Inflammation and the Endurance Athlete
There are litanies of inflammation based ailments that can negatively affect an endurance athlete’s performance. Some of these ailments include but are not limited to the common cold, arthritis, tendinitis, depression and DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness).
A common method of fighting inflammation is the use of NSAIDs (Non-steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs). The most prominent players in this group of drugs are aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen, partly because they are readily available over-the-counter. But, research indicates that the overuse of prescription and non-prescription NSAIDs could lead to larger health issues such as the development of ulcers, autoimmune dysfunction, bleeding in the GI tract, congestive heart failure, photosensitivity and renal failure.
The use of NSAIDs other than (low-dose) aspirin is associated with a doubled risk of symptomatic heart failure in patients without a history of cardiac disease. (Henry.D, 2000) Research has also shown that sustained exercise while using NSAIDs can compromise renal function and potentiate the risk of developing acute renal failure. NSAIDs are widely used in the endurance community, and athletes should be warned of the potential danger of their use when renal function may be compromised. (Walker, R. et al 1994) This data provides compelling evidence to support the use of alternative treatment options when battling chronic inflammation based ailments.
So, if Ibuprofen is a no-no, what should I be using? Well, currently Omega-3’s offer an excellent alternative to NSAIDs. Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), better known as Omega-3’s act as a powerful anti-inflammatory agent. Regular supplementation of Omega-3 fatty acids can easily be achieved by oral consumption of a fish oil product. Fish oil has been shown to improve brain function, decrease inflammation, reduce the incidence of fatal heart attacks and ischemic strokes, improve the outcome of autoimmune diseases, and improve vision. (Blaylock, 2008)
It’s important when purchasing fish oil to make sure it has been refined properly through molecular distillation. From there you’ll need to check the most biologically potent component found in fish oil – Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA). It’s imperative to ascertain the amount of EPA and DHA found in each serving, since large disparities do exist. Unfortunately, there is no FDA recommended dosage for fish oil. But, the FDA does say that the average healthy person (age 5+) should not take a fish oil dosage of more than 3000 mg per day. However, the average person only consumes the woefully inadequate amount of 120-130 mgs each day. (Simopoulos, 2009)
So, what dosage of fish oil should you take? The World Health Organization and numerous other authorities recommend 300-500 mg per day. It’s recommended that you slowly ramp up your consumption of fish oil to see what your body feels comfortable with and to make sure you don’t experience any fish oil side effects, like allergies, diarrhea, heartburn or nausea.
When should you consult a doctor for fish oil recommended dosage? Individuals who have diabetes, people taking insulin, people at risk for bleeding, people with congestive heart failure (or any other condition where the heart is receiving insufficient blood flow), people with high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), people who bruise easily, people who are taking blood thinners, people with fish allergies, young children and women who are breast-feeding or pregnant should always consult their doctor before taking any fish oil. You should also talk to your doctor if you’re a healthy individual and plan on taking a dosage of more than 3000 mg a day of fish oil. (Snow, 2007)
Fish oil supplementation has helped many of our athletes experience faster recovery times, less overuse injuries and better overall body compositions. These anecdotal findings coupled with the current scientific literature, suggest that fish oil can offer a suitable alternative to NSAIDs for the endurance athlete.
Written by By Eric Auciello, ACSM, CPT
WALKER, ROBERT J.; FAWCETT, J. PAUL; FLANNERY, ERIN M.; GERRARD, DAVID F. Indomethacin potentiates exercise-induced reduction in renal hemodynamics in athletes. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 26(11):1302-1306, November 1994.
Henry, D (March 2000). Consumption of NSAIDs and the development of congestive heart failure in elderly patients: an under recognized public health problem. Archives of internal medicine 160 (6): 777–84.
Russell L. Blaylock, MD, DHA Supports Brain Development and Protects Neurological Function, LE Magazine January 2008
Artemis P. Simopoulos, MD, FACN, Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Inflammation and Autoimmune Diseases Journal of the American College of Nutrition, Vol. 21, No. 6, 495-505 (2002)
Wyn Snow, Fish Oil versus Flax Seed Oil—Which Is Better?, Dietary Supplement Quality Initiative, 2 March 2007
Craig Weatherby, Can Fish Oil Cause Bleeding Risks?, Vital Choices Newsletter, Monday, June 23, 2008 Issue 220 VOLUME 5 ISSUE 220