Can prebiotics rival drugs for exercise-induced asthma?


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Related tags Asthma

The ability of prebiotics to reduce exercise-induced asthma – a common ailment among elite and amateur athletes – is exciting the research and sporting worlds alike as a powerful drug alternative or adjunct. An ad hoc trial has already been undertaken by British Olympians.

At the recent Probiota​ event in Berlin, Dr Neil Williams, Exercise Physiology and Nutrition researcher at Nottingham Trent University in the UK, revealed key findings of his galacto-oligosaccharide-based work, and the sports performance-based interest it is attracting.

“We saw about a 40% reduction in the severity of the bronco-constriction that develops when an individual has an exercise-induced asthma exacerbation,” ​said Dr Williams of the study among asthma-prone endurance-based athletes.

“And the important thing about that was that it was actually perceivable by the patient as well.”

Prebiotics v steroids

Dr Williams noted the effect reduced the severity of breathlessness, wheezing, tightness in the chest and excess mucus production after three weeks of prebiotic administration.


In this light prebiotics possess the potential to reduce the use of typical asthma drugs like corticosteroids, he observed.

Corticosteroids are a class of drugs typically used in asthma inhalers and treatments but hold a controversial status in professional sports as despite being prohibited as performance enhancers by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), they have long been abused by hordes of elite athletes via often lax Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs) – essentially doctors’ notes permitting the use of banned substances if conditions like asthma can be demonstrated.

“There is a definite need to try and look at non-pharmacological treatments that can be adhered to by athletes and that way we might be able to alleviate some of these controversies that are ongoing.”

‘We are allowing our athletes to have more training days…’

The galacto-oligosaccharide intervention was trialled by British athletes during last year’s Rio Olympiad with an eye on secondary benefits like a reduction in traveller’s diarrhoea and boosted immune/respiratory systems via microbiota modulation.

“We are allowing our athletes to have more training days…and that could over the long time have a beneficial effect on performance,” ​he said.

In terms of transferring science to shop shelf, more clinical trials were needed before any prebiotic supplements or foods could make regulator-approved asthma claims.

Dr Williams called for further research into how the gut microbiota differs between “endurance-trained athletes and sedentary controls” ​as well as the little understood lung microbiota.

UK prebiotic specialist Bimuno is supporting the research.

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