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NEW YORK, Nov 19, (Agencies): In a concerning revelation for fitness enthusiasts who engage in extreme exercise, a recent study analyzing over 4,700 post-exercise fluid molecules from firefighters suggests that excessive vigorous exercise may have a detrimental effect on the immune system. This finding holds potential implications for individuals with physically demanding occupations, such as emergency workers and athletes.
According to Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) biomedical scientist Ernesto Nakayasu, individuals with high fitness levels might be more susceptible to viral respiratory infections immediately after intense exercise. Nakayasu suggests that reduced inflammatory activity, crucial for combating infections, could be a contributing factor.
While moderate physical activity is widely acknowledged for its long-term benefits to the immune system, the immediate impact of vigorous exercise on immunity remains a topic of controversy. Existing evidence is inconclusive regarding whether intense exercise heightens the risk of opportunistic infections. Previous studies have reported self-reported upper respiratory tract infections in athletes following strenuous activities, but whether these findings indicate correlation or causation remains uncertain.
To delve deeper into the physiological changes brought about by intense exercise, Nakayasu and colleagues conducted a comprehensive analysis of blood plasma, urine, and saliva samples from 11 firefighters before and after 45 minutes of vigorous exercise involving hauling up to 20 kilograms (44 pounds) of gear over challenging terrain.
PNNL bioanalytical chemist Kristin Burnum-Johnson explains the motivation behind the study, emphasizing the need to understand the early signs of danger from exhaustion. The researchers hope that such insights could contribute to mitigating the risks associated with strenuous exercise for first responders, athletes, and military personnel.
While exercise undoubtedly offers numerous health benefits, the study uncovered potential signs of immune suppression in firefighters subjected to intense workouts. Notably, there was a decrease in molecules associated with inflammation alongside an increase in opiorphin, a substance dilating peripheral blood vessels.
The implications of these changes for short-term immune function remain unclear, but the researchers speculate that opiorphin may enhance blood flow to muscles during exercise, improving the delivery of oxygen and nutrients. Additionally, the observed decrease in inflammatory molecules in saliva after exercise is postulated to be an adaptive mechanism for improved gas exchange in response to heightened cellular oxygen demand.
Changes in the participants’ oral microbiome were also noted, possibly attributed to an increase in antimicrobial peptides in the firefighters’ mouths post-activity. However, the effectiveness of these peptides in protecting against host infections, particularly inhibiting E. coli growth, was limited.
While some argue that the observed changes may indicate a heightened state of immune surveillance and regulation rather than immune suppression, the study’s small sample size and the unique exposures of firefighters to pollutants during fires warrant further research. The researchers emphasize the necessity of broader community studies to confirm these findings and their potential implications for respiratory infections associated with physical demands.
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