Ergothioneine: Benefits, side effects, uses, foods, dosage

Are you feeling overwhelmed by the constant barrage of new health supplements claiming miraculous benefits? Consider ergothioneine, a lesser-known but powerful antioxidant naturally occurring in some foods. 

Recent studies suggest that ergothioneine may significantly reduce oxidative stress [1]—a key factor in aging and many chronic diseases. 

This guide explores everything you need to know about ergothioneine, including its benefits, potential side effects, uses, where to find it in foods, and how much you should take. 

Let’s see how this intriguing compound can be part of your approach to maintaining long-term health.

What is ergothioneine?

Ergothioneine is a naturally occurring amino acid derivative, distinct in its structure and function within the human body. 

Known chemically as 2-mercaptohistidine trimethylbetaine, this compound boasts a unique sulfur-containing imidazole ring, contributing to its potent antioxidant capabilities [2]. 

Its stability and ability to target specific areas of cells make it a particularly effective scavenger of harmful free radicals.

Discovered over a century ago by the French scientist Charles Tanret, ergothioneine was initially isolated from ergot, a type of fungus [3]. 

However, it wasn’t until more recently that researchers began to uncover the depth of its biological significance. 

Unlike many antioxidants the body can synthesize, ergothioneine stands out because humans must obtain it from dietary sources—our bodies cannot produce it.

Scientific interest in ergothioneine has surged due to its potential therapeutic benefits and presence in specific foods. 

This compound is now recognized for its antioxidant properties and role in protecting mitochondrial DNA and reducing cellular inflammation.

What are the benefits of ergothioneine?

Ergothioneine is emerging as a multifaceted powerhouse in the fight against various cellular stresses, offering numerous health benefits that span from enhancing cognitive functions to potentially extending lifespan. 

Here, we explore the significant advantages of incorporating ergothioneine into your diet.

1. Antioxidant properties

At the forefront of ergothioneine’s benefits is its ability to combat oxidative stress, a critical contributor to cell damage and aging. 

This compound targets explicitly cell oxidative damage by neutralizing free radicals—unstable molecules that can harm cellular structures. 

Ergothioneine’s effectiveness in this area is particularly notable due to its chemical stability, allowing it to function in environments where other antioxidants might degrade.

2. Anti-inflammatory effects

Inflammation is a natural response of the body to injury or infection but can lead to numerous chronic diseases if it becomes chronic. 

Ergothioneine helps moderate the body’s inflammatory response, potentially reducing the risk of inflammatory diseases such as heart disease and arthritis [2]. 

Its ability to inhibit specific pathways that trigger inflammation marks it as a significant player in maintaining cellular health.

3. Cellular protection

Ergothioneine provides a protective barrier for cells, particularly the mitochondria [4], which are the cell’s energy powerhouses. 

By safeguarding mitochondrial DNA from oxidative damage, ergothioneine supports optimal cellular function and energy production.

4. Potential anti-aging effects

The accumulation of cellular damage is a hallmark of aging. By protecting cells from oxidative stress and inflammation, ergothioneine may slow the aging process and extend the health span of tissues and organs [5]. 

This protective role could be pivotal in enhancing longevity and maintaining quality of life in later years.

5. Cognitive health

Emerging research suggests that ergothioneine has neuroprotective properties, which could be crucial in preserving cognitive function [6]. 

It appears to support brain health by preventing the buildup of harmful compounds that can lead to degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

6. Support for the immune system

Finally, ergothioneine may bolster the immune system. Reducing oxidative stress and inflammation helps maintain an environment conducive to effective immune response. This support is vital for defending against infections and maintaining overall health.

support immune system

How is ergothioneine used?

Ergothioneine’s ability to stabilize cell structures and protect against oxidative stress lends it to numerous applications that benefit long-term health and wellness.

1. Therapeutic uses

Clinically, ergothioneine is being evaluated for its potential to mitigate conditions linked to oxidative stress and inflammation, such as cardiovascular diseases and neurodegenerative disorders [6].

Its protective effects on mitochondrial function make it a candidate for therapies for metabolic diseases like diabetes, where mitochondrial integrity is compromised. 

Ongoing research explores ergothioneine’s efficacy in these areas, with promising results suggesting it could become a standard component of treatment regimens for oxidative stress-related conditions.

2. Everyday health

For general health, regular intake of ergothioneine can support vital bodily functions by safeguarding cells from the daily wear and tear caused by environmental pollutants, stress, and aging. 

Regular consumption of ergothioneine-rich foods may help maintain a robust immune system, enhance metabolic health, and support cognitive function, making it a valuable dietary addition for overall well-being.

3. Ergothioneine in skincare

Ergothioneine has antioxidant properties that help fight free radical damage, a significant factor in skin aging [4]. 

Many cosmetic and skin care products now include it as a key ingredient due to its protective and therapeutic properties. 

Regular application or dietary inclusion of ergothioneine can help reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines, enhance skin firmness, and maintain a youthful complexion. 

Moreover, its anti-inflammatory effects are beneficial in reducing redness and irritation, making it suitable for sensitive skin types. 

Ergothioneine also protects the skin from harmful UV rays and pollution, which accelerate aging and cause visible damage.

Whether through serums, creams, or dietary supplements, ergothioneine offers a practical approach to enhancing skin health and mitigating aging and environmental exposure.

Numerous studies underscore the potential of ergothioneine. Research published in prominent journals has demonstrated its protective effects against DNA oxidation, cellular damage from UV exposure, and inflammation markers in human cells [4]. 

These studies provide a scientific basis for its use in health supplements and topical skincare formulations, highlighting its broad applicability and effectiveness.

What foods have ergothioneine in them?

Ergothioneine is predominantly found in certain fungi and bacteria, with mushrooms being the richest and most accessible source for most people. 

Understanding which foods are high in ergothioneine can help you naturally integrate this potent antioxidant into your diet.

Mushrooms

Among mushrooms, certain varieties stand out for their high levels of ergothioneine [7]. For example:

  • King oyster mushrooms: Renowned for their significant ergothioneine content, these mushrooms are not only delicious but also a powerful way to boost your antioxidant intake.
  • Shiitake mushrooms: Popular in many cuisines, shiitake mushrooms offer a good balance of flavor and ergothioneine.
  • Oyster mushrooms: These are high in ergothioneine and available widely, making them an easy addition to many dishes.
  • Porcini mushrooms: Porcini mushrooms are another excellent source of ergothioneine and are a favorite in Italian cooking.

Other sources

While mushrooms are the standout sources of ergothioneine, other foods contain this compound, though generally in lower amounts [7]:

  • Black and red beans: Known for their antioxidant properties, they also provide a modest amount of ergothioneine.
  • Oats: A staple breakfast food, oats contain ergothioneine, which adds to their profile as a heart-healthy food.

Ergothioneine concentrations in these foods vary significantly based on growing conditions, soil quality, and food processing methods. 

For example, organically grown mushrooms tend to have higher levels of antioxidants, including ergothioneine, than conventionally grown varieties.

Does cooking destroy ergothioneine?

When incorporating ergothioneine-rich foods into your diet, it’s natural to wonder if cooking affects its potency. Fortunately, ergothioneine is remarkably stable under heat. 

Unlike many other nutrients that can degrade during cooking, ergothioneine retains its structure and benefits even when exposed to high temperatures.

Stability during cooking

Ergothioneine’s chemical structure, characterized by a unique sulfur-containing imidazole ring, contributes to its stability. This stability is advantageous, particularly in culinary processes that involve heating [2]. 

Studies confirm that ergothioneine does not break down during cooking, which means that ergothioneine-rich foods like mushrooms can be grilled, sautéed, or baked without diminishing their health benefits [2].

Retention in cooked foods

Research has demonstrated that ergothioneine levels remain high in mushrooms and other sources even after they are cooked [2]. 

This is a significant benefit as it allows flexibility in how these foods can be prepared and consumed. 

Whether you prefer your mushrooms in a hearty stew or as a grilled side dish, you can be confident that the ergothioneine content remains largely unaffected.

Practical implications

Ergothioneine’s heat stability ensures that it is accessible to more people through various dietary preferences and cooking methods. 

This accessibility helps maintain adequate intake of this potent antioxidant, contributing to its potential benefits in reducing oxidative stress and supporting overall cellular health.

Thus, incorporating ergothioneine through dietary sources is practical and beneficial, as cooking does not compromise its antioxidant integrity. 

This makes it easier to derive health benefits from everyday meals, regardless of cooking preferences.

cooked mushrooms on white plate

Is ergothioneine safe?

When considering the addition of any supplement to your regimen, understanding its safety profile is paramount. 

Ergothioneine, known for its potent antioxidant properties, also warrants a close look at its possible side effects and interactions with medications or other supplements.

Possible side effects

Ergothioneine is generally considered safe when consumed in amounts typically found in foods. 

The body has specific transporters in cells designed to handle ergothioneine, which suggests an evolutionary adaptation to its intake and utilization. 

However, as with any compound, there is a potential for side effects, particularly when taken in supplement form at higher doses than one would normally consume through diet alone.

Currently, research indicates that ergothioneine has a high safety threshold. Clinical studies have not consistently shown significant adverse effects, even at higher doses. 

However, because it is a biologically active compound, the possibility of side effects cannot be dismissed entirely. 

Potential side effects include digestive upset, such as nausea or diarrhea, especially if taken on an empty stomach or in large doses.

Interactions with medications or supplements

There is limited research on the interactions between ergothioneine and medications or other supplements. 

Due to its antioxidant nature, there is a theoretical risk that ergothioneine could interact with certain chemotherapy drugs designed to produce oxidative stress in cancer cells. 

As such, it is crucial for patients undergoing treatment for cancer or those on specific medications to consult with their healthcare provider before starting any new supplements, including ergothioneine.

While ergothioneine is generally safe and well-tolerated, it is advisable to proceed with caution when integrating it into your health routine, particularly in supplement form [8]. 

Always discuss new supplements with a healthcare provider to ensure they are appropriate for your health needs and do not interfere with existing treatments.

Should you consider ergothioneine supplements?

As the benefits of ergothioneine become more widely recognized, more dietary supplements containing this potent antioxidant have appeared on the market. 

These supplements are often marketed to people who want to enhance their antioxidant defenses, improve cellular health, or mitigate the effects of aging.

Overview of ergothioneine supplements

Ergothioneine supplements are primarily available in capsule form and designed for easy oral consumption. 

Manufacturers may source ergothioneine from natural extracts, predominantly from mushrooms, or synthesize it in laboratories to ensure purity and consistency. 

The concentration of ergothioneine in these supplements can vary, so it is crucial to check the label for dosage information.

Benefits of supplementation vs. diet

While dietary sources of ergothioneine, particularly mushrooms, can provide significant amounts of this compound, the consistency and concentration in foods may vary based on factors like soil quality and food preparation. 

Supplements offer a reliable and measurable intake, ensuring you receive an effective dose of ergothioneine. 

For individuals with dietary restrictions or those who do not consume mushrooms regularly, supplements provide an accessible alternative to benefit from ergothioneine’s properties.

Safety and regulatory status

Ergothioneine is recognized as safe for supplement use, with several studies supporting its low toxicity and high tolerability. 

In the United States, ergothioneine has achieved Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) status for use in specific food categories, which attests to its safety profile [8]. 

However, as with any supplement, it is essential to consult a healthcare provider before starting any new supplement regimen, especially for those with pre-existing health conditions or those taking other medications.

Overall, ergothioneine supplements can be a practical addition to your health regimen, offering benefits that might be difficult to achieve solely through diet, mainly if ergothioneine-rich foods are not regularly part of your meals.

How much ergothioneine per day?

Determining the optimal daily intake of ergothioneine can maximize its health benefits while minimizing the risk of potential side effects. 

Understanding the recommended dosages for different health goals becomes crucial as research into this powerful antioxidant progresses.

Dietary studies suggest that typical consumption through food sources ranges between 5 to 20 milligrams per day, depending on dietary habits, particularly mushroom intake. 

Supplement manufacturers often recommend similar amounts, with daily doses ranging from 5 to 25 milligrams, based on the available research indicating safety and efficacy at these levels [2].

Variations in dosage based on health goals and medical advice

The appropriate dose of ergothioneine may vary depending on individual health goals and medical conditions. 

For example, individuals looking for cognitive support or anti-aging effects might consider higher dosages towards the upper end of the recommended range under medical guidance. 

Those with specific health conditions or those already on medication regimens need to consult healthcare professionals to tailor the dosage to their needs, ensuring no adverse interactions or side effects.

Variations in dosage based on health goals and medical advice

Is ergothioneine a longevity vitamin?

The concept of ergothioneine as a longevity vitamin is gaining traction within the scientific community, spurred by its potential to enhance long-term health and possibly extend life expectancy. 

Ergothioneine’s role as a dietary antioxidant and its scarcity in typical Western diets, particularly those with limited consumption of its primary sources—mushrooms—place it in a unique position among micronutrients [9].

Longevity and chronic disease prevention

Ergothioneine is unique because the human body does not synthesize it, and it must be obtained through diet, predominantly from fungi and related microbial sources. 

Its antioxidant capabilities help prevent oxidative damage to cellular components, a key factor in aging and the development of many chronic diseases. 

Ergothioneine’s ability to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation and its protective effects on cellular DNA, particularly within mitochondria, make it crucial for maintaining metabolic health and reducing the onset of age-related disorders.

Dietary sources and deficiencies

While ergothioneine is present in various foods, mushrooms are by far the richest source. 

Agricultural practices, however, can affect the levels of ergothioneine available in these foods, especially in diets like those prevalent in the United States, where mushroom consumption is low, and soil management practices may deplete natural ergothioneine levels. 

The limited intake of ergothioneine has been associated with higher rates of neurological diseases and shorter life expectancies compared to populations with higher ergothioneine consumption.

Supporting research

Studies suggest that higher blood levels of ergothioneine are linked with reduced rates of cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s Disease. 

Additionally, research indicates that populations with higher ergothioneine intake have lower mortality rates and fewer deaths from neurological disorders [9]. 

These findings support the notion that ergothioneine acts as a critical nutrient and a potential longevity enhancer.

While ergothioneine may not fit the traditional definition of a vitamin due to its non-essential status in avoiding acute deficiency diseases, its role in promoting long-term health arguably elevates it to a longevity vitamin. 

This status highlights the importance of considering how dietary sources and consumption levels impact overall health and aging.

Closing thoughts

Ergothioneine has demonstrated considerable potential as a beneficial nutrient, particularly due to its powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotective properties. 

Its role in reducing oxidative stress and supporting cellular health suggests it may contribute positively to longevity and cognitive function. 

Given its significant impact, anyone considering ergothioneine supplementation should first seek advice from healthcare professionals to ensure it complements their overall health strategy and existing medical treatments effectively. 

This proactive approach will help maximize the benefits of ergothioneine while ensuring safety in its use.

FAQs

Is ergothioneine good for skin?

Yes, ergothioneine is beneficial for the skin due to its potent antioxidant properties that help reduce signs of aging and protect against environmental damage. It supports skin health by reducing inflammation and enhancing skin firmness.

Is ergothioneine a vitamin?

Ergothioneine is not officially classified as a vitamin, but it is considered a potential “longevity vitamin” due to its significant antioxidant properties and essential role in human health.

Why is ergothioneine good for the brain?

Ergothioneine supports brain health due to its strong antioxidant properties, which help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, potentially slowing cognitive decline and protecting against neurodegenerative diseases.

Is ergothioneine good for you?

Yes, ergothioneine is beneficial due to its antioxidant properties, which help reduce oxidative stress, support immune function, and may protect against chronic diseases and aging.

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8971627/
[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7653990/
[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5790434/
[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9967237/
[5] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0531556522002911
[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9221166/
[7] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17616140/
[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8113028/ 
[9] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7681161/

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