L-ergothioneine has been shown to promote healthy longevity via mechanisms that include reduced telomere shortening.
Scientifically reviewed by: Dr. Gary Gonzalez, MD, in December 2022. Written by: Gregory E. Bigford, PhD, MSBA.
Human studies have found an association between mushroom consumption and lower risk of chronic diseases and premature death.
One study of more than 15,000 Americans found that those who consumed mushrooms had a 16% lower risk of mortality than those who did not eat mushrooms.
Replacing just one serving a day of red or processed meat with mushrooms was associated with a 35% lower risk of all-cause mortality.1
Research has identified an amino acid in mushrooms, L-ergothioneine, that may be responsible for these health-promoting effects.2
One of the world’s preeminent nutritional biochemists, Dr. Bruce Ames, published a seminal review proposing that L-ergothioneine should be classified as a “ longevity vitamin.”2
L-ergothioneine is not produced in the body. It must be obtained through diet.2-5
Typical American diets are low in mushrooms. L-ergothioneine levels in the body also tend to decline with age.6
For those who don’t ingest lots of mushrooms, direct oral intake of L-ergothioneine is an easy way to obtain their benefits.
What is L-Ergothioneine?
L-ergothioneine is an amino acid found in high concentrations in mushrooms and other fungi.7 High levels are found in edible mushrooms such as porcini, oyster, shiitake, and maitake.8
The amount of L-ergothioneine in mushrooms varies with the species and is impacted by conventional agricultural practices. It would take about 2-5 cups of common white button mushrooms to get 5 mg of dietary L-ergothionine.8,9 That’s why supplements are a better choice to maintain daily intake.
A growing body of evidence has found that mushrooms may help prevent chronic diseases and premature death.1
A major scientific discovery in 2005, found that humans produce a transporter protein responsible for taking up L-ergothioneine from the diet and delivering it to cells throughout the body.10
Due to the widespread tissue distribution of this transporter, it can transport L-ergothioneine 100 times more efficiently than other compounds.10-12
Clinical studies suggest most tissues of the body contain L-ergothioneine.3,4,10,13 This finding helped drive the scientific investigation into how this amino acid works in the body, and the suggestion that it be classified as a longevity vitamin.2
Reduced Telomere Shortening
Several studies have pointed out how L-ergothioneine may promote longevity.
One contributor to the aging process is the loss, or shortening, of telomeres, the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes.14 Telomere shortening is a marker of advanced cellular aging, loss of function, and eventual cell death.
A 2022 study found that L-ergothioneine significantly reduced the rate of telomere shortening and the number of short telomeres in cells exposed to oxidative stress.15
Another area being studied is L-ergothioneine’s ability to protect cellular DNA.
For example, ultraviolet-induced DNA damage in the skin accelerates skin aging and risk of skin cancer.16 L-ergothioneine protects against this DNA damage in the skin,17-20 which is one reason it is an ingredient in many anti-aging creams.21
Oxidative stress is a driver of disease and accelerated aging. L-ergothioneine is closely related to glutathione, one of the most powerful antioxidants produced in the body.8,22-24 L-ergothioneine concentrates in the mitochondria,3 which are vulnerable to oxidative damage.
Preclinical evidence shows that L-ergothioneine can help neutralize damaging oxidizing compounds before they damage mitochondria.25,26 It can also protect against free radicals that damage DNA and proteins.18,19,27
Experimental evidence has also shown that L-ergothioneine caninhibit the synthesis of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which are abundant in many chronic inflammatory diseases associated with aging.28-30
Together, these effects may help ward off chronic disease and promote longer life.
L-Ergothioneine’s Health Benefits
- In an observational study, people who consumed mushrooms had a 16% lower risk of dying than those who didn’t. The amino acid L-ergothioneine is believed to be largely responsible for mushrooms’ health benefits.
- L-ergothioneine may promote longevity by preventing shortening of telomeres, protecting DNA from damage, fighting oxidative stress and inflammation, and protecting the brain and heart.
- In a population study, higher levels of L-ergothioneine in the body were associated with reduced risk of cardiometabolic disease and cardiovascular mortality.
- In a clinical trial of adults with mild cognitive impairment, taking 5 mg of L-ergothioneine daily for 12 weeks significantly improved measures of cognitive function.
Protecting the Brain
The concentration of L-ergothioneine is particularly high in several major regions of the brain, including those responsible for cognitive function, learning, and memory.31,32
In mice, L-ergothioneine promotes nerve cell maturation, resulting in enhanced memory.33 Cell studies show it helps promote the formation of new neurons,32,34,35 which is vital to learning and also to memory formation.36
In animal models, it is protective against oxidative-stress-induced deficits in learning and memory37 and learning deficits induced by beta-amyloid accumulation.38 Beta-amyloid buildup is seen in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease, making L-ergothioneine an intriguing candidate for clinical studies looking at neuroprotective agents.
In humans, lower blood levels of L-ergothioneine have been noted in patients with both mild cognitive impairment and dementia, compared to healthy subjects, suggesting that low L-ergothioneine could be a risk factor for these conditions.39-41 Low levels of L-ergothioneine are also seen in patients with Parkinson’s disease42 and brain matter atrophy.43
In a clinical trial of adults with mild cognitive impairment, taking a mushroom extract containing 5 mg of L-ergothioneine daily for 12 weeks led to significant improvements in verbal memory, working memory, sustained attention, and other measures of cognitive function compared to those taking a placebo.44
Diseases of the heart and blood vessels remain the leading causes of death and disability.45
Dysfunction of the vascular endothelium is central to a wide range of cardiovascular disorders, including hypertension, atherosclerosis, chronic heart failure, coronary artery disease, and diabetes.46
L-ergothioneine has been found to be protective against different types of oxidative and inflammatory damage in endothelial cells,47,48 which form the inner lining of blood vessels.
It also protects against cell stressors that impair vascular relaxation,49 and prevents the binding of monocytes (a type of white blood cell) to endothelial cells, an early event in cardiovascular disease.4,50
A large population study published in 2020 showed that higher levels of L-ergothioneine in the body are associated with reduction of cardiometabolic diseases by 15%, cardiovascular mortality by 21%, and overall mortality by 14%.51
Other studies revealed that L-ergothionine protects the endothelium from cell death.48
L-ergothioneine is an amino acid found predominantly in mushrooms.
Its potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects may help slow the cellular aging process and protect the body against age-related disorders, including neurodegenerative and cardiovascular diseases.
This may explain why, in population studies, people who eat mushrooms have a reduced risk of mortality.
If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension Wellness Specialist at 1-866-864-3027.
Reprinted with permission of Life Extension®- Originally published in the March 2023 edition of Life Extension Magazine® Read the original article on Life Extension’s website https://www.lifeextension.com/magazine/2023/3/mushrooms-protect-against-aging
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- Grigat S, Harlfinger S, Pal S, et al. Probing the substrate specificity of the ergothioneine transporter with methimazole, hercynine, and organic cations. Biochem Pharmacol. 2007 Jul 15;74(2):309-16.
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- Cheah IK, Tang RM, Yew TS, et al. Administration of Pure Ergothioneine to Healthy Human Subjects: Uptake, Metabolism, and Effects on Biomarkers of Oxidative Damage and Inflammation. Antioxid Redox Signal. 2017 Feb 10;26(5):193-206.
- Donate LE, Blasco MA. Telomeres in cancer and ageing. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2011 Jan 12;366(1561):76-84.
- Samuel P, Tsapekos M, de Pedro N, et al. Ergothioneine Mitigates Telomere Shortening under Oxidative Stress Conditions. J Diet Suppl. 2022;19(2):212-25.
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