Scientists have found that bovine colostrum can massively reduce gut permeability, otherwise known as 'leaky gut syndrome'.
Their findings could have positive implications not just for athletes but also for sufferers of heatstroke.
Gut disorders induced by exercise are common in runners - the body's response to increased permeability is to clear the gut contents, giving rise to symptoms such as diarrhoea to avoid toxins from gut organisms entering the bloodstream, as these lead to heatstroke which can result in damage to the internal organs.
For the study, Ray Playford, professor of medicine at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, and his colleagues instructed a group of athletes to run for 20 minutes at 80 percent of their aerobic maximum.
Upon completion, the runners provided the team with urine samples for evaluation. The team noted a 250 percent increase in gut leakage, as well as a two-degree increase in body temperature, due to the training.
However, when the runners were given a drink of dairy colostrum every day for two weeks before the trial, the leaky gut was reduced by about 80 percent, despite the same effort and temperature rise.
Playford's research identified changes in gut barrier function in laboratory studies - gut cells were cultured at normal 37 degrees body heat and at 39 degrees to replicate the temperature after exercise.
The death rate of gut cells was much increased at the higher temperature yet when colostrum was added to the culture medium the rise in cell death rate was reduced by two thirds.
"Athletes' performance can be seriously diminished due to gut symptoms during heavy exercise. We have been looking at natural approaches to reduce this problem, as the range of products that athletes can legitimately take is very limited. Our findings suggest colostrum may have real value in helping our athletes perform," said Playford.
The findings are published in the March issue of the American Journal of Physiology-Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology.