Ergothioneine is a sulfur containing amino acid that functions as an antioxidant. Mushrooms are a primary source of ergothioneine in nature; Tetrahedron synthesizes its Ergoneine chemically.
Long, sparse research history
Ergothioneine has been known for a long time. It was first identified in France in 1909, and researchers have discovered that there are large amounts of ergothioneine present in some tissues of the body and the body has developed mechanisms for its retention. By putting all these factors together researchers concluded that the compound must be there for a reason, and the reason seemed pretty important. But, unfortunately for past potential marketers of the ingredient, that’s where the trail grew cold.
A recent study did show the ingredient could have a positive effect on joint pain. But much more research needs to be done, according to one expert. Penny Kris-Etherton, PhD, of Penn State University, is among the few researchers who have studied the substance. She helped conduct a study on ergothioneine administered in a mushroom powder that concluded that the ingredient is bioavailable. Interestingly, the study also observed a post-prandial triglyceride blunting effect. But much more research is needed, she said.
“There’s not a lot of research on it. I think it takes research to bring an ingredient to the forefront. People just haven’t heard about it. It does have antioxidant activity,” she said.
Research activity accelerates
Jean-Claude Yadan, PhD, president of Tetrahedron, said the research for the ingredient’s biological activity is in fact piling up. He cited a recent scientific review that highlights ergothioneine’s antioxidant potential.
“Cell and animal studies have shown that ergothioneine protects against the oxidation of essential cellular constituents, maintains antioxidant defenses and inhibits cell death induced by oxidative stress,” Yadan told NutraIngredients-USA.
“The exact physiological role of ergothioneine remains to be fully elucidated, but the research is active in this field, and many studies continue to highlight the antioxidant properties of this unique micronutrient. We hypothesize that ergothioneine can be active as such or through interactions with macromolecules. Last month, a Chinese team described for the first time a role of ergothioneine as a co-factor of a bacterial enzyme,” he said.
Healthy aging sweet spot
Yadan elucidated a potential role for ergnothioneine in a healthy aging product. As the body and its cells age, the redox homeostatis, that is the body’s management of its antoxidant defenses, alters in such a way that oxidative damage becomes more prevalent. Ergothioneine can be part of the answer to problem, Yadan said.
“Its occurrence in all our main tissues, the existence of a specific transporter for this micronutrient and its properties provide strong evidence of a role of ergothioneine as a physiological antioxidant and cytoprotective molecule. We believe that balancing the diet with ergothioneine is a way towards healthy aging through its contribution to maintaining cellular redox homeostasis,” he said.
Yadan said the last several years have been devoted to nailing down the production process for the ingredient and to assembling the GRAS dossier. Now that those pieces are in place, full commercialization can occur. In addition to the low scientific profile the ingredient has had in the past, supply constraints have served to stifle the ingredient’s market acceptance, he said.
“Until now, that potential has gone unrealized due to the unavailability of ergothioneine at a cost and quality that makes it fully marketable,” Yadan said.