November 24, 2010

How Lactic Acid Helps Top Runners

 “Lactic acid helps top runners” may seem to contradict the common wisdom that as you exercise the lactic acid builds up in the body, which leads to fatigue and slows you down.

While the common wisdom may hold for people exercising moderately, e.g. running in a marathon, intense exercise changes the way the body functions. With intense exercise, the lactate instead of hurting the body helps it by becoming an efficient energy source. Top endurance runners such as Dean Karnazes demonstrate this regularly by running for 100’s of miles continuously without getting fatigued.

George Brooks at UC Berkeley researches this lactate shuttle in the body. According to his research, the lactate shuttle may also help people with traumatic brain injury. The brain, after an injury, prefers using lactates as an energy source rather than glucose, which help it recover faster. So lactate salts and esters could be administered in the first crucial hours after an injury. (via Science Matters)

Other potential applications of lactate shuttles being researched are killing cancer cells in a targeted manner and growing stem cells.