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Ergothioneine: A New Vitamin?

If the antioxidant amino acid ergothioneine does indeed turn out to be an essential nutrient, what are the best dietary sources?

November 12, 2012 |
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Acknowledgements

Images thanks to: TimVickers, Neil916, Henningklevjer, Sei, and Sanjay Acharya via Wikimedia Commons; Photo Munki, Juan Antonio Capósielju, and mnem.

Transcript

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.

To help out on the site please email volunteer@nutritionfacts.org

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

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!

For some context, please check out my associated blog posts: Ergothioneine: A New Vitamin?Vitamin D from Mushrooms, Sun, or Supplements? , and Mushrooms and Immunity

If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

  • Massimo

    Great news for a mushroom lover! ;-)

    BTW: why the Yahoo login is no longer available?

  • Guest

    Hi Dr Greger,

    I noticed 1 essential thing about your videos: it’s almost always about antioxidants. Is it the only important topic in nutrition?

    Do you have any readings explaining what are antioxidants, and why are they important?

    Thanks again for the videos.

  • JP

    Hi Dr Greger,

    I noticed 1 essential thing about your videos:
    it’s almost always about antioxidants. Is it the only important topic in
    nutrition?

    Do you have any readings explaining what are antioxidants, and why are they important?

    Thanks again for the videos.

    • Dr. Lan

      Those are great questions JP.
      More and more research come to the conclusion that antioxidants do not play a major role in longevity.

  • BPCveg

    According to the source article (J et al – Table 1), different types of mushrooms differed greatly in their ergothioniene content. In fact, it seems that the most commonly consumed mushrooms have low content (portobello, button, chanterelle, and shiitake) whereas the high content was listed for king bolete and oyster mushrooms.

    • Thea

      BPCveg and Parkinson’s Doc below: thank you both for summarizing the specific mushrooms for us. You saved me some time and I greatly appreciate it.

  • BPCveg

    Has anyone else experienced dizziness after consuming grocery store bought edible wild mushrooms? I am very curious to know what chemical components in mushrooms can cause dizziness.

  • veggie susie

    hello Dr Greger,
    Dr Fuhrman highly recommends mushrooms but says you Should not eat raw mushrooms, What are your feeling on his recommendation not to eat raw mushrooms

  • HereHere

    Keep your eyes open for clinical trials on this, Dr. Greger! In particular, I wonder if it might be effective for nerve cells (MS, and other neuro diseases), or conditions like chronic fatigue (you mentioned protecting the mitochondria of the cells), or even fibromyalgia, where heme seems to leak from muscle cells. Maybe this amino acid could provide some cures down the road. And I appreciate the fellow who mentioned that the only common mushroom with high values is the oyster. I was lucky enough to buy a mushroom kit and I have some oyster mushrooms growing now!

  • Matthew Ciuccio

    Hello everyone. This video is still sticking with me since I saw it when it was released. I suppose it is because I do not like mushrooms, yes, I know I am not a fungi. BUT, being a vegan I always wish I did like them, they would add some nice variety to my meals. So, if I am going to try to get myself to mushrooms, I may as well try the ones with the most ergothioneine, does anyone know which kind are the best? I want to head down the best mushroom road from the beginning.

    Thanks so much for all of the excellent, life altering information.
    -Matthew

    • Matthew Ciuccio

      No one knows?

      • http://twitter.com/ShaneJax Shane Jackson

        According to a above poster it is king bolete and oyster mushrooms that have the highest content.

  • http://www.facebook.com/fiddletunes Kim Davis

    Hello Dr. Greger,
    My husband and I are so glad we found your website! We’ve spent hours viewing your videos and reading your articles. In another video, you advise cooking mushrooms to kill toxins. Does cooking the mushrooms destroy ergothioneine?

  • http://www.facebook.com/fiddletunes Kim Davis

    Hello Dr. Greger,
    My husband and I are so glad we found your website! We’ve spent hours viewing your videos and reading your articles. In one of your videos you advise cooking mushrooms to kill the toxins in them. Does cooking have an effect on the ergothioniene content?

  • http://www.facebook.com/fiddletunes Kim Davis

    Is ergothioniene destroyed by cooking?

  • Parkinson’s Doc

    With a little research, I discovered that king boletus mushrooms, the ‘magic’ mushrooms when it comes to ergothioneine, with 1000x the ergothioneine content of button mushrooms, are also known as the grandedulis variant of Boletus edulis. Unless you live in California, coming across many of these magnificent mushrooms is probably unlikely. However, the mother species boletus edulis, is also known as the ‘edible boletus’, aka porcini mushrooms! Maybe this is one of the missing pieces in our understanding of the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet since dried porcini mushroom are so common in Italian cuisine. Until proven otherwise, I believe it is reasonalbe to assume a high ergothioneine content in dried porcini mushrooms and I intend to incorporate more of them into my diet and recommend them for my patients. Coming in a very respectable second place with 200x the ergothioneine content of buttons are oyster mushrooms, a variety that should be available in many groceries and i have found at better quality and cheaper prices at many oriental groceries.

    • iVegan, CPT

      Awesome!

  • JP

    Thanks! gonna watch those…

  • Ron

    A paper published in the Journal of Food Chemistry 2011 shows that Spirulina algae is very high in ergotheoneine, as high as the mushrooms. The mushrooms taste great, but Spirulina is less expensive.

  • beccadoggie10

    When the influenza virus was wide spread in our community, and I was housebound with yet another fractured spine, I stocked up on oyster mushrooms, which I cooked gently in olive oil, garlic, ginger, and turmeric and mixed with my dark leafy green veggies. The results were as if my immune system was boosted because instead of fighting the flu, I simply felt well and invigorated, and whatever negative was going on in my body, simply disappeared and I healed quickly. My eyes no longer itched, the coughing ceased, which helped my spine because the jolting movement ceased, and I attribute the aches and pains disappearing with the ginger, garlic and turmeric.

    My husband is not one who believes in nutrition, which he calls witchcraft, but he prefers getting a drug when if he really feels poorly. And, I on the other hand, go to the fungus section of the Fresh Market and see what immune system boosters I can add to my diet. They work for me. Too bad I cannot get my husband or housekeeper to try them. They might alleviate their symptoms faster.

  • Ronald Chavin

    The 2 most economical mushrooms are shiitake mushrooms and button mushrooms. Shiitake mushrooms contain more than 3 times as much ergothioneine as button mushrooms, which are high in cancer-causing agaritine and pathogenic horse manure bacteria. [But all mushrooms sold in supermarkets - including button mushrooms - are extremely healthy for us to eat]:
    http://www.hearthealthyonline.com/healthy-recipes/cooking-nutrition-tips/mushrooms_1.html
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19048616
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10522061
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Active_Hexose_Correlated_Compound

    • Shawn

      An old website no longer available listed the following levels of Ergothioneine in mushrooms:

      Mushrooms uMoles/Kg

      Fairy Ring-Dry 31100
      Fairy Ring-Fresh 2570
      Oyster-Dry 3470
      Oyster-Fresh 604
      Shiitake-Dry 440
      Reishi-Dry 189
      Enoki-Fresh 838
      Agaricus-Fresh 142
      Portabello-Fresh 463

      Shawn

  • Darryl

    Another ranking from a Barry Halliwell lecture:

    mg/g dry weight
    Boletus edulis (cepes) 1812.38
    King Oyster 541.69
    Buna Shimeji 432.63
    Shiitake 353.46
    Enoki 346.35
    Willow 296.80
    Abalone 324.67
    Dried Shiitake 208.88
    White Shimeji 197.46
    Portobello 190.86
    White button 154.40
    Brown button 104.11
    Black fungus 94.18
    Woodear 6.35
    White fungus 5.84

    • Ben

      I wonder where crimini rank? Maybe around the same as white button. Those are the easiest mushrooms to get with vitamin D.

  • PlantPoweredTrainer

    So a black bean and mushroom veggie burger is your plant based super source.. Also high in fiber, plant based protein, and phytonutrients.. Without any cholesterol, saturated fat and animal protein.