Mushrooms are delicious and versatile, and many of our favorite recipes call for everything from tender chanterelles to chopped creminis. But their flavor isn't the only reason why you should pack your diet with mushrooms: A study has discovered that a compound found in all mushrooms could be used to prevent cognitive decline as we age.
Degenerating mental health is often referred to as mild cognitive impairment, or MCI, by medical professionals. Those suffering from MCI are normally able to live independently, but they could have difficulty understanding routine tasks or processing everyday information. According to the Alzheimer's Association, more than six percent of those in their 60s experience MCI, whereas 37 percent of those over 85 are suffering this mild form of cognitive decline.
New research from the National University of Singapore, which was published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, pinpoints measures that could reduce those statistics. More than 600 seniors living in Singapore participated in a six-year study that measured how many mushrooms they consumed on a daily basis—these participants were divided into groups based on the varying amounts of fresh mushrooms they ate. The groups that consumed more than two servings of mushrooms per day were found to have 50 percent less cases of MCI than the seniors who ate less.
One serving was defined as three quarters of a cup of cooked mushrooms; researchers tested multiple varieties in the study, including shiitake, oyster, golden, and white button mushrooms. They came to the conclusion that any variety of mushroom would have produced similar results.
How did they measure mental health? Each participant was asked to complete an interview that included a common IQ test known as the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale. "The interview takes into account demographic information, medical history, psychological factors, and dietary habits," Feng Lei, the study's lead author, told ScienceDaily. "A nurse will measure blood pressure, weight, height, handgrip, and walking speed. They will also do a simple screen test on cognition, depression, anxiety."
Researchers pinpointed high concentrations of ergothioneine as the protective agent that boosts mental health—since ergothioneine is an antioxidant, the compound could also help reduce inflammation in the body. Furthermore, mushrooms contain high amounts of other compounds (erinacines, scabronines, and hericenones) that could prevent cognitive decline by aiding nerve growth in the brain and preventing production of beta amyloid, which has previously been linked to dementia.
Scientists are planning additional experiments to further test their findings. A new randomized controlled trial is now underway, where participants will be given pure ergothioneine along with other plant compounds to confirm mushrooms' holistic health boost.