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Ergo What? 10 Facts About the New “Super Vitamin”

Ergo What? 10 Facts About the New “Super Vitamin” cover
Written by Dr. Rob Silver DVM, MS - Updated: June 11, 2024

It’s a good bet you’ve not heard of “ergothioneine”, an antioxidant with unique properties, found in the highest amounts in mushrooms. Although ergothioneine (ERGO) was first discovered over a hundred years ago in 1909, it has only been in the past few decades that research has uncovered the many health benefits of this fungal antioxidant.

Humans, as with all other mammals, do not produce ERGO, although it is essential for their health. it fits the definition of a vitamin or essential amino acid which is essential for health but not produced by the body. Some people refer to it as a 'Super Vitamin' due to its presence in foods associated with longevity and cognition.

Here are 10 Facts about ERGO that highlight the unique nature of this special fungal antioxidant and why it’s worthy of adding to your supplement routine and that of your pets.

1. Humans, animals, and plants can’t manufacture ERGO themselves - but it’s necessary

Plants will absorb ERGO from the fungi and bacteria in the soil that support the absorption of nutrients through their roots. Animals and humans need to derive it from the food they eat.

ERGO, like glutathione, is a sulfur-containing antioxidant. However, unlike glutathione, it is NOT produced by the body. And yet, ERGO plays such an essential role in so many critical functions associated with cellular health, cognition, and aging that mammals have evolved to have both receptors and transporters for this important exogenous molecule.

The following segment from an article about Ergothioneine in the peer-reviewed scientific journal, Redox Biology, puts context to why scientists and nutritionists now consider ERGO as necessary for wellness:

“The uptake in the foetus and infant, the near, if not fully, ubiquitous presence in tissues and the avid retention by the body are strong evidence that ergothioneine plays a critical role in human development and health.” (9)

2. Nearly All ERGO comes from mushrooms.

95% of ergothioneine (ERGO) consumed is derived from mushrooms. Other sources include some yeasts, slime molds, cyanobacteria (blue-green algae like spirulina), mycobacteria and Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species (probiotics). ERGO is found in trace amounts in foods like liver, beans, oats, algae, and tempeh. The ERGO in tempeh is moderate and is derived from the fungus that ferments the soybeans. (1)

The food source with the highest concentration of Ergothioneine is mushrooms. Golden oyster mushrooms, shown here growing at the organic farm that supplies them for the Real Mushrooms ERGO+ supplement, contain more ERGO than any other type of mushroom.

3. Ergothioneine is a unique ANTIOXIDANT

ERGO has properties that support the body’s cells and antioxidant defenses (4). These antioxidant defenses help mitigate the effects of molecules that oxidize tissues such as ozone, hydroxyl radicals, peroxide, etc.

Studies have shown the following antioxidant properties of ERGO:

  • Supports the oxygen-carrying function of the hemoglobin in blood (5)
  • Supports normal cellular function and mitochondrial health (6)
  • Support normal tissue health against everyday environmental stressors (6)
  • Supports normal liver function and the body’s natural detoxification processes (7)

4. Porcini and Oyster mushrooms have the highest ERGO content

Most mushrooms contain some amount of ERGO, but there are a few species that are known to be big producers of ERGO. Porcini mushrooms (Boletus edulis) have the highest ERGO content, followed by the yellow oyster mushroom (Pleurotus citrinopileatus).

Two other species of oyster mushroom also have substantial ERGO content: The King oyster (Pleurotus eryngii) and Pearl oyster (Pleurotus ostreatus) species. Following these Pleurotus species we find that Lion’s Mane, Maitake and Shiitake contain amounts of ERGO.

This table summarizes Ergothioneine content measured in 15 different mushrooms (2)(3)

Chart of ergothioneine content in various mushroom types

5. Japan and Italy’s populations have the highest measured ERGO levels in their blood

Countries that have a high human intake of ERGO-containing mushrooms in their diet have measured blood levels of ERGO much higher than countries where mushrooms are not a part of their daily cuisine (2), as outlined below:

  • Japan 6.6 mg/day ERGO
  • Italy 4.6 mg/day ERGO
  • France 2.2 mg/day ERGO
  • Finland 1.3 mg/day ERGO
  • United States 1.1 mg/day ERGO

Of note is the fact that Japan and Italy also have some of the highest life expectancies and lower chronic disease rates compared to other first-world countries. Current scientific inquiry is focusing on whether there is a causal relationship between ERGO consumption and these health outcomes (9).

Table: Top 10 countries with the longest average life span (20)

6. ERGO levels decline with age and are associated with cognitive decline

ERGO crosses the blood-brain barrier and provides antioxidant support for the normal functioning of the central nervous system. One human study identified that ERGO levels in the blood decline with age. In another human study of the elderly, low levels of ERGO in the blood were a signal of future cognitive and functional decline (10, 11).

@real_mushroomsDid you know that ergothioneine is a longevity vitamin? It's a key component in our food chain and may affect us in ways we don't realize. Listen in to Dr. Robert B. Beelman, Ph.D., to learn more about this fascinating concept and its potential link to neurological diseases like Parkinson's. RealMushrooms functionalmushrooms foodismedicine holistichealth immunity immunesupport naturalhealth qualitymatters ergo ergothioneine longevityvitamin♬ original sound - Real Mushrooms - Real Mushrooms

7. Ergothioneine supports healthy skin function

Skincare brands have begun adding Ergothioneine to their products for good reason. Several studies have identified that ERGO helps support the skin’s natural defenses against UV-induced oxidative damage (16, 17, 18, 19)

8. ERGO helps against the adverse effects of chemotherapy

Two animal studies have suggested that ERGO can help ease the negative side effects that certain immune therapies have on the heart and brain. One study found that it mitigated the cardiotoxic effect of anthracycline chemotherapy agents (13). Another study found that giving mice ERGO while they undergo chemotherapy using cisplatin “protects against cisplatin-induced neuronal injury and enhances cognition, possibly through the inhibition of oxidative stress and restoration of AChE activity in neuronal cells (15).” Additionally, one animal study found that ERGO helped support the efficacy of vaccine immunotherapy (14).

9. ERGO can bind up metal ions and remove them

ERGO chelates (binds and eliminates) metal ions such as mercury, iron, copper, zinc, nickel, and cobalt (5, 8).

10. ERGO is a safe, natural food preservative

Additionally, ERGO has been applied as a food preservative (20). Because of its antioxidant qualities, the ERGO of enoki mushroom extracts has been demonstrated to inhibit the development of melanosis (blackspots) in harvested shrimps (21). Other research showed that ERGO prevented the oxidation in beef and fish meat which led to discoloration that would have occurred after more than a week on ice (22). Consequently, American and Canadian patents have been submitted for the use of ERGO as a preservative in foods, medications, and drinks.

Takeaways about ERGOTHIONEINE

Given its role in health and longevity, it’s important to have a source of ergothioneine in your diet. Also, given that ERGO levels in the blood decrease as we age, it’s helpful to ensure you have a consistent and reliable source of this amino acid.

You’re ahead of the curve by becoming familiar with this fascinating amino acid and its role in human health. Now you can leverage ERGO to the advantage of your health maintenance and longevity.

Supplementing Ergothioneine:

While more research is being done on the role this amino acid has in the body, two things are clear:

  1. ERGO is essential for health and longevity
  2. ERGO must be ingested because the body doesn’t produce it naturally

If your diet doesn’t regularly include mushrooms, then consider using a high-quality Ergothioneine supplement.

You can rely on the Real Mushrooms ERGO+ supplement for your daily intake. It is produced using only 100% organic golden oyster mushrooms, not mycelium-on-grain, and extracted to achieve optimal potency.

The ERGO+ supplement by Real Mushrooms is a reliable and potent source of your body’s Ergothioneine needs.

Learn more about ERGO:

Get in-depth details in our Ergothioneine Supplement Guide: Facts, Benefits, and Usage

Bottle of Ergo+ mushroom extract powder supplement with a wooden spoon and capsules on a table. Text overlay reads "Shop Ergo - your trusted ergothioneine supplement.

References:

  1. Kalaras MD, Richie JP, Calcagnotto, A, Beelman RB. Mushrooms: A rich source of the antioxidants ergothioneine and glutathione. Food Chem. 2017;233:429-433. doi:10.1016/j.foodchem.2017.04.109
  2. Carroll, L. Ergothioneine White Paper; Herba Meditari Course Materials (2023)
  3. Beelman, R.B, Phillips, A.T., Richie Jr, J.P., et al. Health consequences of improving the content of ergothioneine in the food supply. FEBS Letters (2022): doi:10.1002/1873-3468.14268.
  4. Halliwell, B., Tang, R.M.Y., Cheah, I.K. Diet-Derived Antioxidants: The Special Case of Ergothioneine; Ann. Rev. Food Sci. Technol. 2023; 14:19.1-19.23.
  5. Liu X, Huang Y, Wang J, et al. A Study on the antioxidant Properties and Stability of Ergothioneine from Culinary-Medicinal Mushrooms. Int J. Med Mushrooms. 2020;22(3):211-220. doi:10.1615/INTJMEDMUSHROOMS.2020033625
  6. Borodina I, Kenny LC, McCarthy CM, et al. The biology of ergothioneine, and antioxidant nutraceutical. Nutr Res Rev. 2020;33(2):190-217. doi:10.1017/S0954422419000301
  7. Villianatou T, Lin W, Bechet NB, et al. Differential regulation of oxidative stress, microbiota-derived, and energy metabolites in the mouse brain during sleep. J Cereb Blood Flow Metab. 2021;41(12):3324-3338. doi:10.1177/0271678X211033358.
  8. Rabenstein D, Isab A. A proton nuclear resonance study of the interaction of mercury with intact human erythrocytes. Biochim Biophys Acta. 1982;721(4):374-378. di:10.1016/1017-4889(82)90092-1
  9. Cheah IK, Halliwell B. Ergothioneine, recent developments. Redox Biol. 2021;42. doi:10.1016/J.REDOX.2021.101868.
  10. Wu LY, Kan CN, Cheah IK, et al. Low Plasma Ergothioneine Predicts Cognitive and Functional Decline in an Elderly Cohort Attending Memory Clinics. Antioxidants (Basel). 2022;11(9). doi:10.3390/ANTIOX11091717
  11. Sotgia S, Zinellu A, Mangoni AA, et al. Clinical and biochemical correlates of serum L-ergothioneine concentrations in community-dwelling middle-aged and older adults. PloS One. 2014;9(1):e84918.
  12. Valachova K, Svik K, Biro C, et al. Impact of Ergothioneine, Hercynine, and Histidine on Oxidative Degradation of Hyaluronan and Wound Healing. Polymers (Basel). 2020;13(1):1-9. doi:10.3390/POLYM13010095
  13. Cheah, IK, Tang, R.M.Y. Wang, X, et al. Protection against Doxorubicin-Induced Cardiotoxicity by Ergothioneine. Antioxidants 2023, 12(2), 320. doi:10.3390/antiox12020320.
  14. Yoshida S, Shime H, Matsumoto M, et al. Anti-oxidative Amino Acid L-ergothioneine Modulates the Tumor Microenvironment to Facilitate Adjuvant Vaccine Immunotherapy. Front Immunol. 2019;10(APR). doi:10.1080/01635581.2019.1637005.
  15. Song, T-Y, Chen, C-L, Liao J-W, et al. Ergothioneine protects against neuronal injury induced by cisplatin both in vitro and in vivo. Food Chem Toxicol. 48(2010)3492—3499.
  16. Bazela K, Solyga-Zurek A, Debowska R, et al. l-Ergothioneine protects skin cells against UV-induced damage—a preliminary study. Cosmetics. 2014;1(1):51-60.
  17. Obayashi K, Kurihara K, Okano Y, Masaki H, Yarosh DB. L-Ergothioneine scavenges superoxide and singlet oxygen and suppresses TNF-alpha and MMP-1 expression in UV-irradiated human dermal fibroblasts. J Cosmet Sci. 2005;56(1):17-27.
  18. Hseu YC, Lo HW, Korivi M, et al. Dermato-protective properties of ergothioneine through induction of Nrf2/ARE-mediated antioxidant genes in UVA-irradiated Human keratinocytes. Free Radic Biol Med. 2015;86:102-117.
  19. Damaghi N, Dong K, Smiles K, Yarosh D. The natural antioxidant L-ergothioneine and its receptor/transporter OCTN-1 participate in the skin's response to UVA-induced oxidative damage. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2008;58(2).
  20. United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. World Population Prospects 2022, Online Edition. 2022.
  21. Martinez-Medina GA, Chávez-González ML, Verma DK, et al. Bio-functional components in mushrooms, a health opportunity: ergothionine and huitlacohe as recent trends. J Funct Foods. 2021;77:104326.
  22. Encarnacion AB, Fagutao F, Hirono I, Ushio H, Ohshima T. Effects of ergothioneine from mushrooms (Flammulina velutipes) on melanosis and lipid oxidation of kuruma shrimp (Marsupenaeus japonicus). J Agric Food Chem. 2010;58(4):2577-2585.
  23. Bao HN, Ushio H, Ohshima T. Antioxidative activity and antidiscoloration efficacy of ergothioneine in mushroom (Flammulina velutipes) extract added to beef and fish meats. J Agric Food Chem. 2008;56(21):10032-10040.

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Dr. Robert Silver graduated in 1982 from Colorado State’s College of Veterinary Medicine. He established one of the first integrative vet clinics in the USA in Boulder, CO in 1993. Since then, Dr. Silver has become a nationally recognized expert in veterinary herbal and nutraceutical medicines, medicinal mushrooms, veterinary CBD and cannabis therapeutics. He has adjunct faculty positions at Lincoln Memorial University, College of Veterinary Medicine, and Chi University, a College of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine. Learn more about Dr. Silver.

Disclaimer: The information or products mentioned in this article are provided as information resources only, and are not to be used or relied on to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. This information does not create any patient-doctor relationship, and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment. The information is intended for health care professionals only. The statements made in this article have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Any products mentioned are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information in this article is intended for educational purposes. The information is not intended to replace medical advice offered by licensed medical physicians. Please consult your doctor or health practitioner for any medical advice.

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