One of the most misunderstood and often ignored components of a successful weight-training program is the maintenance of a healthy immune system. The immune system is a complex cellular response organization composed of an intricate, multifaceted order of barriers (skin), bodily fluids, mucous membranes, and hormones. This complicated system allows the body to basically differentiate “self” from “non-self”
The most notable and important of the immune system barriers is the 400 square feet of the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract) which contains as much as two pounds of normal bacteria and more than 70 percent of the body’s immune cells. Our body acts to defend itself from the foreign matter (bacteria, viruses and other environmental toxins also referred to as immunogens or antigens) that enter our body by releasing classes of compounds called antibodies. “Antibodies” is a collective term for specific immune proteins called immunoglobulins. The immunoglobulins located in the GI tract (IgA) act as the primary defense mechanism against toxic invasion by attaching immunoglobulins located there to invading antigens, thus neutralizing the pathogenic materials before they can exert their site-specific activity in the body.
It is very important for fitness minded individuals to understand that the immune system is naturally suppressed by bouts of regular intense exercise. However, aging, illness, travel, pharmaceutical interventions (including anabolic agents), inadequate nutritional intake (especially protein), dieting, and other lifestyle stressors as well as individual genetic predispositions can also have profound effects upon immunocompetence. During these periods of abnormal stress the body releases increased amounts of inflammatory cytokines (IL-1, IL-6, and TNF-á) which break down muscle tissue to help fuel the increased energy demands that drive the immune process. Adding insult to injury, the GI tract actually releases decreased amounts of immunoglobulins, as they are diverted to other areas of the body.
One of the most common complications which many bodybuilders unknowingly suffer from is perturbation of normal GI tract function. When GI tract function is compromised, an increased permeability to pathogens is noted, allowing foreign materials to more easily pass into the body. This substantially increases the risk of infection. For athletes, this can not only lead to reduced adaptive responses (muscle anabolism) to training, but can also make the body more susceptible to fatigue, illness and ultimately catabolism of preexisting lean body mass stores. Coupled with this is the fact that when the GI tract is weakened, ingested macronutrients are not as readily absorbed and assimilated into the body. This is especially true for dietary and supplementary protein.
Another common complication experienced in individuals who engage in regular high-intensity exercise is an increase likelihood of developing upper respiratory tract infections. Studies in the scientific literature have demonstrated that once this process initiates, any continuation of physical exertion may actually worsen the disease state, thereby compounding the problem and leading to the possibility of even more severe illnesses. A recent study involving military personnel engaged in three weeks of combat training demonstrated that strenuous and prolonged exercise significantly decreased the amount of hormones (DHEA, prolactin, testosterone) and immunoglobulins, while at the same time increased the catabolic cytokine interleukin-6. This clearly reflects the interrelationship between immune system function and anabolic hormone synthesis.
Various dietary supplements have been investigated and used by athletes to help bolster immune function such as vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, glutamine, and Echinacea. While all of these compounds do have essential value in maintaining overall health and nutritional status, none have been shown to offer consistent benefits in improving overall immune system function. Glutamine has been studied extensively in this regard since it has been determined to be a vital amino acid used to support some of the cells of the immune system. However, even though plasma levels of glutamine have been shown to decrease after bouts of exercise, intracellular concentrations more or less remain stable. Furthermore, even in glutamine feeding studies, supplementation with this amino acid has not been shown to offset exercise-induced immunosuppression.
Spray dried bovine serum plasma (SDBP) is a new product to the nutritional supplement industry. A by-product of the cattle industry, it contains greater than 85% protein. However, unlike regular ingested dietary protein which is broken down into its constituent amino acids for use in the body, emerging research has shown that a significant amount (15-25%) of the proteins found in (SDBP) resist the digestive process. These proteins are actually transported intact to the lower G.I. (intestines) where they exert vital specific activities. Collectively these are named “bioactive proteins”.
The bioactive protein composition of SDBP is greater than 50 percent immunoglobulins (IgA, IgG and IgM). Additionally, SDBP contains significant amounts of the anabolic growth factor IGF-1 and the immunoregulatory cytokine TNF-â. Interestingly, SDBP is very similar in composition to bovine colostrum, the milk-like substance produced in the first 36 – 72 hours after calving. In fact, you could consider serum plasma protein to be the precursor to colostrum. The big difference though is SDBP contains much higher concentrations and a more consistent composition of the vital bioactive proteins then those found in colostrum products. And, since it is a non-dairy product, SDBP is free of lactose.
Of the immunoglobulin proteins found in SDBP, greater than forty-five percent is IgG. IgG is the most abundant immunoglobulin found in plasma and works to defend against pathogens in the body. IgG also is shuttled from the blood to the intestinal mucosal surface where it supports the functions of IgA in immune response and gut integrity. Supplemental intake of IgG has been shown to increase the transport of dietary amino acids leading to increases in lean body mass.
Additionally, by improving appetite and decreasing protein catabolism, supplemental IgG improves the growth rate of immunocompromised animals. Finally, the anabolic growth factor IGF-1 and the cytokine TNF-â found in SDBP act to not only help reduce the immune response to strenuous activity, but also aid in the transport of amino acids into muscle cells aiding in the restructuring of muscle cell architecture post-exercise.
Obviously, the addition of bioactive proteins derived from SDBP to ones diet makes logical sense for decreasing the adverse physiological reactions brought about by stress and strenuous physical activity. But that is not all – SDBP can also aid in the efficient use of ingested macronutrient (especially protein) to drive the anabolic process of building new muscle mass. GF-Pro by Ergopharm is the first commercially available whey protein supplement to contain physiologically efficacious doses of SDBP in conjunction with a high quality protein isolate. This combination will not only increase the nutritional efficiency of the product itself, but will also help optimize the absorption of all ingested macronutrients.
In summary, the addition of SDBP and its constituent bioactive proteins to one’s diet and exercise program have been shown to exert several different and important biological effects upon oral ingestion including:
1) Increasing the ability to fight infection and decreasing the inflammatory response of pathogenic infection
2) Increasing the ability to resist the immunosuppressive and catabolic effects of overtraining and other environmental stressors
3) Increasing alimentary levels of IGF-1 and TGF-beta1 thus aiding in intestinal integrity and intestinal absorptive ability of nutrients – especially protein
4) Increasing appetite as well as the efficiency of ingested protein towards lean body mass accretion