According to Penn State researchers, mushrooms may contain unusually high amounts of two antioxidants that some scientists suggest could help fight aging and enhance health.
The study team found that mushrooms are the highest dietary source of ergothioneine and glutathione, important antioxidants.
Why antioxidants are important
They also learned that the amounts the two compounds varied greatly between mushroom species.
When the body uses food to produce energy, it also causes oxidative stress because some free radicals are produced. Free radicals are unstable oxygen molecules that cause damage to cells, proteins and even DNA.
The body has mechanisms to control most of free radicals, including ergothioneine and glutathione, but eventually enough free radicals accumulate to cause damage, which has been associated with many of the diseases of aging, like cancer, coronary heart disease and Alzheimer's.
Which mushrooms contain the most?
According to the researchers, the amounts of ergothioneine and glutathione in mushrooms vary by species with the porcini mushrooms containing the highest amount among the 13 species tested.
The more common mushroom types, like the white button, had less of the antioxidants, but had higher amounts than most other foods.
The amount of ergothioneine and glutathione also appear to be correlated in mushrooms. Mushrooms that are high in glutathione are also high in ergothioneine, for example.
Cooking mushrooms does not seem to significantly affect the compounds, which are very heat stable.
The researchers said that future research may look at the role mushroom antioxidants may play in decreasing the likelihood of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease.
While preliminary and only a correlation, countries that have more ergothioneine in their diets, such as France and Italy, also have lower rates of neurodegenerative diseases, while people in countries like the United States, which has low amounts of ergothioneine in the diet, have a higher probability of diseases like Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's.
The difference between the countries with low rates of neurodegenerative diseases is about 3 milligrams per day, which is about five button mushrooms each day."
Source: Food Chemistry, Octover 15, 2017
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