Ergothioneine loosens up stiff joints
Supplements users looking to make their joints more supple are already familiar with glucosamine, MSM, hyaluronic acid and collagen. But in addition to those substances, there is also ergothioneine.
Ergothioneine occurs naturally in our food, in small quantities at least. One kilogram of oyster mushrooms contains 119 mg; one kilogram of black beans 13 mg. The best source is Boletus edulis, known as cep, porcini or penny bun. One kilogram of these mushrooms contains 528 mg of the sulphurous amino acid. [J Agric Food Chem. 2007 Aug 8;55(16):6466-74.]
We don't yet know exactly what ergothioneine's function is. It's an antioxidant, but not a wildly good one. Nevertheless, it seems that humans need it, because our cells have transporters that recognise the amino acid and convey it to the cells.
Around 2010, the American supplement company Oxis introduced the first supplements containing synthesized ergothioneine: Ergo-Pur, a supplement containing only ergothioneine, and Ergo-Flex, a supplement containing L-ergothioneine, hyaluronic acid, collagen, turmeric and glucosamine. [At the time of updating this post, Ergo-Pur and Ergo-Flex were no longer available.]
Click on the figure at the bottom right for the exact composition.
Oxis has devoted considerable effort to promoting ergothioneine. In 2011 the company organised a conference on the amino acid. At the congress guest speaker Bruce Ames declared that ergothioneine might be "an unappreciated vitamin". [businesswire.com 19-7-2011]
At the request of Oxis, NIS Labs [nislabs.com] studied the effect of Ergo-Flex on joint function in a small study involving 12 men and women. A number of Oxis employees, including the director, are listed as co-author of the study.
In 2012, the NIS Labs/Oxis research findings were published in Preventive Medicine. In the study test subjects aged between 38 and 62 with "mild-moderate complaints of chronic pain affecting range of motion" took Oxis' Ergo-Flex every day for six weeks. They then stopped taking the supplement for another six weeks.
Unfortunately, there was no placebo group
The subjects' joint mobility [ROM] increased as a result of the supplement. The figure below shows the effect of Ergo-Flex on the left knee joint.
Pain in the joint while at rest and during the movement [primary pain] decreased, as did pain around the knee joint at rest and during movement [secondary pain].
The subjects took 2 capsules a day, which provided about half a milligram of ergothioneine in total. A single normal belly button mushroom is guaranteed to contain this amount.
Prev Med. 2012 May;54 Suppl:S83-9.
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