An amino acid found in mushrooms may be key to healthy aging

ERGO may help battle chronic inflammatory diseases.


Inflammation and oxidation can contribute to many of the diseases associated with aging, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. Ergothioneine (ERGO) is an amino acid produced primarily by fungi and found in high concentrations in mushrooms. According to new research, ERGO may help battle chronic inflammatory diseases.

Robert Beelman, emeritus professor of food science at Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, compared ERGO and Penicillin, which are fungi products with beneficial effects on human health.

Beelman said, Penicillin was an antibiotic famously discovered from a fungal contaminant in a petri dish that started the antibiotic revolution and helped save many lives from infectious diseases. On the other hand, ERGO is a little-known but potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound produced by fungi in the soil and found naturally in our food that shows promise to help save us from many of the chronic inflammatory diseases that plague us more today.”

According to Beelman, ERGO is found in high concentrations in human blood but declines with age. Further research has revealed that people with various chronic diseases of aging have significantly lower blood ERGO levels than age-matched healthy people.

According to Beelman, increasing those levels could be a good prevention strategy. However, humans cannot produce ERGO and must obtain it through diet.

He said, “Fortunately, humans have a dedicated and highly-specific transport system for ERGO that pulls it from food into red blood cells as soon as it is consumed and distributes it all over the body, where it tends to accumulate in tissues under the most oxidative stress. This is another indication of its importance in preventing chronic disease and why some scientists now refer to ERGO as a ‘longevity vitamin.'”

According to Beelman, While mushrooms are known to be the best source of ERGO, plants are the primary source of nutrients in the human food chain. However, plants do not produce ERGO on their own and appear to depend on fungi in farm soils to pass it on to them through dietary sources.

A previous study found that Americans consumed an estimated average of 1.1 mg of ERGO a day, while Italians averaged 4.6 mg daily. The study also discovered that, out of the five countries examined, Americans had the lowest life expectancy rates, and Italians had the highest.

Beelman said, “If Americans want to boost their ERGO consumption to get in the range of 4.6 mg a day, that would be about 3 to 4 ounces of button mushrooms a day. Specialty mushrooms, like shiitakes, have higher levels of ERGO, so people would need to aim for about one ounce of those a day.”

According to Beelman, Eating too many mushrooms daily can increase ERGO levels in the food supply.

Beelman is curious about the health benefits of ERGO and agricultural practices that can increase the amount of ERGO in crops.

For example, he stated that a recent Penn State study discovered 30% more ERGO in crops grown with a no-till strategy because tilling disrupts the microbes in the soil.

Beelman wrote in FUNGI. “Fortunately, we have shown that some regenerative farming practices, such as minimal soil disturbance at planting (no-till), can mitigate this problem, allowing fungi in the soil to supply more ERGO to our food crops. Also, regenerative farming practices help to reduce soil erosion and sequester more carbon in the soil that mitigates climate change, helping us live longer, healthier lives.”

This theory was supported by additional research, which discovered that ERGO levels in the soil decrease as tilling increases.


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