Food for Thought

Eating Mushrooms Slows Mental Degeneration

A study from the National University of Singapore (NUS) shows that consuming mushrooms could decrease risk of mental decline.

The research, which had over 600 Singaporeans participants ages 60 and above, revealed people who ate more than two servings of mushrooms a week —about half a plate or 300 g.— were 57 percent less likely to have mild cognitive impairment than those who had less than one portion a week. The experiment was conducted between 2011 and 2017, as part of the wider Diet and Healthy Ageing research done in the island nation.

Senior Research Fellow at NUS’ Department of Biochemistry, Dr. Irwin Cheah, announced the findings last Tuesday, March 12. He explained that the result is due to the mushrooms containing high levels of ergothioneine, a compound that acts as an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory agent, and could also protect brain cells from damage.

Baked mushrooms.

In a different study in 2016, Dr. Cheah discovered that having deficiency of ergothioneine could be a risk factor for neurodegenerative diseases like Alzeihemer’s.

He says, “Humans cannot synthesise this compound, but it can be obtained from dietary sources.” Mushrooms, which are able to synthesise ergothioneine, were found to have very high levels of it.

People diagnosed with dementia or other serious mental conditions were excluded from the study.

Participants were asked to report their regular diets, including the intake of six types of mushrooms commonly eaten in Singapore: golden mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, white button mushrooms, dried mushrooms, and canned mushrooms.

Mushroom in pasta.

The scientists also controlled the intake of other food known to be correlated with cognitive function, such as vegetables, fruits, and nuts.

The subjects then underwent tests aimed to measure cognitive abilities like memory and how quickly they can process information. The scores were controlled for age and education levels.

Eel fish, mushroom, and lettuce.

Mild cognitive impairment is the intermediate stage between normal cognitive decline associated with ageing and dementia.

The principal investigator of the study, Assistant Professor Feng Lei from NUS’ Department of Psychological Medicine, shared, “With the increasing number of seniors, we can expect to see a potential dementia tsunami in the future. The good news is that cognitive decline can be managed.”

He stated that people with mild cognitive impairment can still perform most normal functions, and that the rate of decline can be slowed through dietary and other lifestyle interventions.

Feng also added that they plan to conduct a clinical trial on the potential benefits of pure ergothioneine alone or in combination with other nutrients derived from plants in delaying cognitive decline. If it is successful, the research could lead to the development of a supplement in future.

About the author


Leave a Comment