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You love them in salads and on pizzas, and did you know that mushrooms might also be an anti-aging superstar? A recent study by Penn State University suggests that mushrooms are packed with powerful polyphenols that could help slow certain signs of aging and provide several other health benefits. They say mushrooms are by far the best sources of the antioxidants ergothioneine and glutathione.

The findings were published in the November 2017 issue of Food Chemistry.

“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 lead researcher Robert Beelman.

Mushrooms Are A Superior Source

Mushrooms | Gundry MDThe researchers looked at 13 different species of mushrooms to determine their levels of ergothioneine and glutathione. Some species tested much lower than others. For example, white button mushrooms tested lower than wild porcini mushrooms (which tested highest). However, all species contained much higher levels of the polyphenols than other foods.

Does it matter if the mushrooms are eaten raw or cooked? No. Research showed cooking mushrooms doesn’t have any sort of negative effect on the amount of polyphenols they contain.

Why Antioxidants are Important

Antioxidants (including polyphenols) are the body’s chief defense against free radicals, or molecules produced through the process of oxidation. Free radicals are missing an electron, and scour the body looking for one. They will take an electron wherever they can find it – and this often means taking them from cells. And in some cases, this, in turn, can lead to significant, cellular level damage.

One of the problems free radicals can cause is the appearance of premature aging.

“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,” Beelman said.

“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…”

Mushrooms | Gundry MDMore research is needed in order to determine whether increased amounts of ergothioneine and glutathione could reduce the chances that someone will develop a neurodegenerative condition.

“It’s preliminary, but you can see that countries that have more ergothioneine in their diets, countries like France and Italy, also have lower incidences of neurodegenerative diseases, while people in countries like the United States, which has low amounts of ergothioneine in the diet, have a higher probability of diseases like Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s,” Beelman said. “Now, whether that’s just a correlation or causative, we don’t know. But, it’s something to look into.”

In addition to antioxidants, mushrooms are also a good source of riboflavin, or vitamin B2. Riboflavin plays a role in breaking down fats, carbohydrates, and proteins so the body can use them for energy.