Prebiotics (what?!) and exercise induced asthma

Okay, I’m familiar with probiotics, thanks to all the yogurt commercials out there (they allegedly are among the good bacteria in yogurt that assists with regulating your digestive system or something), but there’s a something called a prebiotic—which also has to do with what they call “gut bacteria”1—that may have a role in preventing exercise induced asthma. If you’ve been around awhile, you’ll know that exercise induced asthma (and exercise with asthma) is among my favorite topics to tackle.

What on earth is a prebiotic?

Prebiotics are a type of non-digestable carbohydrate that provide a supportive environment for the growth of “good” bacteria in the intestine; essentially, prebiotics are the precursor to probiotics.

Okay then, what the heck is a probiotic?
A probiotic is, therefore, present in live-bacteria foods (like yogurt, and as I’ve just learned, they are sometimes even added to chocolate!2) and also produced within our bodies. This live bacteria or yeast produces a host of helpful functions in the body—the most obvious is the regulation of gastrointestinal problems, especially those caused by antibiotics that can destroy the probiotic bacteria naturally produced by your body; this is why it’s often recommended to eat yogurt if you experience GI issues while taking antibiotics for a bacterial infection. Probiotics may also be helpful for alleviating some symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and irritable bowel disease, per WebMD.2
Lesser known benefits of probiotics include promoting oral health, and—of special interest to those of us with asthma and allergies—prevention of allergy symptoms and maybe even colds, and improvement of skin conditions including eczema, which commonly co-exists with asthma and allergies.2

So, then, tell me more about what this has to do with asthma, that’s why I’m here.
Patience, grasshopper!
This is pretty new research—researchers are “only starting to understand” the numerous roles of prebiotics (and probiotics) on health.1 Here’s what they’re saying, though. New knowledge is indicating that these gut microbes—prebiotics—have an influence on immune functioning,1 which would make sense given the effects they have anecdotally demonstrated in regard to eczema.2 Because of this, the research team set out to determine the effects of a certain prebiotic supplement and its effect on asthma.1 The prebiotic supplement (called Bimuno-galactooligosaccharide or B-GOS which I can actually spell and pronounce), was given in a small double-blind placebo-controlled trial of ten individuals with exercise induced asthma and eight without any history of asthma as a control. In one group (random selection) B-GOS was given for 3 weeks, received no treatment for 2 weeks, and the received a placebo (which they were meant to believe was B-GOS) for another 3 weeks.1 Blood and pulmonary function tests were done to provide objective measures of the impact of B-GOS on participants.
The control group—that is, the group without asthma—did not experience any change in pulmonary function when taking the B-GOS prebiotic, the participants who had exercise induced asthma experienced improved EIA symptoms and lung function, when receiving B-GOS.
Based on these findings, it is thought that the B-GOS prebiotic may decrease severity of exercise induced asthma—although it is still “unclear” why this occurs 2. It is also noted that the inflammatory response of the airways to exercise is reduced by the prebiotic, and the “level of improvement in lung function that appears after the [trial with] the prebiotic,” can be felt by the patient and is “therefore potentially clinically relevant”.2

Now, I don’t know about you, and this is just my opinion, but “natural remedies” aren’t really my thing, and this kind of sounds like one. But, one that may be gaining traction to be backed by medical science—much like antibiotics could be seen!—could be a great thing coming down the line to help those of us with exercise induced asthma improve our ability to perform to our full potential. Although, until some more research is done, I wouldn’t recommend going and dropping money on this supplement until its effects are more clearly understood by asthma researchers. If, however, you’ve tried B-GOS or another prebiotic in treating your asthma, I’d be interested in hearing about your experiences in the comments.

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