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

Doctor's Note

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.

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

60 responses to “Ergothioneine: A New Vitamin?

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  1. 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.




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    1. Antioxidants would likely be featured more for two reasons.

      1) They are pretty important. See the Mitochondrial theory of ageing above. Also look for heart-related links because many believe it is only oxidized cholesterol and not normal cholesterol that causes the Plaque buildup.

      2) Antioxidant studies are easy to do because you are looking for the results of a simple chemical reaction.

      Antioxidant studies tend to be less useful than intervention studies but they are more practical, since you can test hundreds of foods in the time it would take to test 2 or 3 otherwise.

      Also see Jordan’s response below.




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  2. 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.




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    1. Hey JP,

      In short, anti-oxidants reduce the amount of oxidation (aging/stress) that occurs in our cells. Take a look at this great video which goes into better detail: http://nutritionfacts.org/video/mitochondrial-theory-of-aging/

      You can type in “antioxidant” in the search bar and get all sorts of other great videos, like these: http://nutritionfacts.org/video/antioxidant-content-of-300-foods-2/ and http://nutritionfacts.org/video/superfood-bargains-2/. Enjoy!




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  3. 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.




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    1. 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.




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  4. 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.




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    1. Yikes, that’s scary. You could have an allergy perhaps? Or maybe where you’re getting them, is there a chance some of those wild mushrooms aren’t so edible? I eat a ton of mushrooms (cremini, white button, shitake) and have never experienced this. However, one thing I did learn is that mushrooms pick up very easily what they’re grown in/around. So I make sure to always get organic (which I do in general). Maybe it could be the pesticides used that those mushrooms picked up, if they’re not organic? If I were you, I would try getting organic if you don’t already, and try a different type of mushroom and different company and see how you do. It you get the same effect, I would get an allergy test.




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  5. 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




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      1. I just checked out that vague video and read the comments section. Turns out that the studies were done on mice using high isolated concentrations. One could conclude by that same logic, that many other healthy plants, such as flax, were toxic too if they extracted the small amounts of cyanide and put them in tiny animals. It appears that it does not pose a threat to humans. And that certainly makes more sense considering both my experience, and the rest of the worlds after centuries of consuming raw mushrooms under the justified belief that they are safe.




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    1. I eat raw mushrooms all the time and never experience any ill effects. I read stomach pain could be a symptom, I never get stomach pain after eating raw mushrooms and I eat them in large amounts in making smoothies. Personally, I think there is some over-caution when it comes to plant foods. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with eating regular potatoes, either. Studies can show a toxin or whatever, but I have never experienced any harm and when potatoes were introduced to some parts of the world in old times, population increased dramatically. I won’t eat regular potatoes all the time because they’re not the highest in antioxidants, but I appreciate them when I eat them. I don’t care. Life is too short not to enjoy a potato like we have for hundreds and hundred of years. They’re also loaded with nutrients. I love scientific studies, but trust experience and general observation even more. I find the stress of worrying too much to be more harmful than being imperfect.




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  6. 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!




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  7. 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




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  8. 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?




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  9. 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?




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  10. 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.




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  11. 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.




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  12. 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.




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  13. 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




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    1. 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




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  14. 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




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    1. Thanks for digging up that source, Darryl. I searched the literature but didn’t find anything like that.

      Great to know those values as the forests here are currently full of Porcini mushrooms. I gather them every week and when I have eaten enough of them so that they start growing out of my ears I dry the rest for the winter. I didn’t know that I was megadosing on ergothioneine that way :)




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      1. Of course its not right. I suspect, given my subsequent research on ergothioneine in mushrooms, that these figure’s from the Halliwell presentation were per 100 g dry weight, a common denominator in nutrition research.




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    2. Although this list gives pointers, it’s goo to not get too attached to exact numbersa nd positions in rankings, why?
      It’s a sulfur containing-compound, so the concentratation in plants logically depends a lot on the sulfur content of the soil, and its content of the organisms that create that amino-acid.

      For a fair comparison, you would need the exact same soil in the same conditions, and run a growth on it.
      Even then, you’d do it twice and unlikely would find the same concentrations and rankings, but at best patterns which clusters of fungi generally do better than others.




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      1. That’s sort of a given in any analyses of food chemical content. There’s a consistent trend in the literature that oyster mushrooms have more ergothioneine than cremeni/button, which in turn will have more than the odd non mushroom fungus one finds at oriental markets, but the precise ranking probably would vary markedly.

        When resveratrol was all the rage last decade some went to considerable effort to determine the grape varietals, terroirs, altitude, and face of mountain slopes that maximized values. Of course its all varies markedly even year to year, and those who really wanted that compound all started eating Japanese knotweed roots, anyway.




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      1. The presentation is my only source for that mushroom content info, and its explicit about it being from dry weight, but as noted below, the presentation’s units were incorrect (one can’t have 1800 mg in a g). ET levels are comparable to other mushroom studies if i assume the units are mg/kg or μg/g (the two are equivalent). My guess that Halliwell’s lab in Singapore did this analysis but didn’t publish elsewhere. Halliwell and Irwin Cheah (PhD student? postdoc? collaborator?) wrote the current review and continue their work on ET to this day.




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    3. Thanks for this, Darryl. I asked Professor Halliwell to clarify the chart. He sends his apologies. Units should be micrograms/gram of dry weight.

      Porcini were purchased dried. All others (except dried shitake) were purchased fresh and then freeze dried prior to analysis.

      Would it be reasonable to assume all porcini are high in ergothioneine? “Other groups have similarly found high levels of ergothioneine in porcini mushrooms,” he said. “ As these levels are likely due to high biosynthesis of ergothioneine so it is quite reasonable to assume that most porcini mushrooms from different sources would have equally high levels of ergothioneine. “

      Have any of you reading this come across an analysis of the glutamic acid, beta-glucans, CLA, copper and/or selenium in porcini? While the nutritiondata website has similar analyses of many mushrooms, the info on porcini is lacking.

      Does anybody know the relative weight of fresh to dried mushrooms? I think I recall reading somewhere that it’s around 9:1.

      Together we can. Who said that?




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  15. 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.




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    1. Brewer’s and nutritional yeast have beta-glucans, like mushrooms, but I am not sure about ergothioneine levels. I could not find any studies on brewers yeast and ergothioneine and it was not tested in the study Dr. Greger mentions. If I find anything I’ll post here. Thanks!




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        1. We actually have some videos on Ergothioneine. See what you find?

          No, there is no specific formula and everyone is different. Dr. G’s new book is amazing at listing dietary goals/recommedatiosn and I encourage everyone to read his book, How Not to Die. We all have different jobs, family settings, live in various climates, enjoy different activities, etc. So based on many factors the “when”, “what”, and “how much” we eat will always be personalized. I am happy to help give some ideas just let me know some specifics. I know this is vague, but I encourage folks to eat when they are hungry (never skip a meal or go hungry – always have options available) and choose foods high in antioxidants and fiber.




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          1. I find the whole diet concept these days vague and unsettling. There are many more questions to ask than answers to find it seems. I am looking forward to reading Dr. Greger’s book when it is released and perhaps we may find some of our missing answers and even some questions we never thought to ask in the pages of the book. Thank you for your time Joseph.




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      1. Hi Joseph, I’ve only recently been studying mushrooms and came across this site through another link. Very interested information from everyone on site. Nobody mentioned Reishi mushrooms. Do you have any information on them please? Bre




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        1. And one other thing. I was recently diagnosed with MS and am constantly searching for new updates on ‘cures’ so-to-speak for MS. Any information/links on mushrooms and MS would be much appreciated. Thanks.




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  16. As a non-mushroom lover, yes yes, I am not a fungi, I know, but someone interested in, apparently now after seeing these videos, ergothioneine, I have need here and there online that perhaps spirulina is a good source for it. I know spirulina has its own set of issues and series of videos here, but I wanted to ask here, and see if anyone uses spirulina as mushroom alternative too? I am tryiing to find a good brand, if there are any.




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  17. An interesting association:

    Cheah et al, 2016. Ergothioneine levels in an elderly population decrease with age and incidence of cognitive decline; a risk factor for neurodegeneration?

    We found that whole blood ergothioneine levels in elderly individuals decline significantly beyond 60 years of age. Additionally, a subset of these subjects with mild cognitive impairment had significantly lower plasma ergothioneine levels compared with age-matched subjects. (The decline wasn’t due to change in diet or expression of ergothioneine transporter.) This decline suggests that deficiency in ergothioneine may be a risk factor, predisposing individuals to neurodegenerative diseases.




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