Effect of Marathon Running on Immune System

Topics: Immune System

Introduction Marathon running is a very extraneous activity that can have many verse effects on the body. Marathon running is known to cause muscle damage, dehydration, gastrointestinal problems, renal issues, any many more (Uchakin et al. 2003). Recently researchers have been studying the effects long endurance running has on the immune system. The immune system is one of the most important systems in the body as it helps prevent infections and disease. It has been shown that endurance running including marathon and ultramarathons can modify immune function.

Running a marathon can suppress mucosal immunity for as long as 24 hrs. This increases a person’s risk for contracting an infection such as an upper respiratory tract infection. The mucosal immunity is the first line of defense against bacterial and respiratory viruses. Mucosal immunity includes salivary immunoglobins and antimicrobial proteins. Salivary immunoglobins are reduced following long-distance running which is connected with an increase in the amount of upper respiratory tract infection symptoms post-race. It is known that marathon runners have often demonstrated to have acute inflammatory responses during a race that involved inflammatory mediators (in txt citation).

Some important mediators are a cytokine and anti-inflammatory cytokines. These mediators prevent inflammation and tissue damage. However, they can also cause immunosuppressive states after exercise. Cytokines can alter neutrophil function. Neutrophils are important cells that help prevent induced tissue damage, inflammatory effectors, and immunoregulatory cells. High levels of intense exercise (which included marathons and ultra marathons) decrease both innate and acquired immunity. This causes for an increase in Upper Respiratory infections in runners.

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Research has been done on cytokines, neutrophils, lymphocytes, leukocytes to show how they are altered from marathon running, research has also been done on the substances that help reverse the effects of running on the immune system. Cytokines and Neutrophils Research on cytokines and Neutrophils typically show that the white blood is usually decreased from extraneous exercise (marathon running). The decrease in these white blood cells causes a person to be more susceptible to infection and disease hours after their race. Marathon running affects several different parts of the immune system. The parts that are affected include the skin, upper respiratory tract mucosal tissue, lung, peritoneal cavity, blood, and muscle (Nieman, 2007) .

The cells within the immune system are also affected. Although cells that are affected the most are natural killer cells, neutrophils, and macrophages. The reasoning for this effect is exercise-induced changes in stress hormones, body temperature changes, increases in blood flow, lymphocyte apoptosis, and dehydration (Uchakin et al.2003). Peter Uchakin researched and performed a study involving the immune system and marathon running. The goal of the study that he performed was to investigate and have more insight into the effects marathon running has on human immune and neuroendocrine parameters and their interaction. To capture data for the study blood samples were collected from 15 male runners. The samples collected 18 hours before the finish of the race, then within 20 minutes, 1 hour, 24 hours, 48 hours, 5 days, and 8 days after the marathon. Within the blood, they studied blood count, secretion of cytokines in mitogen-activated cell culture and plasma, and plasma concentration of B-endorphin. Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), cortisol, and growth hormones were also analyzed. The blood testing showed a significant increase in granulocytes and monocyte counts. There was also a decrease in lymphocyte count at hour 0 and 1 hour. Granulocytes and lymphocytes are white blood cells, when they are at a lower level than normal the body is more susceptible to disease and infections (Uchakin et al. 2003).

Researchers have also looked at how fatigue induced by marathons affected the immune system. A recent study that was done by the University of Sao Paulo observed fatigue by marathon races through inflammatory and immunological outcomes. There were 23 participants in the study. The Wisconsin Upper Respiratory symptom survey was used one day before the marathon race and two weeks after the marathon. The runners reported several symptoms that included a cough, colored discharge, sore throat, watery eyes, nasal symptoms, and sneezing. They also rated the severity of their symptoms on a 1-7 scale (7 being most severe). The data indicated that long distance running affects neutrophil activation and apoptosis. It also showed that the half like of neutrophils was altered by the inflammation induced by marathon racing (Santos et al. 2016). Lymphocytes and Leukocytes It has been a consistent finding throughout studies that show the correlation between leukocytes and the increase of cortisol.

In a study done by Nieman et al, they studied the changes in leukocytes subsets, lymphocytes subpopulations, and lymphocyte function preceding a three hour run to exhaustion by experienced marathoners. Researchers also looked at cortisol and catecholamines and lymphocyte function. Blood samples were drawn in order to collect data. Blood samples were taken 15 minutes and 5 minutes before the race begun ( the blood samples were used as baselines for further testing to use for comparison). The run was completed using a treadmill in order to take certain measurements throughout the run. The testing showed that there was an elevated leukocyte count 1 hour into the run (values were 178% above baseline). Values didn’t return back to baseline until about 21 hours of recovery. There was also a substantial increase in granulocyte count in comparison to the baseline. The researchers suggested that this increase was due to the increase in neutrophils. The total lymphocyte count was also elevated about 31% (Nieman et al. 1989) The study was also able to come to the conclusion that following a marathon race leukocytosis and lymphocytosis occur. The increase of too much white blood cells can allow for infections and diseases just like having too little white blood cells can.

Further research that was done was able to show how marathon running can cause an increase in oxidative DNA damage in lymphocytes. Karlis Brivibia et al. conducted a study to determine whether a marathon running induces DNA damage in lymphocytes. In the study, they compared a half marathon and a full marathon in respects to lymphocytes in the plasma and the immune system as a whole. The study consisted of 24 participants, they had a training period 10 days before the race where they took measurements such as blood content to gain baseline measurements. Post-race measurements were taken 20 minutes after the race. Plasma osmolarity and hematocrit were increased by only 4% but this was statically significant. The data also showed that there was an increase in the levels of oxidative DNA damage in lymphocytes. Overall the study showed that half marathon and marathon races caused an increase in oxidative DNA damage in lymphocytes and a decrease in antioxidant capacity to protect lymphocytes from breaks in DNA strands (Brivibia et al, 2005). Furthermore, an additional study was performed on marathon and half marathon runners conducted by Nielson and Lyberg, tested the blood of the participants both one hour before and immediately after they are done exercising. When taking their blood samples, they were testing to see the net change in the leucocytes, lymphocytes, and monocytes as well as the white blood cell and platelet counts. After activity, the blood test showed that there was a significant increase in the leucocytes which negatively affects the immune system in that the increase means there are too many leucocytes because of the increased inflammation. Compared to prerace, the lymphocytes and monocytes for the marathon runners were also found to have a moderate increase to them which would further weaken the immune system (Nielsen and Lyberg 2004).

The half marathon runners experienced a slight increase in only the monocytes which means this distance might be too short in duration to have a big impact on the lymphocyte absorption. Much like having too little white blood cell and platelet counts can be bad for the immune system, so can having too high of these counts. In the case of this study, the marathon runners showed an increase in these counts and because they indicated normal levels prerace, this increase, like the leucocytes, has a negative impact on the immune system. These increase in the leucocytes and blood cell counts cause the immune system to be suppressed after long durations of running (Nielsen and Lyberg 2004). Ways to Decrease Immune Susceptibility After a Race Research on the pathways in which immunity is suppressed in runners usually finds that beta-glucan and glutamine peptide supplements have the ability to reverse the effects of running a marathon has on the immune system.

A study was done showing that the use of a beta glucan supplement could increase salivary immunoglobins which could ultimately decrease cold and flu symptoms days after a race. The study was done by researchers from the University of North Texas. There were several different experiments they did within the study. The first experiment was the health questionnaire that all marathon runners completed post-race. The results from this experiment were not significant. The most important experiment that was performed in the study was when athletes were given a beta-glucan supplement. They also had a group that was given a placebo to use for comparison. The athletes that were given the beta glucan supplement had an increase in salivary IgA only two hours after the race. The placebo group did not have the same results. There was no increase of salivary IgA to account for the loss of salivary IgA during the race. These results revealed that the beta-glucan supplementation minimized the duration of upper respiratory tract infection symptoms succeeding the marathon. It was also shown to avert post-exercise suppression of salivary IgA (McFarlin et al. 2013). It has also been researched that reducing the effects that marathons have on the immune system can also be achieved through the use of glutamine supplementation. Plasma glutamine concentration can be used as a measure for the immune system and its kinetics. Decreased plasma glutamine concentration has been linked with immune system suppression following marathon running. A study was done by the Juntendo University of Health and Sports Science looking at how the consumption of glutamine-rich peptide can affect the suppression of the immune system. The study included subjects that were participating in a marathon. Some runners were given the supplement while others were not. The runners that were given the supplement had an increased plasma glutamine, and an increase in branched-chain amino acids (Sawaki et al. 2004).

Conclusion The research that was done indicated that marathon running causes alterations in the immune system. Researched showed that neutrophils, cytokines, lymphocytes, and leukocytes are all changed from running. They are either decreased where there are not enough white blood cells to prevent infection and disease or there are too much white blood cells which can cause lymphocytosis, and leukocytosis. There have been methods that have been researched to reverse the effects running has on the immune system. It has been shown that athletes can take beta glucan or glutamine peptide supplements. More research that can be done to expand upon this topic is researchers can go further and be more specific and compare the effects running as on the immune system in experienced (well-known runners) to the average hobby runners.

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Effect of Marathon Running on Immune System. (2022, Apr 29). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/effect-of-marathon-running-on-immune-system/

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