Sports fans everywhere are speculating about New England Patriots' QB Tom Brady's missed practice. What exactly is his "unspecified illness"? Will he be available for a scheduled media appearance on January 17th? Will he be ready to face Peyton Manning and the Broncos on Sunday?
The Allentown Family Health Examiner does not have any inside information on Brady, but she is willing to speculate on therapies for the cold that Brady acknowledged having last week and to offer some insights from recent research on athletes, dietary supplements, and health.
How often do elite athletes face health challenges during an extended competitive period of time? A December 2013 article in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine provides an analysis of illnesses and injuries among athletes involved in the 2012 Helsinki Olympics, including risk factors for these ailments. During the 2012 Olympics, there were 98.4 injuries for every 1000 registered athletes, with 47 percent of these injuries resulting in the athletes taking time off from practicing and / or competing. Men were more likely to be injured than women, and the risk of injury (as one might expect) increased with age. Four illnesses were reported for every 1000 athlete-days; one-third of these illnesses were upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs), and just over one-quarter were gastrointestinal (GI) disturbances. The researchers were unable to identify risk factors for illness.
Can athletes prevent illness by taking a dietary supplement of some kind? Apparently, yes, according to research published in the August 2013 issue of the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. A team of researchers from New Zealand studied the effects of probiotic supplementation on rugby players and found that both URTIs and GI illnesses were rarer and shorter among players taking probiotics than among those taking a placebo. Although there was no apparent effect on the severity of the illness, probiotic supplementation appears to be a worthwhile (and inexpensive) intervention to prevent and treat illness among athletes.
Why do athletes get sick? Even among people in prime health -- including elite athletes -- there is often a deficiency of vitamin D, according to research published by a group from Marshall University in West Virginia in the November 2012 issue of Sports Health. The authors note that "Vitamin D deficiency is common in athletes. For athletes presenting with stress fractures, musculoskeletal pain, and frequent illness, one should have a heightened awareness of vitamin D deficiency." The researchers found that serum vitamin D levels between 40 and 50 nanograms per milliliter are associated with "reduced inflammation, pain, and myopathy" and "increased muscle protein synthesis, ATP concentration, strength, jump height, jump velocity, jump power, exercise capacity, and physical performance."
Finally, because Brady's wife, supermodel Gisele Bündchen, has been an outspoken advocate of breastfeeding, the Allentown Family Health Examiner would like to note that breastfeeding appears to be inversely related to childhood snoring: in other words, the longer a child is breastfed, the less likely he is to snore during childhood. Just one more benefit to add to the list!