Definition: "An ergogenic aid is any substance or phenomenon that enhances performance "

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Elderly are fitter with Cordyceps sinensis

Extracts of the fungus Cordyceps sinensis give elderly people more stamina. Nutritionists at the University of California in Los Angeles discovered this when they did experiments with 15 men and women aged between 50 and 75.

Cordyceps sinensis and its relative Cordyceps militaris have been used for centuries in Chinese medicine as a tonic for the elderly. And not without reason: test-tube and animal tests have shown that the fungi raise testosterone levels and improve the stamina of lab animals.

In 1993 cordyceps was widely written about in the press after the Chinese athletes Wang Junxia, Qu Yunxia and Zhang Linli broke records for the 1500, 3000 and 10,000 metres. The athletes ascribed their success to cordyceps, but when American sports scientists tested the fungus on endurance athletes ten years later, the results were disappointing.

Cyclists who took a daily dose of 3 g Cordyceps sinensis for 5 weeks noticed no change. [Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2004 Apr;14(2):236-42.] In the same studies a combination of Rhodolia rosea and Cordyceps sinensis had no effect on the cyclists’ performance either. [J Strength Cond Res. 2005 May;19(2):358-63.] [Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2004 Mar;36(3):504-9.] But the nutritionists at the University of California decided to give cordyceps one more chance.

Instead of athletes they used elderly people as their test subjects. Eight subjects were given 3 g daily of the standardised cordyceps extract Cs-4, for a period of 12 consecutive weeks. Seven other test subjects were given a placebo. Before the experiment started, and again at the end of the 12 weeks, the subjects had to cycle so that the researchers could measure their condition.

The researchers observed no effects on oxygen uptake. But they did discover that cordyceps raised the level of intensity at which the body has to change over from aerobic to anaerobic burning processes by 10.5 percent. The intensity at which this change happens is called the metabolic threshold. The amount of time that you can keep up this intensity is limited.

Elderly are fitter with Cordyceps sinensis

If you go over your metabolic threshold you notice it in your breathing: you start to breathe more deeply. Sports scientists refer to this as exceeding your ventilatory threshold. They then add that ventilatory threshold and metabolic threshold are not exactly the same, but that they will not bore their readers with a complex story that is not relevant here. So we won't either.

The level of exertion at which the test subjects started to breathe more deeply went up by 8.5 percent as a result of the supplement.

Elderly are fitter with Cordyceps sinensis

The researchers did not go into how cordyceps works, but they refer to an animal study in which the use of cordyceps resulted in more ATP in the muscle cells. Cordyceps contains compounds that resemble adenosine, and the researchers suspect that this has something to do with the effect.

J Altern Complement Med. 2010 May; 16(5): 585-90.

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