An antioxidant first identified over 100 years ago is finally receiving attention, thanks to an increase in recent studies that have revealed its unique benefits and abilities. New research suggests it may be a key player in slowing the effects of aging and preventing cell destruction caused by oxidation.
Today we'll look at where this compound comes from, what it accomplishes, and how you can ensure you're getting enough of it.
All About Ergothioneine
Ergothioneine is an amino acid produced by certain fungi and bacteria and found in most– if not all– of the tissues in the human body. Although it was discovered more than a century ago, it hasn't received adequate scientific attention, until recently.
Studies from across the globe have accumulated a critical mass of information about ergothioneine and revealed it to be a highly powerful antioxidant.1 Ergothioneine is part of a group of organosulfur compounds called thiols, and it stands out from this group as unique for several important reasons:
- The chemical structure of ergothioneine is highly stable.
- The compound is not quickly metabolized by the body, allowing it to accumulate instead of being immediately excreted in the urine.
- It has a known transporter molecule, which allows for a more in-depth study of ergothioneine and offers clues as to its purpose.
- It appears to function within mitochondria, suggesting it plays a role in protecting DNA from oxidative damage.
- The body transports ergothioneine to help repair tissue damage, where it can offset the increased production of free radicals (ROS) caused by the injury.
Ergothioneine is an amino acid produced by fungi and bacteria that functions as a powerful antioxidant in the human body. Research has confirmed that it's a highly stable compound that can be accumulated in the body. Transporter molecules ferry ergothioneine to help repair tissue damage which helps prevent oxidative damage.
Benefits Of Ergothioneine
The unique qualities of ergothioneine allow it to perform important functions in the body that offer substantial health benefits. As an antioxidant, it can stabilize free radicals (ROS), preventing them from damaging healthy cells. That ability allows it to provide the following benefits and protections.
- Aging – Telomeres are proteins that protect the ends of chromosomes, and their length has been linked to the effects of aging. As telomeres shorten over time, the effects of aging onset. A study on telomere length and ergothioneine found that exposure to the antioxidant ergothioneine slowed the shortening of telomeres, suggesting that it can, in turn, help slow the effects of aging.2
- Sleep – studies have found that ergothioneine helped overcome sleep disturbances caused by stress. Researchers attributed the effect to a possible reduction in inflammation around the brainstem. Getting sufficient sleep is also imperative for building strong bones, in part because during sleep we build new bone tissue.3
- Cognitive health – a number of studies have demonstrated that ergothioneine provides neuroprotective powers. Research has linked low ergothioneine levels with mild cognitive impairment and Parkinson's Disease. A Japanese study found a link between diets high in mushrooms (a primary source of ergothioneine) and a lower incidence of dementia.1
- Vision– Some of the earliest studies of ergothioneine discovered that the compound is found in substantial levels in the eyes. Research suggests that ergothioneine may help to prevent cataracts. Maintaining good vision is essential for avoiding falls and fractures.1
- Reduced inflammation– Studies have identified evidence of ergothioneine's anti-inflammatory action in the body. This ability led researchers to suggest ergothioneine as a potential therapeutic agent that could help ameliorate the harm caused by inflammation. Among the many disruptions caused by chronic inflammation is damage to bone and the bone remodeling process.4
The benefits of ergothioneine include slowing the effects of aging, improving sleep, cognitive protection, vision protection, and reducing inflammation.
Oxidative Stress And Bone Loss
Several of the benefits of ergothioneine listed above serve to protect bone and prevent falls and fractures. That alone makes ergothioneine a powerful tool for Savers. But this compound also extends a more direct benefit to bone health: oxidative protection.
Oxidative stress is among the most common and prominent factors contributing to bone loss in older adults. Studies propose reducing oxidative stress as a tool for combating osteoporosis.5
A diet rich in antioxidants is the most obvious way to wield this tool. Researchers have applied their skills to assess the effectiveness of this approach and found that diets with a high total antioxidant capacity (TAC) resulted in stronger bones:
“Dietary TAC was positively associated with bone mineral content (BMC) and bone mineral density of the femoral neck and lumbar spine in postmenopausal women and BMC of the total femur and lumbar spine in premenopausal women. Our study suggests that dietary TAC is inversely associated with the risk of osteoporosis in postmenopausal women and positively associated with bone mass in both pre-and postmenopausal women.”6
Oxidative stress contributes to bone loss. Studies have found that diets rich in antioxidants can prevent oxidative stress, preserve bone mass, and reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
How To Get Ergothioneine
Ergothioneine is produced only by certain bacteria and fungi, so mammals acquire the compound entirely through diet. However, it isn't found in significant quantities in very many sources. The best foods to get ergothioneine are mushrooms! That's especially true of the mushroom varieties at the top of this list of food sources:
- Bolete mushrooms*
- King oyster mushrooms*
- White beech mushrooms*
- Shiitake mushrooms*
- Enoki mushrooms*
- Maitake mushrooms*
- Oyster mushrooms*
- Black beans*
- Red beans*
- Kidney beans*
- Oat bran*
Ergothioneine is only acquired through diet, and most of the best food sources are mushrooms. See the list above for food sources.
What This Means To You
If you haven't tried incorporating mushrooms into your bone-healthy meals, ergothioneine is the perfect reason to start. And if you're feeling stymied about how to use these versatile fungi in dishes, check out Bone Appétit. The Save Institute's cookbook contains more than just recipes. It is an unbeatable resource for learning how to expand your culinary prowess to include the most bone-healthy ingredients.
Grow your diet to include a wider and more healthful variety of bone-building foods. Stronger bones, lasting energy, and a healthier future will follow.