Antioxidant in mushrooms may relieve features of ‘pregnancy hypertension’

Monday 17 Feb 20
by Anne Lykke, Anders Mønsted


Douglas Kell
Associated Scientific Director
DTU Biosustain


Irina Borodina
DTU Biosustain
+45 45 25 80 20

A new study in rats suggests that the natural antioxidant L-ergothioneine could alleviate the characteristics of pre-eclampsia. Researchers at DTU Biosustain work to produce L-ergothioneine biologically.

Pregnancy hypertension, or Pre-eclampsia, is a complex disorder of pregnancy. Treatment of elevated blood pressure can manage the condition in the mother, but in severe cases delivery is needed, which can present a major problem to the baby if it is born prematurely.

Now, research from the Department of Pharmacology & Therapeutics at University College Cork (UCC), the INFANT Centre at UCC and the University of Liverpool as well as The Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Biosustainability (DTU Biosustain) at Technical University of Denmark have shown in a rat model that a natural diet‐derived antioxidant L-ergothioneine can relieve some of the clinical symptoms of Pre-eclampsia. The hope is that the same will be in evidence in humans. 

“Our research shows that treating rats with pre-eclampsia with the natural antioxidant L-ergothioneine reduced blood pressure, prevented fetal growth restriction and dampened production of the damaging substances released from the placenta during pre-eclampsia,” says Dr. Cathal McCarthy, leader of this research in a press release from the INFANT Centre at UCC.

Production in yeast cells

In order to be able to make enough L-ergothioneine to eventually treat patients, the scientists are looking into ways of producing this compound efficiently in high amounts using yeast cell factories. Ergothioneine can be found in a wide variety of foods, but in particular in mushrooms, where amounts are relatively high compared to other foods.

“Today, ergothioneine is either made chemically or extracted from mushrooms, but at DTU Biosustain we are developing a method to make it biologically. This should lead to its much wider availability at competitive prices," says Douglas Kell, Associated Scientific Director at DTU Biosustain and Research Chair in Systems Biology Department of Biochemistry, University of Liverpool. At DTU Biosustain, Douglas Kell and his team work closely together with the group of Senior Researcher Irina Borodina to produce L-ergothioneine biologically using advanced genomic engineering.

Much evidence exists for L-ergothioneine’s benefits in a variety of neurological and vascular disorders as well. Thus, L-ergothioneine appears to be a safe, natural diet‐derived antioxidant whose therapeutic potential looks promising but remains to be validated in human clinical trials. 

Want to know more about L-ergothioneine and its possible pharmaceutical uses?

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  • L-ergothioneine is a natural antioxidant found in many mushrooms, in particular in for instance Porcini (Boletus edulis) and Oyster mushrooms. This antioxidant has been proposed as useful in treating diseases such as acute respiratory distress syndrome, cardiovascular diseases, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and certain leukemias.
  • The evidence for this comes from a variety of research and studies, including measurements of the metabolism in humans and so-called intervention studies in both animals and cell lines. Intervention studies are designed to test the efficacy of specific treatments or preventive measures by assigning individual subjects to one treatment or prevention option. In particular, there is a notable positive relationship between L-ergothioneine consumption and longevity for most of the studies.
  • Furthermore, mushrooms have been shown to have very substantial effects on cognitive function. This is mainly ascribed to their L-ergothioneine content. Studies also show that L-ergothioneine content in the blood decreases with age, indicating that this compound is essential in maintaining youthfulness in the body.
  • These studies in both humans and rodents showed that consuming 1,5 mushroom servings per week was associated with a halving of the incidence of mild cognitive impairment (a precursor of Alzheimer’s dementia), while intake of nine servings per week was associated with a five-fold decrease. However, at least one mushroom trial indicated no measurable benefits in humans (healthy young students). Brain and blood L-ergothioneine levels are also markedly different in Parkinson’s disease, indicating that L-ergothioneine protects the brain.

Hypertension (2020), L-(+)-Ergothioneine Significantly Improves the Clinical Characteristics of Preeclampsia in the Reduced Uterine Perfusion Pressure Rat Model. Williamson RD, McCarthy FP, Manna S, Groarke E, Kell DB,Kenny LC, McCarthy CM. Hypertension, 2020 Feb;75(2):561-568. doi: 10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.119.13929.

Nutrition Research Reviews (2020), The biology of ergothioneine, an antioxidant nutraceutical. Borodina I, Kenny LC, McCarthy CM, Paramasivan K, Pretorius R,Roberts TJ, van der Hoek SA, Kell DB. Nutrition Research Reviews, 2020 doi:10.1017/S0954422419000301

For further information about the clinical research, please contact Dr.Cathal McCarthy, email

For further information about the biological production, please contact Douglas Kell, email, or Irina Borodina, email:

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