Researchers may have found a formula for fighting the onset of old age in certain pieces of fungi.

A team of scientists at Penn State discovered that mushrooms contain high amounts of ergothioneine and glutathione, which are both important antioxidants that could have a connection to fighting age-related diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

About 13 different species of mushroom were tested. Porcini, a wild species popular in Italy, contained the highest amount of the two compounds.

More common mushroom types like the white button had a lower amount of the antioxidants but higher amounts compared to most other foods, according to the study.

Other notable aspects of this study included a correlation between the amounts of ergothioneine and glutathione and that the compounds remained stable when exposed to heat so cooking wouldn’t eliminate the benefits.

“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 Robert Beelman, lead study author and professor emeritus of food science and director of the Penn State Center for Plant and Mushroom Products for Health. “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.”

Future research could look at any role that these compounds could play in lowering the likelihood of those neurodegenerative diseases.

“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,” elaborated Beelman. “Now, whether that’s just a correlation or causative, we don’t know. But, it’s something to look into, especially because the difference between the countries with low rates of neurodegenerative diseases is about 3 milligrams per day, which is about five button mushrooms each day.”

Findings from this study were published in the journal Food Chemistry.