Severe Exercise May Lead to Blood Poisoning

   |  Updated: June 18, 2015 16:43 IST

Severe Exercise May Lead to Blood Poisoning
For those who have been bitten by the fitness bug, it is a compulsion to devote at least a few hours a day to exercise and training. There are both professionals and amateurs training for extreme endurance events such as the 24 hour ultra-marathons and multi-stage ultra-marathons that are conducted on consecutive days. But how much exercise is too much? Should there be a line drawn somewhere?

"Exercising in this way is no longer unusual -- waiting lists for marathons, Ironman triathlon events and ultra-marathons are the norm and they are growing in popularity," says Ricardo Costa from Monash University.

A team led by Costa monitored people participating in a range of extreme endurance events and observed that over four hours of exercise daily can cause intestinal bacteria to leak into the bloodstream, leading to blood poisoning. The research said that individuals who take part in extreme endurance events, especially in the heat and with little training, put their bodies under enormous strain, beyond the body's protective capacity.

(Too Much Exercise is Bad for Your Heart)

"Blood samples taken before and after the events, compared with a control group, proved that exercise over a prolonged period of time causes the gut wall to change, allowing the naturally present bacteria, known as endotoxins, in the gut to leak into the bloodstream," said the research. "This then triggers a systemic inflammatory response from the body's immune cells, similar to a serious infection episode," the study authors said.(Is Too Much Exercise a Bad Thing?)

The immune system is programmed to recognise and attack bacteria. The elevated levels of endotoxins in the blood cause the immune system to respond far more powerfully than the body's protective counter-action. In extreme cases, it can even lead to sepsis induced Systemic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (SIRS), which can be fatal if not diagnosed and treated suitably.

The study found that fit and healthy individuals, who follow a steady and systematic training programme for such endurance events, develop immune mechanisms to counteract such adverse situations, without any side effects.

(Too Much Exercise Can be Dangerous)

"It is crucial that anyone, who signs up to an event, gets a health check first and builds a slow and steady training program, rather than jumping straight into a marathon, for example, with only a month's training," Costa added. He also stressed that anything over four hours of exercise and repetitive days of endurance exercise is considered extreme.

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Thus two studies by Costa's team, The 24-hour Ultra-Marathon Study, published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine and the Multi-Stage Ultra-Marathon Study, published in Exercise Immunology Reviews, reinforce the current guidelines for people wanting to take part in extreme endurance events.

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