Once again the humble green-lipped mussel is being trumpeted as a medical game-changer. But this time, says the academic behind the study, there's some solid proof.
After claims it could cure cancer (disproven) and childhood asthma (debated) gave the mussel a bad reputation, a new US study says Lyprinol - derived from mussel oils - can help athletes who suffer asthma to perform better.
With that study due for publication next month, the author, Indiana University professor Tim Mickleborough, is conducting research to see if mussels are good for your muscles - or, at least, in helping them recover faster from exercise.
He is sceptical about that suggestion. But he says the asthma study produced unequivocal results showing athletes who suffer from exercise-induced asthma attacks can improve lung function and reduce airway inflammation by taking Lyprinol.
The former professional triathlete, now an exercise science professor at Indiana, made a flying visit to New Zealand last week after briefing journalists and medics in Sydney on a trip funded by Lyprinol's local distributor, Pharmalink. The medical company also paid for his research trial.
"I wouldn't do this [visit] if I didn't believe in the product," he says. "When they came to me two years ago to ask me to do the study, I was very sceptical, but they were willing to fund the work. I held out no hope at all. But, boy oh boy, the results speak for themselves."
Mickleborough's study used 20 patients in an eight-week double-blind trial involving fitness tests and induced asthma attacks. Unlike regular competitors, asthmatic athletes suffer a rapid drop in lung function - ie, wheezing - after exercise. But taking Lyprinol showed that effect was mitigated by up to 57 per cent, a figure he says is statistically significant.
What he doesn't know is quite how it works. Mickleborough has done plenty of research into fish oil - used for everything from bowel disease to mental health - the anti-inflammatory benefits of which relies on two Omega3 fatty acids known as EPA and DHA. But they are present only in minuscule amounts in mussels; tests show there are another 90 or so fatty acids in mussel oil which could be responsible.
Mickleborough admits that while mussel oil helps athletes, fish oil is just as effective. The big benefit, he says, will be in reducing the dependence on asthma inhalers.
His paper on mussel oil is published next month by the British journal Respiratory Medicine. Based on the deluge of interest after his work on fish oil and athletes, he expects plenty of inquiries from sports teams and professional athletes.
Mickleborough's past work includes studies showing chocolate milk can be just as effective a recovery drink as Gatorade, and he's now bidding for $1.8m of funding from the US Army to run a study into the fitness and mental health benefits for soldiers of taking fish oil.
- Sunday Star Times