Dr. Robert Beelman, food scientist and Professor Emeritus of Food Science at Penn State University, said mushrooms contain four key nutrients – selenium, vitamin D, glutathione and ergothioneine – that are beneficial to healthy aging. These nutrients act as antioxidants, mitigating oxidative stress which normally happens to the body while turning food into energy and producing free radicals.
Selenium has long been known as a detoxifier. It is also good for cardiovascular health and helps your body fight off free radicals. Meanwhile, vitamin D works as a protective nutrient against the risk of developing multiple sclerosis and boosts ones mood and weight loss.
Glutathione and ergothioneine are both known for being great natural antioxidants. High levels of these nutrients are found in some specific kinds of mushroom. Researchers said that among 13 species of mushroom they tested, the porcini species contains the highest amount of glutathione and ergothioneine.
"The body has mechanisms to control most of them [free radicals], but eventually, enough accrue to cause damage, which has been associated with many of the diseases of aging, like cancer, coronary heart disease and Alzheimer’s," Dr. Beelman explained.
Most people may be familiar with selenium, Vitamin D and glutathione, however, many are unfamiliar with ergothioneine, or what is more commonly known as ergo.
Dr. Beelman and his team are currently focusing their research on the potential of ergo to prevent or reverse neurodegenerative diseases common among older adults. As per a study conducted in Singapore, the ergo content in the bloodstream significantly declines as people age. Moreover, this case has been correlated with cognitive impairment, therefore leading researchers to suggest that the deficiency of this nutrient "predispose individuals to neurological diseases."
In another study which used over 13,000 elderly Japanese as subjects, results showed that those who consumed less mushrooms in their lifetime were more susceptible to developing dementia while those who ate mushrooms leisurely had less incidence of the said illness.
Scientists also discovered that countries who have a higher consumer rate of ergothioneine, like France and Italy, have lower cases of neurodegenerative disease development. Meanwhile, countries like the U.S. who consume fewer mushrooms, reportedly have a higher possibility of contracting diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
The study showed that ergo gets passed down in the food chain. Essentially, fungi which carry the nutrient leave traces of ergo in the soil and other plants grown in the same area absorb it. This finding led researchers to think that the modern agricultural practices are causing the decrease of fungal population in U.S. soil, thus affecting the ergo levels in the American diet.
In the past, this particular type of fungus was deemed good for the health because of what it lacks; no cholesterol, no gluten and is low in fat, sugars, sodium and calories. But food scientists today are sharing the knowledge that mushrooms are also good sources of not just the four key nutrients mentioned above but also of protein, B vitamins, fiber, immune-enhancing sugars and other bioactive compounds.
Find out more about nutritious food beneficial for the body at Nutrients.news.