The “Magic” Ingredient in UnMagic Mushrooms


It won’t make you trip, but studies say it will help you live longer and healthier.


It’s highly concentrated in mushrooms, even the ordinary white or button mushrooms you buy canned or fresh at your supermarket.


Ergo: to benefit from consuming mushrooms, you don’t need exotic species available only in back-alley Chinese herb shops. You certainly don’t need to to search through fields of cow patties, looking for magic mushrooms. (Which love cow manure, I’ve been told.)


L’Ergothioneine may the single-most important ingredient for slowing down the aging process.

According to a large study of 15,000 participants followed over 20 years, regular consumption of mushrooms dropped the risk of death by 16%.

According to a study which tested over one hundred different compounds, L’ergothioneine is the one statistically most associated with lower risk of disease, aging and death.

That included lower rates of heart attacks and strokes and lower all-cause mortality. (That is, dying of anything.)


What is L’Ergothioneine

It’s an unusual derivative of the amino acid histidine. It’s mostly concentrated in mushrooms and other fungi, but there’s some in a few other foods. (The next best source is beans, but they have just one fortieth of the ergothioneine in mushrooms.)

What’s really interesting is that despite L’ergothioneine’s apparent importance to our health, our bodies cannot make it. We MUST consume it.

Our bodies want it. Although we don’t make it, we have transporter proteins that carry L-ergothioneine from our organs to every cell in our bodies.


That our systems are adapted to use L’ergothioneine even though we don’t make it, indicates our ancient ancestors ate so many mushrooms, they consumed so much L’ergothioneine our bodies came to simply take it for granted.

(Something similar happened with Vitamin C. Human beings are one of the few animal species that doesn’t make their own Vitamin C. Our ancient ancestors consumed so many plants, they had all the Vitamin C they needed. Making their own wasn’t necessary, so we lost that capacity.)


The transporter proteins are specifically for L’ergothioneine. They can carry other compounds, but they transport L’ergothioneine 100 times more efficiently. Plus, these transporters carry L’ergothioneine to all our cells and tissues. Therefore, it’s not specific to just one organ or one kind of cell.

It does concentrate in areas which suffer the most oxidative stress from free radicals: the lenses of your eyes, red blood cells, liver, seminal fluid, bone marrow and brain.

That’s because L’ergothioneine neutralizes oxidizing compounds. The areas where it’s most concentrated within you are precisely those parts of your body that most need protection from oxidizing free radicals.


L’Ergothioneine is a tremendous cytoprotectant – cell protector.

Not Just Your Outer Cells

L’ergothioneine goes deep, into the nuclei of your cells – even into the mitochondria. That makes it a potent mitochondrial antioxidant.

The mitochondria are usually called the powerhouses of your cells because they combine oxygen and blood sugar to generate the energy your cells require to stay alive and function. When your mitochondria go downhill, so does your energy level and, over time, your health. And your rate of aging speeds up.


Other Ways L’Ergothioneine Protects Us

1. It reduces the rate of telomere shortening.

Around 20 years ago, researchers discovered biological aging is closely connected to the lengths of our telomeres – the protective caps on the ends of our chromosomes.

Telomere length may be just a marker, but it’s highly associated with increased or decreased lifespan. Many scientists are studying ways to increase the lengths of our telomeres.

In one study with human cells, in just eight weeks L-ergothioneine signficantly reduced telomere shortening. When the researchers exposed the cells to increased stress, L’ergothioneine proved even more effective at maintaining telomere length.


2. It protects your brain from cognitive decline.

L’ergothioneine transporters take it to multiple regions of your brain. That includes those linked to memory and learning.

L’ergothioneine protects and preserves brain function by promoting the maturation of nerve cells and the formation of new neurons.

It also protects your brain by reducing oxidative stress, guarding your brain cells from injury and destruction.


In one study, researchers gave a group of adults a 5 mg extract of L’ergothioneine from mushrooms every day for twelve weeks. The control group consumed no L’ergothioneine.

Both groups consisted of people who were healthy and people with mild cognitive impairment.

Compared to the placebo group, the people who consumed the mushroom extract demonstrated significant improvements in sustained attention, verbal memory, working memory and other cognitive functions. 


A New Vitamin?

We can’t make L’ergothioneine ourselves. Yet, we need it. We’re adapted to use it. People with low levels of it suffer health problems.

That pretty much describes a vitamin.

Therefore, researchers at Johns Hopkins University say L’ergothioneine should be classified as a vitamin. (It’d be the first new one since Vitamin B12 was discovered in 1948.) 

Whether or not other scientists agree L’ergothioneine should be classified as a vitamin, it’s clearly a highly important yet underrated nutrient.


Where to Find L’Ergothioneine

You must consume it – through your mouth. 

The traditional method is to eat common white mushrooms every day or, at least, frequently. 

You can find both fresh and canned at your supermarket.

I suggest eating canned because the fresh ones contain a substance that may cause cancer. Cooking the mushroom destroys that compound. If you like, you can buy fresh white button mushrooms and boil them for five to ten minutes before eating.


Clearly, buying them canned is easier, simpler and more convenient. The harmful compound is destroyed in the canning process, so you know they’re safe, and don’t need additional cooking. Just open the can, and serve.

You can buy supplements, but, because L’ergothioneine has antioxidant properties, I advise caution. We know from studies of people taking Vitamin E and beta-carotene that antioxidant supplements can unpredictably disrupt your body’s natural protective mechanisms.