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What a Pro Athlete’s Poop Might Do for You

What a Pro Athlete’s Poop Might Do for You

Researchers are studying pro athletes—not for exercise tips but for insight on gut bacteria.

Katie Ledecky, Tom Brady and Venus Williams are amazing athletes—but researchers at Harvard University aren’t interested in studying their performances. Nope. For a current study, what they want is a sample of elite athletes’ poop!

Why? Because they believe that if they can identify the special mix of bacteria living in the guts of top performers, they may be able to make a probiotic pill that will help the average weekend warrior up his and her game. What kinds of microbes with superpowers do they think they’ll find? Perhaps ones that convert food to energy quickly, regulate glucose efficiently and reduce excessive inflammatory responses.

That sounds great, but a new analysis uncovers the fact that there’s not much research on the risks associated with taking probiotics. Researchers looked at nearly 400 studies on the effects of probiotics and found nearly one-third didn’t report whether there were harmful side effects. A full 80 percent didn’t report how many serious adverse events took place. Maybe none did. That’s why, say the researchers, this doesn’t mean probiotics are dangerous, just that we need more information—and people with compromised immune systems should steer clear of them altogether.

The smart move: If you’re healthy and want to take one, look for a probiotic that contains lactobacillus and/or Bifidobacterium strains. They have the most evidence backing them up. And don’t eat saturated fats, added sugars or overly processed foods. They do serious harm to your overall health and to those elite gut bacteria that protect your heart, brain, immune system and gastro-system.

Medically reviewed in November 2019.

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