology- provides a general picture of your immune system, red blood cells and overall health

*Liver function tests (LFTs)- provide some clues as to how your liver is working and if your liver is under stress.

*Electrolytes– including potassium, sodium, and other key electrolytes required for sports performance and optimal health

*Fasting blood glucose- is a general marker that indicates how well your body is modulating your blood sugar. Issues with blood sugar stabilisation may cause symptoms such as sugar cravings, frequent urination, fatigue, and energy drops after meals.

*C- reactive protein (CRP) is an inflammatory marker that is useful when interpreted in conjunction with iron studies. Iron storage may be impacted by states of high inflammation.

*Iron studies- provides information on your iron storage (ferritin), the protein carriers for iron (transferrin), and how effectively your body is saturating these carriers and transporting iron around your body (transferrin saturation).

*Thyroid hormones- TSH, T3 and T4 provide information on how your thyroid is functioning and can be an early warning sign of autoimmunity and nutrient deficiencies such as iodine, selenium, tyrosine and zinc

*Vitamin B12 ( active and inactive) is also suggested for plant-based patients or athletes who infrequently consume red meat.

*If you are prone to mental health issues (especially seasonal sadness/ low mood), autoimmunity, frequent colds, bone health issues, or hormonal imbalances vitamin D, copper and serum zinc may also be useful markers.

Tests may be repeated every few months to ensure a patient is responding to treatment and improving nutrient absorption through targeted nutrition approaches.

How to get the most accurate pathology tests

To get the most out of your pathology tests, it is recommended your prepare appropriately.

DO

  •  fast for 12-16 hours (have dinner and then postpone breakfast until after your blood draw).

AVOID

  • strenuous exercise for a minimum of 24 hours. Ideally, at least 48 hours if possible.  This includes running, cycling, or strength training. Most patients find it easiest to do a blood test the morning after a rest day.
  • obtaining the blood draw when feeling unwell such as with a cold or flu when checking iron studies as infection may influence your test results
  • alcohol or supplements for 24-48 hours prior to your blood tests

We use a number of pathology collection centres across Australia including Clinical Laboratories, Dorevitch, and Nutripath to obtain accurate pathology results. We also refer to functional testing such as mineral testing completed through Interclinical Laboratories.

 

About the Author: Kate Smyth is a Sports naturopath, nutritionist and female-centric running coach. She is the founder of the Athlete Sanctuary- a holistic healthcare clinic for athletes of all levels and sporting codes. Kate has a thirst for knowledge with two bachelor’s and a master’s degree under her belt. She has been involved in sports for many decades and competed for Australia in the Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games marathons with a personal best time of 2 hours 28 minutes. For more information visit www.https://https://athletesanctuary.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/normatec-3-lower-body-system-thumb_720x-1.webp.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Seed-Cycle-Blends-scaled-1.jpg.com.au

Natural immune support such as herbal medicines can provide effective solutions to athletes who suffer from recurring colds and flu’s and other immune issues. When most people think of issues for athletes they usually think of musculoskeletal injuries such as sprained ankles, pulled muscles, or knee pain, but a recent study suggested immunity issues cause up to 50% of disruption to training or performance in athletes.

According to research, exercise improves immunity at moderate intensity but impairs immune function at high intensity (and duration) making many endurance and elite athletes more susceptible to respiratory infections.  Infection, such as fever and fatigue, can weaken muscles, impair exercise, and predispose athletes to other injuries. For example, fever impairs coordination, muscle strength, and aerobic power while viral illnesses contribute to tissue wasting and muscle breakdown.

Drugs commonly used to treat the symptoms of infectious diseases have variable impacts. Antibiotics can cause diarrhoea and ongoing gut issues, antihistamines can cause sedation, and many ephedrine-containing compounds like Sudafed are prohibited during competition over certain amounts under the Australian (ASADA) and World Drug Agency Association (WADA) guidelines.

To explain this immunity phenomenon perhaps a recap of how the human immune system is set up may be helpful. There are two parts to the immune system, the Innate Immune System and the Adaptive or Acquired Immune System.

Innate Immune System

The innate immune system includes our first line of defence providing physical barriers such as the skin, mucous membranes, nasal hairs, and eyelashes.  Functional barriers such as the gastrointestinal tract and defence mechanisms such as secretions, mucus, bile, gastric acid, saliva, tears, and sweat also protect us.

This part of our system also houses our infection-fighting cells such as our natural killer cells and phagocytes which act like Pac-men against microbial invaders, and proteins such as tumour necrosis factor which program cell death and cytokines which play roles in cell-to-cell communication.

The complement system is an additional cascade of proteins that “complements” other aspects of the innate immune system. The innate immune system is always ready to battle with foreign invaders, irrespective of whether they have come into contact with the microbial invader before.

Acquired Immune System

The acquired immune system is a collection of cells called T and B lymphocytes, immunoglobulins produced by the lymphocytes, and cytokines that regulate the immune response. Through a complex pathway of intercellular interaction, immunoglobulins are produced after exposure to a new pathogen, so they can recognise the invader the second time around and have an inbuilt immunological memory and enhance the immune response accordingly.

Gut-Associated Lymphoid Tissue (GALT) is a collection of several types of lymphoid tissue that store immune cells, such as T and B lymphocytes and is our major defence mechanism against pathogens entering the digestive system.  Peyer’s patch is a collective of lymphoid cells attached to the gut lining which is the initiation of the immune response when an infection is detected.

Secretory IgA is another substance produced by the acquired immune system produced in all areas where a protective mucosal layer exists such as the digestive, respiratory and urinary tracts to provide front-line defence. It forms the backbone of our immune system because it protects the immunoglobulins from being destroyed and protects the immunoglobulins from invading microbes.

This part of the immune system provides long-lasting protection against anything it has encountered before. When the two systems (innate and acquired) combine, they form an incredible defence against the constant barrage of infectious threats an athlete faces each day.

How does exercise impact on immunity?

So let’s examine how exercise can affect immunity. There is a substantial body of knowledge suggesting moderate exercise of up to 60 minutes at 60% of maximum heart rate improves immune cell counts and salivary IgA concentrations. Studies also show that 61% of new runner’s report fewer upper respiratory tract infections after starting running.   However, there is always a flipside to everything and in the case of exercise, the term moderation is wise to observe.

Intense exercise and prolonged exercise greater than 60 minutes may reduce immunity. While there is no doubt hard efforts increase VO2 max, it also forces most athletes to transition from nose breathing to mouth breathing, bypassing the nasal hairs and turbulent flow that protect the lungs from pathogens.

Inhaling larger volumes of colder and drier air thickens the mucous and disrupts the mucociliary elevator which is like our own inbuilt elevator designed specially to clear mucus from the respiratory tract. Hence why many athletes find they need to do a fair bit of “hoiking” to clear the phlegm during hard efforts in cooler months, especially when coupled with the ingestion of proinflammatory and mucous-producing foods such as dairy, coffee and bananas.

As more foreign particles are deposited in the lower airways, the ability to clear them is diminished, and airway inflammation results. Studies show our natural killer cells and secretory IgA fall after intense or prolonged exercise. The key members of our acquired immune system are also affected by neutrophils and B cell function declining.

With repetitive hard and long sessions that most endurance athletes over the marathon, ultra-marathon, ironman, triathlon or cycling do on a regular basis, hormones such as cortisol, prolactin, adrenaline, and growth hormone are constantly elevated and these also impair cellular immunity.

While most upper respiratory infections start off as viral infections, athletes who develop symptoms that are ongoing may also have a secondary bacterial infection.

What can be done about an underperforming immune system?

Few athletes stop training because they get a few annoying sniffles.  When on a mission, athletes should always seek out a solution to overcome or manage the issue.

At this point, it may be wise to seek help from a healthcare practitioner. Natural medicine has plenty to offer in regards to boosting the soldiers of the immune system. Most people are aware of the immune cell turbo boost vitamin C, and zinc provide but what about nature’s little wonders?

Natural remedies such as garlic and horseradish, Andrographis, Echinacea, Cat’s claw and Astragalus can increase immune cell count and function, and anti-microbial herbs like Thyme, Garlic, Thuja, St John’s Wart or Pelargonium have antiviral and antibacterial properties.

Maintaining digestive system integrity and gut health through quality probiotics will also help support GALT and sIGA in the adaptive immune system. Herbal adaptogens also assist with improving immunity integrity and resilience to future invasions. As with any treatment, these options are not going to be a magic bullet, but they can certainly reduce the severity of the infection, reduce recovery time and get you back to what you love doing. We always suggest athletes listen to their bodies and if needed modify training loads and convalesce to some extent.

Many studies use incorrect dosage ranges and timeframes for herbal medicines, so the evidence may be unclear and confusing to the untrained eye. However, when used in the correct dosage ranges, herbal medicines are viable options for athletes with few side effects. Research shows that seeking treatment quickly can reduce the impact respiratory illness may have on athletic performance.

About the Author: Kate Smyth is a Sports naturopath, nutritionist and female-centric running coach. She is the founder of the Athlete Sanctuary- a holistic healthcare clinic for athletes of all levels and sporting codes. Kate has a thirst for knowledge with two bachelor’s and a master’s degree under her belt. She has been involved in sports for many decades and competed for Australia in the Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games marathons with a personal best time of 2 hours 28 minutes. For more information visit www.https://https://athletesanctuary.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/normatec-3-lower-body-system-thumb_720x-1.webp.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Seed-Cycle-Blends-scaled-1.jpg.com.au

 

Caffeine

Caffeine is now the world’s most popular stimulant ingested by over 90% of people including athletes because it can make them feel “damn good”.

But is it really that good for you? This article explores a balanced perspective on caffeine use for sports performance.

Caffeine has been used for decades as a way of buffering fatigue, prolonging endurance and enhancing concentration in many team and individual sports.  Sure, it gives you a “pick me up” but at what expense?

While some athletes will get the beneficial effects of enhanced focussed and reduced fatigue, others can get so fired up, they get the shakes, diarrhoea and their “rev” is excessive so they make poor tactical decisions during events. Caffeine is an adenosine antagonist affecting dopamine transmission and altering neurotransmitter function.

With long-term and high-volume caffeine intake, an increased risk of overstimulating the nervous system occurs. For some individuals, this looks and feels like anxiety, headaches, migraines, poor sleep, depression, angina, nutrient depletion, elevated blood pressure, addictive habits towards caffeine and severe fatigue.

Caffeine also contains a diterpene known as cafestol which has been shown to increase serum LDL cholesterol, increase aortic stiffness, blood pressure, endothelial dysfunction and homocysteine all of which contribute to heart disease- Yikes!

The other “doozy” with caffeine is that even if you are currently enjoying just one cuppa a day you most likely already have caffeine tolerance. As time goes on you’ll need to have more and more caffeine to feel any benefits.

So at this point, if you are sitting back saying “ I am good I don’t drink coffee” just take a breath. Just because you don’t drink coffee, doesn’t mean you aren’t consuming an excessive load of caffeine. Caffeine is found in many commonly consumed drinks and foods. Let’s take a look at the most common ones:

Food/ Beverage Size Caffeine in milligrams
Short black/ expresso coffee (1 cup) 100-200mg
Instant coffee (1 cup) 60-170mg
Decaffeinated coffee (1 cup) 2-4mg
Green tea (1 cup) 20mg
Tea (black) (1 cup) 30-100mg
NO Doz (1 tablet) 100mg
Revvies (1 strip) 40g
Sports gels (1 gel) 25mg-100mg
Coke and V energy drink (1 can) 50mg
Hot cocoa ( 1 mug) 60-120mg
Chocolate (60g) 10-50mg

So what to do?

The good news is that recent studies suggest the performance benefits of caffeine can be felt at low doses (1-3mg/kg) which are less likely to impact your health in other ways.  So theoretically speaking effects may be felt by athletes using the following amounts:

  • 50kg athlete    50-150mg;      ( 1 coffee)
  • 60kg athletes 60-180mg;
  • 70kg athlete    210mg;
  • 80kg athlete    80-240mg
  • 90kg athlete    90-270mg      ( 2 coffees)

Top tips for caffeine use for sports performance:

  1. If you are using caffeine for the first time try small amounts initially and infrequently so you don’t develop resistance. Attempt any trialling caffeine as part of your race day nutrition and hydration plan during training several times prior to race day, in similar conditions first to avoid unsavoury surprises.
  2. Caffeine may make you temporarily feel good it can also cause adverse performance effects. Caffeine displaces vitamins and minerals essential for athletic performance such as magnesium, zinc and B vitamins. Caffeine can irritate the kidneys and is a diuretic increasing the risk of dehydration in hot weather so you may need to increase your fluid intake. The most common issue with caffeine is diarrhoea. Taking caffeinated foods or drinks with food may help mitigate this problem.
  3. Avoid caffeine after lunchtime to avoid sleeping difficulties.
  4. High caffeine intake is inflammatory and prolonged use can contribute to systemic inflammation which underpins nearly all chronic conditions. Our suggestion is to enjoy caffeine in moderation and use a targeted approach in regard to sports performance.
  5. Smart considered and moderate use of caffeine may provide a performance edge but it will not suddenly turn you into some kind of superhero breaking world records. You still have to invest in sound balanced nutrition and hydration strategies, train smart, rest well and allow the natural adaptation of the human body to occur!
  6. As with all products, always remember to check each ingredient on the packaging of any sports product because some substances that may appear relatively benign may be banned under the Australian (ASADA) and World Drug Agency Association (WADA) guidelines. Rule of thumb- always do your own thorough research before using any supplement despite its popularity!
  7. If you are currently a heavy coffee drinker, wean yourself off coffee gently so you don’t go into an unprovoked tirade at your family or work colleagues as you deal with the headaches associated with detoxification. By reducing your intake gradually by ½ a cup a day, you are also more likely to allow your tolerance to reduce so when you settle for smart and more moderate use, you can obtain benefits at a lower dose. In some individuals’ withdrawal may be more comfortably achieved with the use of herbal adaptogens, liver support, activated vitamins and dietary intake of brassica family vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower) to ease the transition.
  8. If you are looking for coffee substitutes or reduced caffeine products you may like to try roasted dandelion tea, ginseng, high-quality green leaf tea, chai tea or Rooibos tea.
  9. Try different forms of caffeine in sports products rather than just coffee. Caffeinated sports products come in powders, gels, strips and tablets and all will be digested/ metabolised slightly differently in the body. Some athletes experience digestive issues with coffee but not strips, while others have issues with caffeinated gels but not powdered versions.
  10. Limit decaffeinated coffee. It may have reduced caffeine but many of the extraction methods still use chemical solvents that may be toxic.

About the Author: Kate Smyth is a Sports naturopath, nutritionist and female-centric running coach. She is the founder of the Athlete Sanctuary- a holistic healthcare clinic for athletes of all levels and sporting codes. Kate has a thirst for knowledge with two bachelor’s and a master’s degree under her belt. She has been involved in sports for many decades and competed for Australia in the Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games marathons with a personal best time of 2 hours 28 minutes. For more information visit www.https://https://athletesanctuary.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/normatec-3-lower-body-system-thumb_720x-1.webp.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Seed-Cycle-Blends-scaled-1.jpg.com.au