American and British researchers simultaneously discovered, isolated and named cobalamin or vitamin B12 in 1948. Since then, no more news about new vitamins. However, Johns Hopkins University studied the unusual amino acid “ergothioneine” (ET) in deeper detail and it showed up an interesting update (1). Ergothioneine could be a new vitamin due its characteristics and role in the body. Humans cannot make ET and the only possible way to get some of the “new vitamin” is through food. “Because of its dietary origin and the toxicity associated with its depletion, ET may represent a new vitamin whose physiologic roles include antioxidant cytoprotection”, extract from Johns Hopkins University’s study. So many foods contains ET, but mushrooms are by far the ones that contains the highest levels. Usually any type of fungus possess more than one thousand units of ergothioneine, about nine times more than their closet competitor, black beans.
Black beans have about eight times more than a serving of the third-leading source, chicken liver. Chicken meat, beef and pork have about ten units of ET, one hundred times less than any mushroom. Kidney beans contain almost four times more than meat, but even at forty-five units, they pale in comparison to some of the fungus.
Variety and how to cook?
There are thousand of mushrooms wild wide, but probably oysters, king bolete, shiitake, maitake, portobello, enoki, king trumpet or lion mane, among others, are some of the most popular in the market. But how to eat them? Raw? Probably on several occasions you have heard that coocking methods deplete so many goodness from food. So, will ET be ruined after cooking? No. That is great news. Ergothioneine is heat stable. In order words, it isn’t destroyed. However, what is destroyed during the cooking process is a toxic substance called agaritine. Freezing also gets rid of most of it, but be careful with drying because it doesn’t “kill” the toxic agaritine.
ET against free radicals
ET concentrates in parts of the body where there is a lot oxidative stress such as liver, lenses of the eyes or bone marrow, to prevent free radical causing any damage. For this reason, some researchers have named ET as cytoprotectant, a cell protector (2). It protects one of the most important cells in the body: mitochondria cell, responsible for energy production in the body, among other functions.
The DNA inside the mitochondria is especially vulnerable to free radical damage and not many antioxidants are able to penetrate in the mitochondria membrane. However, ET does. For this reason ergothioneine may be so important. Depriving human cells of this amino acid or a “new vitamin” leads to accelerated DNA damage and cell death too.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, the body can not make ET. So, food will provide you with this important “new vitamin”. Best source: mushrooms.