When you start talking about healthy foods, mushrooms tend to make the list. In addition to an impressive mix of vitamins and minerals, mushrooms are also full of a specific antioxidant known as ergothioneine, or ergo, AKA a “longevity vitamin.” Sounds promising, right? Mushrooms are the leading source of ergo, though it is found in small amounts in many foods. Here’s why supplementing with daily ergothioneine may have impressive benefits and the best way to get that daily ergo dose. Spoiler — if you aren’t a mushroom fan, we have a handy workaround.
The adaptive antioxidant.
Ergo was discovered in 1909. As an antioxidant, it can help offset oxidative damage directly linked to chronic disease – pretty standard for this class of compounds. But fast forward a century and change, and excitement is growing over ergo’s ability to not only reduce oxidative stress, but also serve “as an anti-inflammatory agent with the potential to serve as a therapeutic agent.” Intriguing, right?
The evidence is building regarding that therapeutic impact, which makes the benefits of ergothioneine wonderfully unique among antioxidants. High levels of ergo have been observed in certain cells predisposed to oxidative stress, but with sustained administration, other tissues can also accumulate high amounts. In fact, animal disease models showcase what appears to be an adaptive physiological response to elevated ergo in damaged tissue, which actually limits further injury. In other words, ergo accumulates where it’s really needed – think fatty liver disease, liver fibrosis, hearts ridden with high blood pressure, and instances of pre-eclampsia – which appears to be a deliberate cytoprotective action, well, in action.
The brain benefits of ergothioneine.
There are also studies pointing to ergo’s role in neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s disease. Specifically, low levels of ergo have been found in people with cognitive difficulties compared to people of the same age without any sort of cognitive impairment. Ergo levels in the blood have also been shown to be lower in people with Parkinson’s disease. The takeaway is that low blood ergo levels could be a precursor to some of the neurological diseases experienced as we age.
A biologically useful function?
Get this — studies show ergo hits its marks within an hour of eating that mushroom ravioli. What’s more, it’s slow to leave the body, with impressively high retention levels, particularly in comparison to other antioxidants. Instead of hanging around for mere hours, as is the case with antioxidants like PQQ and Quercetin, ergo levels continue to increase in the blood for up to four weeks after being consumed. Our capacity to not only absorb ergo but retain it for such lengthy time periods is a big neon sign suggesting this antioxidant, in particular, serves a distinct purpose in the human body. As Professor Barry Halliwell, who was honored as a 2021 Citation Laureate for his work on antioxidants deemed to be of “Nobel Class,” so reasonably puts it, that ability to retain “implies that ergo has a useful function, otherwise why absorb and retain it?”
There’s also an interesting mother-baby axis, with ergo present in human breast milk and the urine and brains of newborns. The logical conclusion is that ergo can either cross the placenta or be absorbed through breast milk – or both. Interestingly, there is evidence that during the nursing process, transporter cells in breast tissue are six times more active than in non-lactating breasts, suggesting this is a key delivery process of ergo to an infant. And if you follow that train of thought, it makes sense that the benefits of ergothioneine are just as important to babies as it is to the rest of us. Still, more research is needed before we can say so definitively.
We know this all sounds fantastic, but how exactly does ergo do it all? It’s actually pretty cool. In the dizzyingly complex system that is the human body is a specific cell membrane transport protein known as the SLC22A4 gene, aka OCT-N1. And this transporter has a thing for ergo. Food-derived ergo zips through this transporter for speedy, highly efficient delivery from the intestine to various points in the body, including bone marrow, the small intestine, kidneys, trachea, lungs, cerebellum, monocytes, and the eyes. As an organ, the eye navigates extensive oxidative stress, which means it needs antioxidants to mount a regular defense. Would you be surprised to learn that high levels of ergo are found in various parts of the eye and levels are noticeably lacking in people with serious cataract issues? Didn’t think so!
Benefits of ergothioneine in the diet.
Neither humans nor animals can synthesize ergo – we can’t make it ourselves, so we need to access this key micronutrient from our diets. And when we say need, we mean it. Besides the link to those neurodegenerative conditions, there’s the fact that “limited intake of ergo in the diet may compromise long-term health and life expectancy.”
Fun fact — American diets aren’t delivering ergo in the same amounts as some European diets. Mushroom consumption as a whole has a lot of benefits, including reduced instances of other aging-related diseases, including prostate cancer, dementia, and risk factors for diabetes. We can’t point to ergo as the sole reason for that just yet, but stay tuned for more research to flesh that out.
If you’re a self-proclaimed mushroom hater and your panic is growing as you read, good news. You can still get ample daily ergo without ever eating another fungi!
Enter Wonderfeel Youngr™.
It’s the latest, greatest iteration of Wonderfeel’s NMN formula, and it is positively packed with ingredients proven to benefit you in countless ways. In addition to NMN, vitamin D3, and resveratrol, we’ve included — you guessed it — ergo! And to dial in on the most effective amount for our supplement, we referenced all of the latest scientific research and papers and consulted leading authorities on ergo, Professor Robert Beelman and the aforementioned Professor Halliwell. They confirmed that our 4 mg dose in Wonderfeel Youngr™ is both safe and highly effective. It’s an excellent addition to the other ingredients in our formula, and a simple way for people to capitalize on the longevity vitamin — even if they hate mushrooms.