Mushrooms Highest in Ergothioneine

In recent years, there has been growing interest in natural antioxidants as part of a healthy diet.

One primary reason for this is the growing body of research that suggests a link between synthetic antioxidants and some adverse effects, including cancer.

One of the best sources of natural antioxidants that have received growing attention in recent years is mushrooms. It is especially so for the antioxidant ergothioneine, which is only found in certain mushrooms.

Let us take a closer look at ergothioneine.


Key Takeaways

  • Ergothioneine, a sulfur-containing amino acid found in mushrooms, acts as a powerful antioxidant, protecting mitochondria and preventing oxidative stress in the body. Mushrooms are the highest natural source of ergothioneine.
  • Ergothioneine offers various health benefits, including promoting healthy aging, supporting cognitive function, preventing oxidative stress, and protecting the skin from UV damage. It also appears to be beneficial for cardiovascular health, reducing cardiovascular risk and mortality.
  • Mushrooms, as fungi, are rich in essential health components like antioxidants, selenium, choline, and vitamin C. They offer numerous health benefits. Oyster mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, King Bolete mushrooms, and enokitake mushrooms are among the varieties highest in ergothioneine.


What is Ergothioneine

Ergothioneine is a sulfur-containing amino acid that acts as an antioxidant. It has a unique role in the body of protecting mitochondria oxidation. The body does not produce this amino acid, and it only gets it from dietary sources. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins.

The amino acid was first discovered in 1909 by Charles Tanret, a chemist and pharmacist. At the time of his discovery, Tanret had been examining the ergot fungus, which had been destroying crops. 

He found the amino acid via a purification process. He thus named it ergothioneine from the ergot fungus. While ergot fungus destroys crops, the amino acid it harbors is beneficial to the body. To date, the highest known natural source of this antioxidant is mushrooms.

For many years, it was thought that ergothioneine had no use in the body since the human body does not produce it. That was until a special transporter was later found to have evolved. This means that it must be an extremely crucial amino acid for the body to develop a specific transporter. 

Despite how essential it is to health, it is in low concentrations in most diets. The only natural source of ergothioneine in nature at significant levels is mushrooms.


Ergothioneine Health Benefits

While new benefits of ergothioneine in the body are still being found, here are some that have been discovered thus far. 

One of the benefits of taking ergothioneine is that it promotes healthy aging by preventing telomere shortening. Telomeres are protein structures at the end of every DNA strand, preventing damage to chromosomes.

Another possible benefit of ergothioneine is that it may support cognitive function. One observational study found that elderly study participants with mild memory loss that come with aging also had the lowest levels of ergothioneine compared to those without any impairment.

Another essential function of this amino acid is that it prevents oxidative stress. Our bodies need to have free radicals eliminated from the body. Otherwise, they can wreak havoc on our health. Ergothioneine has been found to actively seek out and neutralize a wide range of free radicals, protecting the body from oxidative stress.

Another benefit is its ability to protect the skin from UV damage. One study found that the amino acid protects skin cells from UV damage, which degrades collagen. The researchers advised that ergothioneine be used to create a skin lotion or better sunscreen products.

Ergothioneine also appears to be beneficial to cardiovascular health. A Swedish study of 3,200 people found that ergothioneine acted as the best metabolic marker for reduced cardiovascular risk and mortality. In the study, 112 markers were studied, which was held even after 20 years of follow-up.


Mushroom Ergothioneine

While ergothioneine is found in many foods, including pork, beans, and chicken, it is found in the highest amounts in mushrooms. In mushrooms, ergothioneine levels are hundreds of times higher than in the closest competitors. However, even in mushrooms, the amount varies depending on the mushroom kind. 

Different varieties of mushrooms contain different levels of ergothioneine. Depending on the mushroom you consume, you can get 2.4 to 4.9 mg of ergothioneine per serving. However, in some cases, the mushrooms will contain no meaningful amount of this antioxidant.


Health Components of Mushrooms

While mushrooms are often presented as a vegetable, they are fungi. They are fat-free, gluten-free, cholesterol-free, and low in sodium. When consumed, they are a source of vitamins, minerals, protein, and antioxidants. All of these can have numerous health benefits. 

One of the essential components of mushrooms is the high levels of antioxidants. Some of the antioxidants found in mushrooms are ergothioneine, selenium, choline, and vitamin C.

Mushrooms may also be crucial to the management of type 2 diabetes. One study found that those who consume high amounts of dietary fiber stand a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. 

Dietary fiber could help keep low blood glucose levels, so incorporating mushrooms into your diet is an excellent way of ensuring you meet your daily dietary fiber intake and keep your glucose levels under control.

Mushrooms contain significant potassium and vitamin C levels, which may play an important role in cardiovascular health. Potassium is essential for regulating blood pressure, and it could decrease the risk of hypertension and heart disease.  

In one study, it was found that there could be a relationship between vitamin C deficiency and increased risk of cardiovascular disease. The study did not find that consuming vitamin C levels could prevent illness. Instead, they recommend consuming vitamin C from natural sources.


Mushrooms Highest in Ergothioneine

While ergothioneine is found in many foods, including pork, beans, and chicken, it is found in the highest amounts in mushrooms. In mushrooms, ergothioneine levels are hundreds of times higher than in the closest competitors. 

However, even in mushrooms, the amount varies depending on the variety.

A 2013 study by Japanese researchers found that oyster mushrooms of the Pleurotus family contain the highest amount of ergothioneine. 

Other mushrooms with a significant amount of ergothioneine are shiitake mushrooms, King Bolete mushrooms, and enokitake mushrooms. 

When it comes to those with the lowest amount of ergothioneine, chanterelle and the common white button mushroom were found to have negligible levels.

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