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Lactic acid:  Good for your gut but not for your muscles?

by Sonia Chartier, on 22 July 2015, Digestion, Muscle and joint
lactic-acid

co-written by Rick Olazabal, BSc, BN 

Lactic acid is a normal byproduct of muscle metabolism, but it can irritate muscles and cause discomfort and soreness.

On the other hand, lactic acid is good for your gut…how come?

It seems counterproductive that a working muscle would produce something (lactic acid) that would slow its capacity for more work. But in fact, it is a natural defense mechanism for the body; it prevents permanent damage during extreme exertion by slowing the key systems needed to maintain muscle contraction. Once the body slows down, oxygen becomes available, allowing continued aerobic metabolism and energy for the body’s recovery from the strenuous event.

So what is so darn miraculous about lactic acid?

It is standard practice in the naturopathic clinical setting to get to the root cause of any disorder, but especially so if the symptoms are linked to our digestive tract. This is because the gut is intimately involved in almost every aspect of our health, and conversely, our health affects every aspect of our digestive tract. We often hear things like “your gut has its own brain”, or “seventy per cent of your immune system is your gut”.

The gut is more than a just hollow tube that processes the food we eat. It is an incredibly dynamic and vibrant ecosystem—a complex organ that plays a crucial role in our immune system. It is home to millions of bacteria (i.e. the “normal flora), whose cell count most likely outnumbers our own cells. These bacteria physically keep interloping species away; they help digest certain foods (e.g. bile acid, lactose), and produce certain vitamins (e.g. vitamin K).

But more importantly, they have the ability to modulate the immune response giving rise to a concept of oral tolerance. There are several genera in the gut, each associated with specific dietary regiments, but two of them usually stand out in probiotics: Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus. These are collectively known as lactic acid producers.

In anoxic (not enough oxygen) conditions your cells rely on a process known as glycolysis for energy extraction. The end result is lactic acid, which is then recycled back into the system or excreted. Under normal conditions (when enough oxygen) another process takes over and is able to produce far more energy. Anaerobic bacteria, like those in Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus utilize glycolysis to extract energy from simple sugars, and the byproduct of this process is, again, lactic acid.

Lactic acid is secreted and its accumulation changes the pH of the surroundings. Most opportunistic, or pathogenic bacteria do not like an acidic environment (i.e. low pH) and their growth and development is halted, thus reducing the chance for infection and inflammation (by lowering levels of lipopolysaccharides (LPS)) in the gut. This is crucial because LPS is a strong trigger of the immune system, and remember that we want modulation, not activation!

But maintaining the right pH in the gut is important for other processes such as gut motility (peristalsis) and for the absorption of many vital minerals across into the body. This translates into a reduction of bloating, pain, diarrhea, constipation, and the collection of symptoms some people like to call “leaky gut syndrome”, etc. It also indirectly helps maintain bone integrity and reduce the development of autoimmune conditions (if you’re thinking eczema you’re not far off).

OK, so lactic acid production is great. But do I have to exercise or can I buy it?

While the lactic acid your muscles produce is of no use to your gut, exercise is HIGHLY encouraged for many other health benefits.

The Nectar of the Gods

Organic yogurt and lacto-fermented foods provide a source of lactic acid and its producers. However, in Alfred Vogel’s tradition, A.Vogel offers a product called Molkosan, which is exactly that.

Molkosan is lacto-fermented whey from Swiss cow’s milk. It is whey protein-, casein-, lactase-, and fat-free, and it comes in two variants: Molkosan (original), and Molkosan Berry (made with pomegranate and aronia, also known as chokeberries). Both products are an excellent source of potassium and calcium. The recommended daily intake is just one tablespoon.

How is one tablespoon a day going to help?

Asked a colleague once. She had been dealing with constant daily nausea and vomiting, dyspepsia and all those not-so-lovely symptoms of indigestion in the absence of any true pathology (as confirmed by ultrasounds, blood work, etc.) that just lead to an additional accumulation of irritability and stress. For nearly a year, she had tried acupuncture, probiotics, bitters, digestive aids, and apple cider vinegar—which made the nausea worse. From a naturopathic approach, she had been hit with everything…including the kitchen sink, yes, and nothing seemed to help.

To be honest, I did not imagine Molkosan would make a budge in her symptoms at all. After all, she had been suffering for too long and nothing seemed to help, but I made the suggestion anyway, and since she had nothing to lose she obliged. “IT’S THE NECTAR OF THE GODS!”, she shouted the next time she saw me. A tablespoon of Molkosan in the morning helped reduce her nausea significantly, so she was able to keep her food down and actually feel relatively better throughout the day.

Molkosan is not a cure-all, wonder drug. It is food that addresses digestive functionality by means of basic chemistry, and by promoting the growth of the normal flora.

As for me, I use it as a way to keep myself hydrated enough throughout the day. I add a couple tablespoons to a litre of water and drink it throughout the day. I find this especially helpful when working out or going for a run, given that it contains essential minerals, personally, I prefer it over conventional, sugary electrolyte drinks.

Here is a great smoothie recipe to enjoy all the Molkosan’s benefits:

  • 100 g blueberries (fresh or frozen)
  • 300 mL almond milk
  • 50 g fresh spinach
  • 2 fresh dates pitted
  • 100 mL coconut milk
  • 2 tbsp Molkosan Fruit

Mix all ingredients in a blender until a frothy texture appears and serve.

 

 

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