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Ergothioneine: an antioxidant with high potential

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    L-ergothioneine has been proposed as a potential longevity vitamin, highlighting its role as a powerful antioxidant that operates within cells to counteract oxidative stress (1).

     

    Although primarily synthesized in mushrooms, fungi, and soil bacteria, ergothioneine is found in almost all human cells due to the presence of a highly specific transporter. Despite being externally sourced, its widespread distribution in the body suggests its importance in promoting human health. Studies have shown that ergothioneine can preserve telomere length and slow down telomere shortening under conditions of oxidative stress, indicating the potential benefits of ergothioneine for healthy ageing (2). Furthermore, emerging research suggests possible advantages for cognitive function, immune system support, prostate health, and cardiovascular well-being.

     

    Over the past decade, ergothioneine, a naturally occurring sulfur-modified amino acid, has attracted much interest as a potential therapeutic compound. According to published scientific evidence, ergothioneine possesses a strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capacity.

     

    These virtues lead the scientific community to study its action on cardiovascular diseases, chronic inflammatory diseases, neuronal damage, cellular ageing and even cancer. It is said to be so important that some even consider it a vitamin! 

     

    Moreover, ergothioneine is not synthesized by humans, even though it is widely present in the tissues of plants and animals. It turns out that mushrooms are the richest food source. 

     

    In this article, we take stock of the potential of this molecule on our health. 

    What is Ergothioneine?

    Ergothioneine chemical structure

    L-ergothioneine, an amino acid comprising histidine and a sulfur atom, was first identified by French pharmacist Charles Tanret in rye ergot (Claviceps purpurea) in 1909. Primarily recognized for its antioxidative and cytoprotective properties against oxidative stress, ergothioneine also exhibits anti-inflammatory and detoxifying effects.

     

    Given that only select microorganisms possess the capability to synthesize ergothioneine, it is acquired through dietary sources. Upon ingestion, ergothioneine is absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract and distributed to various organs, boasting good bioavailability.

     

    Ergothioneine demonstrates a propensity to accumulate in nearly all cells and tissues, with heightened concentrations observed in those subjected to oxidative stress and injury. Particularly found in erythrocytes, spleen, liver, and ocular tissues, its levels diminish with advancing age, particularly beyond 60 years of age.

    Where is Ergothioneine found?

    As observed, ergothioneine is primarily obtained from mushrooms Ergothioneine can also be found in other foods such as shellfish and meat, although in lower quantities

    Studies show that it is the fruits (aerial parts) of basidiomycetous mushrooms such as Chaga, Boletus Edulis (Cep, Porcini and Penny Bun), Oyster Mushrooms, Lions Mane, Shiitake mushrooms, and even Cordyceps mushrooms, are notable for their abundant levels of ergothioneine. Consuming supplements containing ergothioneine is a great way to incorporate this valuable nutrient into your diet.

    Ergothioneine is not the only antioxidant compound found among mushrooms since the extracts also contain ergosterol, ascorbic acid, flavonoids, tocopherols, carotenoids, beta-glucans and even phenolic compounds. 

    Ergothioneine: a smart antioxidant?

    It has been established that ergothioneine serves as a protective agent for cells, combating oxidative stress and inflammation. Alongside these compelling properties, the mechanisms by which ergothioneine enters our cells are equally intriguing. Its cellular uptake appears to be governed by the expression of a specialised transporter, induced by oxidative stress, suggesting that ergothioneine intervenes precisely when cells require its assistance.

    Furthermore, despite initial assumptions, a 2017 study revealed that supplementation with ergothioneine in healthy, young individuals was associated with a modest decrease in oxidative stress marker levels.

    Ergothioneine: A fountain of youth

    Promoting healthy ageing is essential for enhancing the quality of life. The rise in oxidative stress as we age is a key factor linked to age-related diseases, particularly neurodegenerative disorders. Consuming an antioxidant-rich diet has been demonstrated to have a substantial impact on the ageing process. Strategically targeting mechanisms of ageing could be a valuable strategy for enhancing overall health. 

    The concentration of ergothioneine in the bloodstream declines with advancing age, and is linked to the emergence of diverse diseases (3). Ergothioneine (EGT), a water-soluble molecule facilitated by a specific transporter termed OCTN1, exhibits promising indications in research for its potential anti-ageing attributes.

    Ergothioneine & the Cardiovascular System

    Mushroom and Ergothioneine Molecule

    In the cardiovascular field, ergothioneine seems to be promising. Among the available studies, we note that ergothioneine supplementation is associated with beneficial effects in vitro and animal models presenting manifestations of cardiometabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome and NAFLD. 

    When looking at humans, retrospective studies have identified associations between ergothioneine consumption, blood levels, and improved markers of oxidative stress and inflammation, as well as lower risk of disease. cardiometabolic and mortality.

    • Ames BN. Prolonging healthy ageing: Longevity vitamins and proteins. PNAS, 2018;115(43): 10836-10844.
    • Samuel P, et al. Ergothioneine Mitigates Telomere Shortening under Oxidative Stress Conditions. J of Dietary Supplements. 2020; DOI: 10.1080/19390211.2020.185491
    • Cheah, Irwin K., and Barry Halliwell. “Ergothioneine, recent developments.” Redox biology 42 (2021): 101868.

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