Make Room for Mushrooms: Eating More Could Help Reduce Cognitive Decline Later in Life

March 25, 2019 Updated: March 25, 2019

Love them or hate them (and they can be divisive!), mushrooms are incredibly good for you. But according to a study by the National University of Singapore (NUS), mushrooms have a particular superpower when it comes to human neurological functioning. Seniors who eat more than two portions of mushrooms per week—that’s roughly half a plateful—may reduce their chances of suffering mild cognitive impairment by a staggering 50 percent.

Illustration – Shutterstock | Africa Studio

Mild cognitive impairment, or MCI, was outlined by the NUS study as “the stage between the cognitive decline of normal ageing and the more serious decline of dementia.” Symptoms include memory loss or forgetfulness, language deficiencies, issues with attention span, and compromised visuospatial abilities.

As reported by Business Insider, Dr. Irwin Cheah, senior research fellow from NUS Biochemistry, has attributed an amino acid named ergothioneine, present in almost all mushroom varieties, with the ability to preserve cognitive function in senior subjects. “ET (ergothioneine) is a unique antioxidant and anti-inflammatory,” he began, “which humans are unable to synthesize on their own.”

Illustration – Shutterstock | science photo

Dr. Cheah went on to explain that mushrooms are one of the main, most accessible, and most nutritious dietary sources of ET available to people. Other sources include black beans, kidney beans, and oat bran. The NUS study used six common mushroom varieties: golden, oyster, shiitake, and white button mushrooms, as well as dried and canned mushrooms, which are just as nutritionally valuable as their fresh-from-the-ground counterparts.

The comprehensive study lasted six years and was conducted between 2011 and 2017. The results were published online in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease on Wednesday, March 13, 2019.

A mushroom a day keeps the doctor away! 👨‍⚕👌🍄 #NUSResearch #NUSCaresA six-year study conducted by a team of…

National University of Singapore 发布于 2019年3月12日周二

As for its subjects, the study employed the help of 600 Chinese seniors over the age of 60, living in Singapore. Subjects took part in preliminary interviews covering demographic information, medical history, psychological factors, and dietary habits. “People with MCI are still able to carry out their normal daily activities,” explained lead author of the study, Assistant Professor Feng Lei. “So, what we had to determine in this study is whether these seniors had poorer performances on standard neuropsychologist tests than other people of the same age and education background.”

Testing was conducted to ascertain blood pressure, weight, height, handgrip, and walking speed. Subjects were also led through a simple screen test measuring cognition and monitoring for signs of depression and anxiety.

All subjects were also given a “dementia rating.”

Illustration – Shutterstock | BRAIN2HANDS

Assistant Prof. Feng shared his team’s enthusiasm for the findings of their research into mushroom consumption with NUS News. “This correlation is surprising and encouraging,” he said. “It seems that a commonly available single ingredient could have a dramatic effect on cognitive decline.”

Dr. Cheah has been involved in research into the impact of the ergothioneine compound for some time, and in previous research, he identified that an ergothioneine deficiency could contribute to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Additionally, Dr. Cheah found that other compounds within mushrooms could not only guard against declining brain function but could actually promote the synthesis of nerve-growth factors: namely, the fungi-specific compounds hericenone, erinacine, scabronine and dictyophorine.

Illustration – Shutterstock | Karl Allgaeuer

Assistant Prof. Feng’s team are keen to pursue further research, and may focus upon a randomized, controlled trial using pure ergothioneine and other plant-based ingredients next. The team, collectively, also hopes to be able to reveal additional dietary factors that could contribute to healthier brain function in older age.

In the meantime, double those portions. It’s worth it in the long run.


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