If the antioxidant amino acid ergothioneine does indeed turn out to be an essential nutrient, what are the best dietary sources?
Ergothioneine, is an unusual amino acid. It was discovered a century ago but ignored until recently when it was discovered that we have a transporter protein in our bodies specifically designed to pull it out of our diets and into our tissues, implying that it plays some important physiological role. What does it do? Well, our first clue was the tissue distribution. it's concentrated in places where there's lots of oxidative stress, the lens of our eye, the liver, as well as really sensitive areas, bone marrow and seminal fluid, and so they thought it may be a cytoprotectant, a cell protector, and that's what they found.
Not only does it get into the nucleas of our cells to protect our DNA, it can get into our mitochondiria, the power plants of the cell. Ergothieneine appears to function as a potent intramitochondrial antioxidant—I’ve talked about how important that is previously.
“Because of we can only get it through diet and the toxicity associated with its depletion—when you starve cells of ergothioneine they don’t do so well, the researchers suggest that ergothioneine may represent a new vitamin.
Well, we could certainly all use some mitochondrial protection, so where can we find it in our diet? Well, it’s not made by plants. Not made by animals either, but by little microbes in the soil. Thankfully, we don’t have to eat dirt; it’s taken up through the root systems of plants and gets transferred to those who eat them, and those that eat those that eat plants, and so it ends up “widely distributed in both the plant and animal kingdoms,” That’s true, but a little misleading.
Yes, it’s found in a variety of foods, but some more than others. It’s not found in fruit; and it’s not found in dairy. Fish have up to 0.07. Eggs have up to 0.7 in the yolk. Twice as much in nuts and seeds, vegetables up to 3, grains up to 4. There’s a bunch in organ meats, particularly the kidneys of pigs and the livers of chickens. Beans, however, have up to 13 and a half. So yes, technically in both the plant and animal kingdoms, but not really evenly distributed. Any kingdoms we missed, though? There is a third kingdom of multicellular organisms. How could we forget fungus? Mushrooms are the superstars here, nearly 40 times more than then the closest competitor.
To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Kerry Skinner.
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If you were thinking, “What's an intramitochondrial antioxidant?” see Mitochondrial Theory of Aging. Other examples of the magic of mushrooms can be found in Making Our Arteries Less Sticky, Vegetables Versus Breast Cancer, and Breast Cancer Prevention: Which Mushroom Is Best?. Probably best to cook them though, see Toxins in Raw Mushrooms?. Plants are powerful!
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