“There is an exponential increase in dementia in old age at a global level…” That was the headline of an abstract of a study published in 2017 in the Journal of Medicinal Food. This study, along with a number of other studies, have looked at functional foods that can be eaten to improve brain health and attempt to prevent dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases. This is the link to that study Edible and Medicinal Mushrooms: Emerging Brain Food for the Mitigation of Neurodegenerative Diseases
What is a Medicinal Mushroom?
Mushrooms are the fruiting body of a fungus. Fungi are a unique class of organism in their own botanical kingdom. Mushrooms have been studies for thousands of years for their unique compounds that contribute to human health. Current estimates suggest that there are approximately 700 species of mushrooms with medicinal properties. The most well studied types of mushrooms in the scientific literature include:
- Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)
- Shiitake (Lentinus edodes)
- Chaga (Inonotus obliquus)
- Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus)
- Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor)
- Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis)
The Case for Cognitive Health
New research suggests that people who eat mushrooms on a regular basis, even in small amounts, appear to have a lower risk of mild cognitive impairment. This is notable, because mild cognitive impairment (MCI) often precedes Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists at the National University of Singapore conducted a study that was published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, that suggests that the mushrooms common in Singaporean cuisine may reduce the risk of MCI. This study went on for 6 years, and included 663 participants greater than 60 years old.
The mushrooms that were studies were the ones mostly commonly consumed in Singapore:
- golden mushrooms
- oyster mushrooms
- shiitake mushrooms
- white button mushrooms
- dried mushrooms
- canned button mushrooms
The serving size was defined as three-quarters of a cup of cooked mushrooms.
The study examined and tested cognitive abilities. Study author Lei Feng, Assistant Professor at NUS said “People with MCI are still able to carry out their normal daily activities. So, what we had to determine in this study is whether these [people] had poorer performance on standard neuropsychologist tests than other people of the same age and education background.
Neuropsychological tests are specifically designed tasks that can measure various aspects of a person’s cognitive abilities. In fact, some of the tests we used in this study are adopted from commonly used IQ test battery, the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale.”
The conclusion by the researchers revealed that eating more than two portions of cooked mushrooms per week could lead to a 50% lower risk of MCI. Lei Feng remarked “this correlation is surprising and encouraging. It seems that a commonly available single ingredient could have a dramatic effect on cognitive decline.”
In another study published in the International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms, the researchers reviewed recent literature on the role of culinary and medicinal mushrooms in the management of neurodegenerative diseases. This study looked at molecular mechanisms of certain mushrooms, from the perspective of their ability to provide neuroprotective benefits. The link to the study is here An Overview of Culinary and Medicinal Mushrooms in Neurodegeneration and Neurotrauma Research
Clearly, medicinal mushrooms have a role to play in human health. The most popular mushrooms today include cordyceps, lion’s mane, chaga, and reishi. All are marketed for immune support and brain-related benefits. Lion’s mane, in particular, is said to improve memory, cognitive function, and mood.
If possible, I strongly recommend consuming at least a couple portions of different types of mushrooms weekly. If you don’t care for mushrooms, look for an extract or a supplement, such as mushroom coffee. These new coffees are actually quite good and have all of the benefits of cooked mushrooms.