Since its discovery in 1909 by Tanret C. in an ergot fungus, ergothioneine has experienced a resurgence of interest in recent years. The scientific community increasingly recognizes its potential as functional foods with various health applications.
Studies have explored ergothioneine benefits, including but not limited to anti-inflammatory effects, neuroprotection, and cytoprotection. It has also been associated with improved cognition, reduced risk of chronic diseases, and even increased longevity.
This article reviews the latest findings about ergothioneine as a plant extract with all the nutritional and pharmaceutical potential to become a longevity vitamin. Also, we will discuss how this compound can treat diseases to help humans achieve longevity.
Known as a Longevity Vitamin, Ergothioneine Offers Numerous Benefits for Age-related Conditions
What Is Ergothioneine?
Ergothioneine (EGT), a unique type of amino acid (called xenobiotic), has garnered considerable interest in the scientific community as a potential ‘nutraceutical’ – a term coined by combining ‘nutrition’ and ‘pharmaceutical.’
Although ergothioneine is present in various dietary sources, it is found in relatively small amounts. This compound has been extensively investigated due to its intriguing properties. One of its notable characteristics is its role as an antioxidant, combating oxidative stress, which is the root cause of numerous age-related diseases.
Oxidative stress occurs when harmful molecules called free radicals overwhelm the body’s natural defense mechanisms, leading to cell damage and potential health issues.
Ergothioneine acts as a powerful defender by fighting against and neutralizing these free radicals, thus reducing the risk of oxidative damage. Doing so supports the preservation of cellular integrity and helps maintain overall health.
What Does Ergothioneine Do?
As an antioxidant, ergothioneine plays a crucial role in maintaining redox homeostasis, which refers to the balance between oxidizing and reducing agents in the body.
Unlike other antioxidants, ergothioneine is not a primary defense against oxidative stress. Instead, it acts as a secondary antioxidant buffer that comes into play when the redox balance is disrupted or when primary antioxidants are depleted.
When cells encounter oxidative stress due to environmental factors like toxins, the balance between reactive oxygen species (ROS) and antioxidants is disturbed. Ergothioneine helps restore this balance by scavenging excess ROS and neutralizing them, thus minimizing their damaging effects on cells.
Chronic inflammation is a common underlying factor in various diseases, including cardiovascular conditions, neurodegenerative disorders, and certain cancers.
Ergothioneine can modulate the levels of inflammatory cytokines, which are molecules involved in the up-regulation of inflammatory reactions. By reducing the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines and increasing anti-inflammatory cytokines, ergothioneine attenuates inflammation and its detrimental consequences.
Ergothioneine also interferes with signaling pathways that activate inflammatory processes, thus dampening the overall inflammatory response. These properties give ergothioneine potential therapeutic applications in treating inflammation-related diseases.
Where Is Ergothioneine Found?
Ergothioneine can be found in various dietary sources, with mushrooms being the most abundant and reliable source of this valuable compound.
Mushrooms, especially shiitake, white button, and gray oyster mushrooms, are natural powerhouses of ergothioneine and are commonly used to produce nutraceuticals and functional foods.
While mushrooms contain substantial amounts of ergothioneine, other foods also contain it in lesser amounts. The following table showcases different foods and their approximate ergothioneine content per kilogram dry weight (mg/kg dw):
While obtaining ergothioneine from natural dietary sources is ideal, there are ergothioneine supplement products available that can serve as an alternative.
These supplements, often called mushroom supplements, are typically derived from mushroom extracts. They provide a potent and concentrated dose of ergothioneine and other beneficial compounds in mushrooms.
One popular ergothioneine supplement on the market is ERGO+ by Real Mushrooms. This product offers a powerful blend of benefits, combining immune system support, brain health support, and cytoprotective capabilities, like folate, vitamins B2, B6, and B3.
Nonetheless, while ergothioneine supplements can offer a concentrated form of the compound, they should not be a replacement for a natural and balanced diet. Whole foods still provide a broader spectrum of nutrients that work synergistically for optimal health.
Ergothioneine Benefits in Longevity
The combined effects of ergothioneine’s anti-oxidation and anti-inflammatory properties contribute to its potential role in promoting human health.
By safeguarding cells against oxidative damage and modulating inflammatory responses, ergothioneine may positively impact various physiological processes and potentially reduce the risk of chronic diseases, hence known as a longevity vitamin.
Research suggests that consuming standard white button mushrooms, which contain ergothioneine at a level of 3.2 mg/100 g, daily for 16 weeks can reduce systemic oxidative stress and inflammatory markers in patients with early diabetes.
In addition, oxidative stress-associated endothelial dysfunction, a critical factor in diabetes, can be improved by the antioxidant effects of ergothioneine.
Ergothioneine protects endothelial cells from damage caused by hyperglycemia-induced oxidative stress and senescence. It also helps preserve nitric oxide activity by reducing superoxide anions and maintaining endothelial integrity and vascular function.
Ergothioneine intake can accumulate quickly in the heart, suggesting a potential protective effect on the cardiovascular system.
A long-term study involving over 3,200 participants found a positive association between ergothioneine and healthy food patterns, indicating its potential to reduce cardiovascular disease mortality and risk.
In experiments, ergothioneine reduces ferryl myoglobin through glutathione coupling, scavenges ROS and free radicals by chelating transition metal iron, regulates pro-inflammatory cytokines, and ultimately prevents myocardial injury.
In nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), oxidative stress and inflammation due to excessive accumulation and degeneration of lipids contribute to liver damage.
Animal studies have shown that ergothioneine supplementation (70 mg/kg body weight) can protect the liver from liver damage, potentially by inhibiting oxidative stress through chelating ferrous ions and promoting the overexpression of heat shock protein.
Moreover, the liver accumulates ergothioneine, and its levels correlate with cholesterol and iron. This finding suggests that ergothioneine may play a role in reducing liver injury and improving survival rates in conditions such as ischemia-reperfusion injury.
Neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s (AD) are rising, and oxidative stress is a critical factor in their development.
The deposition of β-amyloid protein (Aβ) in AD is associated with oxidative stress mediated by reactive oxygen species. Furthermore, dysbiosis in gut microbiota also has a connection with neurodegenerative diseases.
Meanwhile, studies have indicated that a reduced level of ergothioneine is observed in the brains of elderly individuals and those with neurodegenerative diseases.
Ergothioneine can cross the blood-brain barrier, promote neuronal cell proliferation, and alleviate depressive symptoms. This finding suggests that ergothioneine supplementation can maintain neuronal function and prevent neurodegeneration.
The future holds promise for ergothioneine as a valuable addition to our nutritional arsenal, combating oxidative stress and contributing to a healthier and more vibrant life.
As research on ergothioneine progresses, scientists aim to unravel its mechanisms of action and explore its full potential, paving the way for its incorporation into functional foods and developing new dietary strategies to harness its beneficial properties.
Borodin I. et al. (2020). The Biology Of Ergothioneine, An Antioxidant Nutraceutical. Nutrition Research Reviews.
Cheah I. et al. (2021). Ergothioneine, Recent Developments. Redox Biology.
Fu T. et al. (2022). Ergothioneine As A Natural Antioxidant Against Oxidative Stress-related Diseases. Frontiers In Pharmacology.
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