Chances are you’ve never heard of an amino acid called ergothioneine or why it’s crucial for your health. But when it comes to defending yourself against the physical decline and illnesses of aging, ergothioneine is worth more than its weight in gold. Here’s what you need to know…
Ergothioneine is an antioxidant that plays a critical role in defending cells from harm. Studies demonstrate that ergothioneine is central to protecting the mitochondria contained in almost all cells. It is reportedly the only antioxidant that accumulates in these little energy-producing organelles. And that makes scientists think that getting an adequate amount of the nutrient may help us age more healthfully.1
When ergothioneine was discovered in1909 as a by-product of certain bacteria and fungi, even the researchers initially underestimated its importance to human health. But it wasn’t long until scientists realized that plants and virtually every animal on earth – including humans – maintain a supply of this compound in most of their cells (at least the healthy ones do). What’s more, their bodies can’t manufacture ergothioneine, they have to consume it.
Your Body Gives this Amino acid VIP Treatment
In their molecular analysis of what happens when you eat foods containing ergothioneine, researchers have found that specialized transport substances ensure this nutrient is taken to where it’s needed after being absorbed into the digestive tract.
It’s as though the body has a special limousine service always at the ready to pick up and take this VIP nutrient into the body with a minimum of fuss so it can quickly get to work.2
After ergothioneine enters the human body, much of it is directed to the organs that are in greatest danger of damage from inflammation and oxidative stress that come from aging, illness, or environmental pollution. That includes the liver, the lens and cornea of the eye, bone marrow and red blood cells.
The Age-Fighting Nutrient that Works Wonders For Your Liver
For example, the condition called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which is associated with being overweight or obese as well as having type-2 diabetes, has grown into a huge health threat. Today, it is the most common chronic liver disease; what’s more, conventional medicine doesn’t possess adequate treatments.
The latest research shows ergothioneine can help. Research in Asia shows that the body apparently sends increased amounts of ergothioneine to the liver when it starts to run into fatty liver problems to help fend off liver damage.3 And another study demonstrates that along with defending against oxidative stress, ergothioneine can chelate excessive iron in the liver to limit liver inflammation and keep liver cells from being destroyed. By chelating we mean the amino acid bonds to iron and the resulting combo is excreted out of the body.4
Also, Protects Against Diabetes and Heart Problems
Meanwhile, other medical scientists have investigated how ergothioneine can help in the fight against type-2 diabetes and the cardiovascular problems that diabetes can cause. In one test, researchers at Penn State along with other institutions found that when people with pre-diabetes and metabolic syndrome (characterized by being overweight, having high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high cholesterol) eat mushrooms high in ergothioneine daily for four months, their blood levels of the compound double. In addition, the destructive oxidative stress and inflammation in their bodies drops.
These are all signs that their heart health is also probably improved.5
Added to that, a study in Italy shows that ergothioneine can protect artery walls from the destructive effects caused by the high blood sugar levels of diabetes and pre-diabetes.6
Stops Skin Aging
Researchers believe that one of ergothioneine’s most potent effects may be its use as an antioxidant to protect the skin.
According to studies in Asia and the U.S., ergothioneine can fend off ultraviolet sun damage to skin cells and keep them from succumbing to oxidative destruction.7,8 Consequently, researchers think that future skin care products may be infused with ergothioneine.
These many benefits lead the Penn State scientists to argue that the “American diet may be lacking in sufficient ergothioneine to adequately protect against chronic diseases of aging.”9
Improving Your Ergothioneine Levels
If you want to increase your intake of ergothioneine, almost all the human studies I have seen have had their subjects eat more mushrooms. The only research I saw where people took ergothioneine supplements didn’t result in any ill effects, but the people in the research only took the supplements for seven days, not long enough to say anything definitive about either benefits or harm.10
So, if you want your meals to include more ergothioneine, eat more mushrooms. They possess the highest concentration of this protective nutrient. Other foods that are relatively rich in ergothioneine – but lagging behind mushrooms – include tempeh, chicken liver, oats and kidney beans.