Ergothioneine in Medicinal Mushrooms

 May 20, 2024 | Dr. Silvana Jakupovic, ND

In recent years, the scientific community and health enthusiasts alike have witnessed a growing interest in ergothioneine, an endogenous compound found in select dietary sources and supplemental forms. Known for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capabilities, ergothioneine has emerged as a point of research due to its potential to foster cellular health, mitigate the effects of aging, and offer protection against various pathologies.

Whether your interest lies in incorporating ergothioneine-rich foods into your diet or in ergothioneine supplementation, read on to discover the incredible potential of this compound in enhancing your overall well-being.

 

• What is Ergothioneine?

What are the Benefits of Ergothioneine?

Which Functional Mushrooms Contain Ergothioneine?

 

What is Ergothioneine?

Ergothioneine is a naturally occurring sulphur-containing amino acid and a powerful antioxidant that plays a crucial role in maintaining cellular health and protecting against various health conditions. The human body does not synthesize it, so it must be obtained through dietary sources or supplements. Ergothioneine-rich foods include functional mushrooms such as Shiitake, Oyster, Maitake, Lion's Mane, and Reishi. 

Recent research has shed light on the numerous health benefits of ergothioneine consumption, including its potential to combat aging, reduce inflammation, and protect against oxidative stress. Moreover, it has been linked to improved cognitive function, enhanced exercise performance, and various other health advantages. As ergothioneine is not commonly found in a typical Western diet, nutritional supplements have emerged as an alternative to ensure adequate intake. The growing body of ergothioneine research underscores its significance in promoting overall well-being and highlights its immense potential in nutrition and health.  

Ergothioneine Benefits: The Research

1. Ergothioneine and Aging

The mechanisms underlying the anti-aging properties of ergothioneine are multifaceted, primarily attributed to its substantial antioxidant capabilities and its role in safeguarding against oxidative stress and DNA degradation [1]. Ergothioneine functions as a scavenger of free radicals, effectively neutralizing reactive oxygen species (ROS) and reactive nitrogen species (RNS) that contribute to cellular aging [1].

One aspect of its anti-aging action involves the protection of mitochondria—the energy-generating organelles within cells. Given their critical function in energy production and their consequent production of ROS as byproducts, mitochondria are inherently vulnerable to oxidative harm. Notably, ergothioneine has been observed to preferentially accumulate within mitochondria, where it serves as a potent antioxidant, safeguarding mitochondrial DNA, lipids, and proteins from oxidative stress-induced damage [2].

Moreover, ergothioneine is known to augment the expression and functionality of key antioxidant enzymes, including superoxide dismutase (SOD) and glutathione peroxidase (GPx) [3]. These enzymes are vital for neutralizing ROS and maintaining cellular redox equilibrium, thus playing a significant role in preventing cellular damage and the aging process.

2. Ergothioneine and Inflammation

Ergothioneine has been shown to have potent anti-inflammatory medicinal properties that can help reduce inflammation in the body. Studies have shown that ergothioneine can suppress the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which are small proteins crucial in initiating and progressing inflammation [1]. By inhibiting the production of these cytokines, ergothioneine can help reduce inflammation and prevent tissue damage caused by chronic inflammation.

One study investigated the uptake and effects of ergothioneine in healthy humans and found that it is efficiently absorbed and retained after oral administration, with low urinary excretion [4]. As the first to explore pure ergothioneine administration in humans, this study suggests it may have an essential physiological function, acting as a significant antioxidant under oxidative stress conditions.

Overall, the anti-inflammatory effects of ergothioneine are thought to contribute to its potential health benefits, such as reducing the risk of chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease and cancer [3].

3. Ergothioneine and Cognitive Function

Here are some key points regarding the influence of ergothioneine on cognitive function:

Neuroprotection: Ergothioneine is a powerful antioxidant that can help protect brain health from oxidative stress and associated damage [1]. Oxidative stress contributes to the development and progression of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. 

Anti-inflammatory effects: Chronic inflammation in the brain is implicated in neurodegenerative processes and cognitive impairment [5]. By mitigating inflammation in the brain, ergothioneine may help maintain cognitive function and reduce the risk of neurodegenerative disorders. 

Decreased ergothioneine levels in the blood have been seen in individuals with Parkinson’s Disease, Vascular Dementia, and Mild Cognitive Impairment [6].

4.  Ergothioneine and Exercise Performance

Engagement in physical activity generates reactive oxygen species (ROS) and induces oxidative stress, which is implicated in muscle fatigue and subsequent damage. Ergothioneine acts as a potent antioxidant and may help to neutralize ROS and protect against oxidative stress during exercise [1].  

One study explored the impact of ergothioneine on exercise performance and recovery in mice [7]. Mice supplemented with ergothioneine showed a significant increase in time to exhaustion during aerobic exercise, alongside enhanced muscle recovery indicators without impairing mitochondrial recovery. The supplementation also reduced markers of metabolic stress, inflammation, and oxidative damage. These findings suggest ergothioneine may improve endurance performance and facilitate muscle recovery post-exercise by mitigating exercise-induced stress [7].

6 mushroom blend

Which Mushrooms Contain Ergothioneine?

Research has identified a notable presence of ergothioneine across various mushroom species. In a comparative analysis of ergothioneine concentrations in cultivated mushrooms, it was discovered that species including Shiitake (Lentinula edodes), Oyster (Pleurotus ostreatus), Maitake (Grifola frondosa), Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), and Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus) mushrooms demonstrated particularly elevated levels [8].

These mushrooms are esteemed as culinary delicacies and respected in traditional medicine for their potential health-promoting properties. Incorporating these ergothioneine-rich mushrooms into the diet can be a natural way to increase ergothioneine intake.

Eversio Wellness currently carries one of the best mushroom products, the 6 Mushroom Blend, (formerly known as Rejuvenate Blend) which contains Oyster, Chaga, Tremella, Lion’s mane, Shiitake, and Maitake mushroom extracts in powder form, a simple way to add ergothioneine into your everyday routine.

We hope you have found this article informative. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them in the comment section below!

 

References 

[1] Cheah IK, Halliwell B. Ergothioneine; antioxidant potential, physiological function and role in disease.Biochim Biophys Acta. 2012 May;1822(5):784-93.

[2] Paul BD, Snyder SH. The unusual amino acid L-ergothioneine is a physiologic cytoprotectant. Cell Death Differ. 2010 Sep;17(9):1134-40.

[3] Cheah IK, Halliwell B. Ergothioneine; a diet-derived antioxidant with therapeutic potential. Redox Rep. 2017 Jan;22(1):18-22.

[4] Cheah IK, Tang RM, Yew TS, Lim KH, Halliwell B. Administration of Pure Ergothioneine to Healthy Human Subjects: Uptake, Metabolism, and Effects on Biomarkers of Oxidative Damage and Inflammation. Antioxid Redox Signal. 2017 Feb 10;26(5):193-206. doi: 10.1089/ars.2016.6778. Epub 2016 Sep 7. PMID: 27488221.

[5] Colonna M, Butovsky O. Microglia function in the central nervous system during health and neurodegeneration. Annu Rev Immunol. 2017 Apr 26;35:441-468.

[6] Cheah IK, Halliwell B. Ergothioneine, recent developments. Redox Biol. 2021 Jun;42:101868. doi: 10.1016/j.redox.2021.101868. Epub 2021 Jan 26. PMID: 33558182; PMCID: PMC8113028.

[7] Fovet T, Guilhot C, Delobel P, Chopard A, Py G, Brioche T. Ergothioneine Improves Aerobic Performance Without Any Negative Effect on Early Muscle Recovery Signaling in Response to Acute Exercise. Front Physiol. 2022 Feb 9;13:834597. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2022.834597. PMID: 35222093; PMCID: PMC8864143. 

[8] Dubost NJ, Ou B, Beelman RB. Quantification of polyphenols and ergothioneine in cultivated mushrooms and correlation to total antioxidant capacity. Food Chem. 2007 May;105(2):727-35.

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