Over the past few years we have witnessed the discovery that many of our most successful athletes among competitive sports have been doping their way to victory. Doping has now been found among some of the most famous baseball players, track and field athletes, cycling athletes and others.
The drive to dope – using chemistry to boost performance – is based upon the competitive drive to win. But the physiological goal is typically to increase the body’s testosterone levels and decrease inflammatory cortisol levels.
Does this really require chemicals that basically break the code of ethics revolving around fair competition? Certainly nature is fair.
In other words: Is it possible to boost testosterone and reduce cortisol for those who seek to stay healthy with natural strategies? How about those who seek to abide by the rules of competition?
Yes. New research has determined a number of products that increase testosterone and limit cortisol. One of the most recent of which are two important medicinal mushrooms – Reishi and Cordyceps.
In a double-blind clinical study, researchers from Italy’s Pavia University have found these two medicinal mushrooms significantly boost performance and recovery in cycling athletes.
Mushrooms significantly boost testosterone levels
The researchers selected seven male competitive cyclists who had been competitively cycling for over ten years. The cyclists train an average of 300 kilometers per week and between 12,000 and 15,000 kilometers per year.
The research was validated and developed through agreement with the Helsinki Declaration adopted at the Eighteenth General Assembly of the World Medical Association.
During the four month study, the cyclists were given placebo supplements for one month and then for three months were given supplements consisting of the medicinal mushrooms Ganoderma lucidum – also called Reishi – and Cordyceps sinensis – called Cordyceps.
Two cycling races tested – one with mushrooms and one without
During the testing period the cyclists were involved in daily training and during each period the cyclists competed in a long-distance competitive bike race. The first race – undertaken near the end of the placebo phase of the study – was the 110-kilometer Gran Fondo Laigueglia. The race has an elevation rise of about 5,000 feet and lasts nearly four hours, with the cyclists racing at average speeds of 36 kilometers per hour (over 16 miles per hour).
Near the end of the mushroom supplement period, the cyclists competed in the Gran Fondo Aprica. This has a distance of 85 kilometers with an elevation rise of over 5500 feet, and lasts closer to four hours with average speeds of about 15 miles per hour. This second race is considered harder than the first because of its steeper and more difficult terrain.
The researchers utilized several tests to compare the daily training and race performance of the cyclists. They each wore Sense Wear Pro Armbands that estimate energy utilization including heat production, muscle performance and galvanic skin responses, skin temperature and body temperature.
The researchers also took blood samples and measured the antioxidant potential of the blood in relation to free radicals. The metabolic term is free radical scavenging activity.
This measure of antioxidant capacity relates to the ability of the blood to break down exercise metabolites which create blood acidity and produce soreness and exhaustion.
The researchers also tested the cyclists’ testosterone/cortisol ratios, which indicate performance levels, levels of inflammation, and exhaustion levels. When cortisol levels increase in relation to testosterone more than 30%, for example, this is considered by trainers to be a sign of overtraining and physical exhaustion.
The bottom line is that these mushrooms boost testosterone levels. Really.
Mushroomed racers had higher testosterone and reduced recovery times
After the placebo race compared to before the race, the researchers did find that five of the seven cyclists went over the 30% mark on their testosterone/cortisol ratio. This means they were officially in the exhaustion range. The other two athletes – leading competitors – had increased testosterone/cortisol ratios when comparing before and after the placebo race.
In the race at the end of the mushroom supplementation period, the cyclists as a group had about double the average testosterone levels before the race, and about four times the testosterone levels after the race compared to the placebo race. This is even with the second race being dramatically more difficult than the first.
The before-race cortisol levels were also significantly different between the two races. The second race – after three months of mushroom supplementation – resulted in about a third lower cortisol levels before the race.
The testosterone/cortisol ratios between the first race and the second race (after three months of mushroom supplementation) were also significantly different. The pre-race testosterone/cortisol ratio in the second race was more than double that of the first race. But the after-race testosterone/cortisol ratios were dramatically greater – over six times higher – in the second race than the first race.
Meanwhile, even the less-trained two cyclists also had significantly better testosterone/cortisol ratios. Their second pre-race testosterone/cortisol ratios were about three times the first pre-race levels. And their second post-race levels were almost three times more than the first race.
Moreover, the cyclists had significantly higher free radical scavenging activity after the second race as compared to after the first race.
The researchers concluded:
“The results show that, after three months of supplementation, the testosterone/cortisol ratio changed in a statistically significant manner, thereby protecting the athletes from nonfunctional overreaching and overtraining syndrome.”
They also found:
“After three months of fungal supplementation, the data demonstrate an increased scavenger capacity of free radicals in the athletes’ serum after the race, thereby protecting the athletes from oxidative stress.”
Reishi and Cordyceps have numerous health benefits
These two mushrooms have many other effects outside of their free radical scavenging effects. Reishi is one of the more studied of the medicinal mushrooms, as it has been found to significantly stimulate immunity and inhibit numerous disease conditions.
Reishi contains numerous medicinal compounds including triterpenes and beta-glucans, as well as adenosine monophosphate and superoxide dismutase. These have been found to be aid cardiovascular health and disease prevention. Reishi has been found to lower blood pressure, reduce enlarge prostate (benign prostatic hyperplasia) and reduce inflammation as well. It has also been found to be antiviral.
Cordyceps sinensis is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for its general tonic and detoxifying effects. Research has found it inhibits tumors, reduces infections, and helps prevent heart and nervous system diseases. One of its most spectacular components is cordycepin – or deoxyadenosine. This biochemical is related to adenosine, involved in the ATP cycle.
Both of these mushrooms also contain numerous other nutrients. For example, one hundred grams of Reishi mushroom will contain over 15 grams of protein, over 60 grams of fiber, and provide a good source of most of the B vitamins, as well as potassium, selenium and copper.
Nature provides a better anti-doping option
We might mention that a number of cyclists found involved in doping were trying to gain the same effects as found from these two mushrooms: To increase testosterone levels and decrease cortisol levels.
As to whether these mushrooms will boost testosterone levels among non-athletes, more research needs to be done. But preliminary research has found that Reishi reduces the enzyme 5-alpha reductase. This enzyme – 5-alpha reductase – is involved in the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT). With reduced 5-alpha reductase levels, less testosterone is converted to DHT, leaving more testosterone.
And why is supplementing with natural products such as mushrooms not considered cheating in athletics? Because mother nature doesn’t cheat. Mother nature applies her healing properties in ways that supply the body with a balance of safe nutrition and healthy phytonutrients.
Paola Rossi, Daniela Buonocore, Elisa Altobelli, et al., Improving Training Condition Assessment in Endurance Cyclists: Effects of Ganoderma lucidum and Ophiocordyceps sinensis Dietary Supplementation. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 2014, Article ID 979613, 11 pages, 2014. doi:10.1155/2014/979613
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