Researchers from the National University of Singapore credit ergothioneine benefits in aiding the treatment of COVID due to its many research-proven abilities
It has been proposed that there are two basic types of proteins or enzymes: those essential to immediate survival and those that help promote long-term health. In an article published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, the author calls nutrients that support the latter “longevity vitamins,” one of which shows ergothioneine benefits for general health and fighting COVID.
What is L-ergothioneine?
L-ergothioneine, or ergothioneine or ET for short, is an amino acid that contains sulfur. It was first discovered more than a century ago, in ergot fungus, and is derived from histidine. Histidine is one of the nine essential amino acids and, therefore, only available through dietary consumption.
Back in 2010, an in-depth review of ET explained that it was a bit unclear what function this amino acid served to promote health and wellness. What was known was that cells lacking the ability to transport ergothioneine appeared to be more susceptible to oxidative stress, increasing the risk of cell damage.
Fast forward to today and scientists are still attempting to gain clarity on ergothioneine benefits as a longevity vitamin and how it achieves this effect, and research is uncovering new positives for the amino acid.
Ergothioneine benefits and longevity: the research
On Nov. 11, 2020, the Journal of Nutritional Science published an article written by researchers from Penn State University’s Department of Food Science, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and Department of Public Health Science. In this piece, the authors report that part of ET’s positive effects lies in its ability to resist autoxidation.
Once in the body, ergothioneine is transported by a novel cation transporter, sometimes referred to as ETT, that is responsible for taking the amino acid from the intestine to various tissues — usually within an hour of being consumed. This transporter has been found not only in the small intestine, but also in the kidney, lungs, trachea, cerebellum, and bone marrow.
The authors go on to say that lower ET intake has been associated with an increased prevalence of chronic neurological aging diseases and a reduced life expectancy. Conversely, those with higher ergothioneine intake tend to have a lower mortality rate, whether from neurological disorders or otherwise.
A 2021 study in NeuroMolecular Medicine adds that, in those diagnosed with cardiovascular disease and diabetes, the brain’s endothelial cells are highly exposed to cholesterol oxidation. ET helps protect against this by mediating inflammation of these cells.
Due to its ability to cross the blood-brain barrier, this article’s authors further suggest that ergothioneine could play a role in not only protecting against neurodegenerative disease but maybe even against complications from COVID-19.
ET for COVID-19?
Other researchers have proposed the same question and some suggest that science supports the use of ET as a therapeutic to reduce the severity of COVID-19, also reducing the risk of mortality from this virus — especially in the elderly and people with an underlying health condition.
In an article published in Antioxidants in 2020, researchers from the National University of Singapore credit ergothioneine benefits in aiding the treatment of COVID due to its many research-proven abilities, such as protecting against acute respiratory distress syndrome, hindering lung and liver fibrosis, and mitigating damage to many of the body’s critical organs.
Increasing ergothioneine intake
Patients can increase their ergothioneine intake by adding mushrooms to their diet, with gray oyster and white button mushrooms having the highest concentrations. Although, in an article in the Journal of Nutritional Science, some scientists have expressed concern about whether ET intake via mushrooms is limited due to agricultural practices that “can disrupt beneficial fungus-plant root relationships.”
Other foods found to have smaller levels of ET include tempeh, chicken liver, oat bran, and kidney beans. Pill supplementation is another potential option, with scientists currently researching the effects of ET supplementation on health conditions such as metabolic disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and other diseases that can threaten one’s longevity.
The bottom line? The future of ergothioneine as a longevity vitamin remains to be seen, but its effects and emerging research results continue to look promising.