Ergothioneine: A New Vitamin?

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

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

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, 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, like bone marrow and semen. 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 nucleus of our cells to protect our DNA, it can even get into our mitochondria, the power plants of our cell. Ergothioneine appears to function as a potent intramitochondrial antioxidant, which I’ve talked about before.

Because we can only get it through diet, and the toxicity associated with 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 use all the mitochondrial protection we can get. 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 who eat those who 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; not found in dairy. Fish have up to .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, up to 13 and a half. So, you know, yes, technically in both 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 the closest competitor.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

 

Images thanks to TimVickersNeil916HenningklevjerSei; and Sanjay Acharya via Wikimedia; and Photo MunkiJuan Antonio Capósielju; and mnem via flickr

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

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, 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, like bone marrow and semen. 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 nucleus of our cells to protect our DNA, it can even get into our mitochondria, the power plants of our cell. Ergothioneine appears to function as a potent intramitochondrial antioxidant, which I’ve talked about before.

Because we can only get it through diet, and the toxicity associated with 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 use all the mitochondrial protection we can get. 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 who eat those who 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; not found in dairy. Fish have up to .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, up to 13 and a half. So, you know, yes, technically in both 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 the closest competitor.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

 

Images thanks to TimVickersNeil916HenningklevjerSei; and Sanjay Acharya via Wikimedia; and Photo MunkiJuan Antonio Capósielju; and mnem via flickr

Nota del Doctor

Were you thinking, “What’s an intramitochondrial antioxidant?” If so, see Mitochondrial Theory of Aging. Other examples of the magic of mushrooms can be found in Making Our Arteries Less StickyVegetables Versus Breast Cancer; and Breast Cancer Prevention: Which Mushroom Is Best? Probably best to cook them, though, see Toxins in Raw Mushrooms? And check out Power Plants!

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

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