UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Mushrooms contain unusually high amounts of two antioxidants that some scientists suggest could help fight aging and bolster health, according to a team of Penn State researchers.
In a study, researchers found that mushrooms have high amounts of ergothioneine and glutathione, both important antioxidants, said Robert Beelman, professor emeritus of food science and director of the Penn State Center for Plant and Mushroom Products for Health. He added that the researchers also found that the amounts of the two compounds varied greatly between mushroom species.
"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," said Beelman.
Beelman said that when the body uses food to produce energy, it also causes oxidative stress because some free radicals are produced. Free radicals are oxygen atoms with unpaired electrons that cause damage to cells, proteins and even DNA as these highly reactive atoms travel through the body seeking to pair up with other electrons.
Replenishing antioxidants in the body, then, may help protect against this oxidative stress.
"There's a theory — the free radical theory of aging — 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 aging, like cancer, coronary heart disease and Alzheimer's."