Researchers have found that mushrooms may contain unusually high amounts of two antioxidants that could help fight ageing and bolster health.

According to the study, mushrooms were found to be the highest dietary source of the antioxidants; ergothioneine and glutathione.

Robert Beelman, director of the Penn State Center for Plant and Mushroom Products for Health, said: “What we found is that, without a doubt, mushrooms are the highest dietary source of these two antioxidants taken together, and that some types are really packed with both of them.”

He said when the body uses food to produce energy, it also causes oxidative stress because some free radicals are produced.

Free radicals are atoms or groups of atoms with an odd (unpaired) number of electrons and can be formed when oxygen interacts with certain molecules.

“There’s a theory — the free radical theory of ageing — that’s been around for a long time that says when we oxidize our food to produce energy there’s a number of free radicals that are produced that are side products of that action and many of these are quite toxic,” said Beelman.

“The body has mechanisms to control most of them, including ergothioneine and glutathione, but eventually enough accrue to cause damage, which has been associated with many of the diseases of ageing, like cancer, coronary heart disease and Alzheimer’s.

“We found that the porcini has the highest, by far, of any we tested. This species is really popular in Italy where searching for it has become a national pastime.

“The more common mushroom types, like the white button, had less of the antioxidants, but had higher amounts than most other foods.”

He said cooking mushrooms does not affect the compounds because “ergothioneine are very heat stable”.

Beelman said the next line of the study is to look at any role that ergothioneine and glutathione have in decreasing the likelihood of Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

“It’s preliminary, but you can see that countries that have more ergothioneine in their diets, countries like France and Italy, also have lower incidents 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,” he said.

The study was published in the recent issue of Food Chemistry.



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