Mushrooms may contain unusually high amounts of antioxidants which could help fight ageing and bolster health, a study claims.
Researchers found that mushrooms have high amounts of the ergothioneine and glutathione, both important antioxidants, the amounts which vary greatly between mushroom species.
"What we found is that, without a doubt, mushrooms are highest dietary source of these two antioxidants taken together, and that some types are really packed with both of them," said Robert Beelman, professor at Pennsylvania State University in the US.
He 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.
"When we oxidise our food to produce energy there is 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," he said.
The study published in the journal Food Chemistry, found that the amounts of ergothioneine and glutathione in mushrooms vary by species with the porcini species, a wild variety, containing the highest amount of the two compounds among the 13 species tested.
"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," said Beelman.
The more common mushroom types, like the white button, had less of the antioxidants, but had higher amounts than most other foods, he said.
The amount of ergothioneine and glutathione also appear to be correlated in mushrooms. Varieties that are high in glutathione are also high in ergothioneine, for example.
Cooking mushrooms does not seem to significantly affect the compounds, Beelman said.
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