Supplements users looking to make their joints more supple already had glucosamine, MSM, hyaluronic acid and collagen, but now they've got ergothioneine too. According to researchers at NIS Labs, this obscure amino acid helps damaged joints to function better.
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.
A few years ago the American supplements company Oxis [oxis.com] introduced the first supplements containing L-ergothioneine: Ergo-Pur, a supplement containing only ergothioneine, and Ergo-Flex, a supplement containing unknown quantities of L-ergothioneine, hyaluronic acid, collagen, turmeric and glucosamine.
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.
Oxis is devoting considerable effort to promoting ergothioneine. In 2011 the company organised a conference on the amino acid. [naturalproductsinsider.com June 22, 2011] At the congress guest speaker Bruce Ames declared that ergothioneine might be "an unappreciated vitamin". [businesswire.com 19-7-2011]
The NIS Labs/Oxis research findings were published recently 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.
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 scientific integrity of the study is limited. At this stage, a study of a supplement containing only L-ergothioneine would have been more use. And one in which there is less secrecy about the quantities needed.
Prev Med. 2012 May; 54 Suppl: S83-9.