Sports & Endurance

Increasing physical resilience with medicinal mushrooms

Athletes are challenged by enormous physical demands. They aren´t required to achieve just a moderate increase in performance, but excessive physical exertion and continuous peak performance are expected of these athletes.

However, grasping for superlatives involves risks and requires different support than for training for mere recreation. Due to the constant demand for maximum performance, athletes are particularly susceptible to infections. The immune system must be strengthened and the rapid regeneration of the body´s systems is paramount. Maintaining
performance is mandatory, the body is the capital.

Administration of nutritional supplements to increase physical performance

There have always been reflections on how one can optimise the nutrition and use dietary supplements efficiently for prevention and in the event of illness, to improve performance and to increase general well-being. In China it has been a tradition for 1,500 years to implement medicinal mushrooms against exhaustion and to increase endurance. The intake of mushrooms serves the health - they are low in calories, rich in proteins, chitin, iron, secondary metabolites, vitamins and amino acids. The efficacy of medicinal mushrooms has already been proven in quite a number of recent scientific studies and it seems that even the Western world is beginning to be inspired by this ancient knowledge to a greater extent.

The active ingredients of medicinal mushrooms

Many medicinal mushrooms are so-called "nutraceuticals" - a coinage of the words nutrient = food and pharmaceutical = remedy. They can be both used in the cuisine as an edible mushroom for culinary enjoyment as well as for the treatment of illnesses. They have active ingredients that we can specifically deploy for our health, and one could call them "Host Defence Potentiators". They contain, amongst other ingredients, polysaccharides, triterpenes, nucleosides, adenosine derivatives, hemicellulose (AHCC) and other metabolites. These compounds act in particular on the immune system, metabolism, the respiratory tract and the cardiovascular and endocrine systems. They also enable the immune response and regulate excessive reactions.

Maintaining a healthy body

It is important for any athlete to maintain his/her well-being and a state of inner balance. Every illness leaves a vulnerability which is amplified through an inadequate or insufficiently functioning immune system.

If pathological processes often recur, this increases the possibility of a chronic disease in the corresponding area. Therefore, it is particularly important for top athletes to minimise the frequency and severity of diseases and to maintain an optimal state of health.

Increasing physical performance through the administration of medicinal mushrooms

The selective use of medicinal mushrooms at sporting events has been known since the Athletics World Championships in Stuttgart in 1993. Chinese runners won six medals there and then established new world records at their national championships. Their trainer justified the success with iron discipline and altitude training. Above all, however, with the regular use of Cordyceps (Chinese caterpillar fungus).

The Cordyceps medicinal mushroom has been employed in Asia for centuries as a tonic to increase strength and vitality, for long life, to combat depression and increase sexual desire.

The Cordyceps has a strong link to the kidneys, which in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) are seen as functional organs representing the life energy. Common side effects such as lack of willpower and/or motivation, anxiety, worry and a feeling of emptiness result from a kidney weakness. If the energy of this functional system is increased, for example, by the administration of medicinal mushrooms, endurance increases. Now also the Western sports world wants to take advantage of this legendary effect of inducing vitality and increasing the adaptability of the body in stress situations.

How does Cordyceps work?

It is still not entirely clear which components of this medicinal mushroom promote more stamina and energy. In any case, Cordyceps contains bioactive molecules, especially polysaccharides and cordycepin, which form the basis for action so that the body can make more efficient use of its energy. It is believed that it supports the fat and beta oxidation and simultaneously delays the glycogen consumption under physical load. Also, it increases the blood supply to the liver and to other organs, and optimises the oxygen consumption. Studies demonstrate a stimulatory effect of Cordyceps on the release of hormones from the adrenal cortex, whereby it counteracts stress symptoms.

This also has positive effects for top athletes who are often under immense psychological pressure. There are already some scientific studies on the performance-enhancing effect of Cordyceps. For example, a double-blind study that was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition tested energy and endurance in 110 healthy adults with a sedentary lifestyle. After twelve weeks it showed that the group which took Cordyceps could ride a bike 2.8 percent longer than before. In contrast, the result of the control group deteriorated by 5.6 percent in this period.

Another study showed that endurance could be improved and the recovery period shortened. The study examined fatigue and stress symptoms in swimming experiments with mice and demonstrated that the endurance capacity after supplementation with medicinal mushrooms, especially with Cordyceps and Maitake (Grifola frondosa) was significantly increased. If the experimental animals were exposed to stress for 48 hours, the administration of medicinal mushrooms suppressed the increase of total cholesterol and led to a reduction in the alkaline phosphatase. These biochemical parameters disclose a strongly depressed level of stress potential.

In traditional Asian medicine Cordyceps has been administered since antiquity to improve performance and a better utilisation of oxygen.

Cordyceps could also be considered an anti-aging agent, since studies have demonstrated that it shows antioxidant effects as well as enables the elimination of free radicals. At the same time it reduces lipid peroxidation and naturally inhibits the activities of monoamine oxidase. This has the pleasant side effect that due to the reduced breakdown of catecholamines, depressive moods can be counteracted.

In addition to the improved activity of the antioxidant enzymes, an improved sexual function was also observed in experiments. Cordyceps has a stimulating effect on the sexual organs and the production of sex hormones and thereby acts as a sexual stimulant. Thus, new empirical studies confirm why already in ancient China it was considered an
"aphrodisiac".

The positive effect of Cordyceps on the respiratory system, the heart and general endurance - all important factors for boosting sporting performance - is certainly interesting for athletes.

The Reishi, also known as "Ganoderma lucidum", is one of the most important medicinal mushrooms in the pharmacy of Traditional Chinese Medicine. According to the Stanford professor and physician Georges M. Halpern, this medicinal mushroom is a tonic that increases energy and endurance.

High-performance athletes in particular experience increased adrenaline release. The basal metabolic rate is consequently raised; oxygen is increasingly consumed. Reishi can counteract this, because an improved oxygen absorption in the blood is one of its attributes. A study reporting on 900 soldiers who were staying at an altitude of 4,700 metres in Tibet showed that, despite this oxygen-depleted environment, after administration of Reishi the test group was almost entirely free of side effects such as vomiting or headache. A control group showed significantly more of these symptoms of altitude sickness.

The regular intake of Reishi results in a high availability of acetyl CoA, which activates the citric acid cycle. The oxidation of the acetyl CoA in the citrate cycle provides energy rich electrons for the production of ATP, and thus serves the energy production and is furthermore an intermediate of lipid metabolism.

Most studies on the benefits of medicinal mushrooms are based on their immune-enhancing properties. Indeed, their polysaccharides and their derivatives are capable of stimulating the production of the neurotransmitters in the organism which are so important for the immune system. In Japan, Coriolus for instance, is administered to set the immune system in motion due to its active ingredients PSK and PSP (two polysaccharides). Athletes suffering under their rigorous training often also make use of this fact. Partly to avoid illnesses, but in particular to combat the symptoms of chronic fatigue immune dysfunction syndrome (CFS). Dr. Jean Monro, Breakspear Hospital, UK, demonstrated on a group of 36 patients with CFS that by administering Coriolus immune stabilising processes can be set in motion. Thus, the numbers of NK cells were increased by 35 percent during a period of two months.

An important point is the immunomodulation, thus allowing the immune system to find balance and offset both downward and upward fluctuations. Medicinal mushrooms are always effectively adaptogen, i.e. regulating, so that no unilateral activities are stimulated.

Also the mental pressure to which professional athletes are exposed is immense. Stress symptoms such as anxiety, memory loss, restlessness and insomnia occur. In this case, taking Hericium is recommended as it is characterised by diverse influences on the nervous system. An in vitro study in Kiev made on brain cells with Hericium demonstrated a strong effect on the process of myelin formation. It was also found that the bioactive molecule dilinoleoyl phosphatideletanolamin (DLPE) contained in Hericium has protective properties against stress-induced cell death through the reticuloendethelial system.

Conclusion

Medicinal mushrooms help to minimise excessive fatigue symptoms, to achieve faster regeneration, to improve the immune system and to activate the cells. All in all, they result in a higher energy level with enhanced performance.

Sources

• Georges M. Halpern, MD, PhD: "Healing Mushrooms";Squareone Publishers; 2007
• Prof. Dr. Ivo Bianchi: “Moderne Mykotherapie” HinckelDruck, 2008 (in German and Italian only as of 2014)
• Stamets, P .: "MycoMedicinals: An Informational Treatise on Mushrooms", Myco Media, 2002
• Christopher Hobbs, L.Ac ..: "Medicinal Mushrooms", Botanica Press, 1995

Note

The effects described are based on the ingestion of medicinal mushroom powder which is prepared from the whole mushroom. Please seek advice from your therapist before using.