Eat mushrooms at least twice a week to slow cognitive decline, study suggests

SINGAPORE — Adding mushrooms to your meals more frequently may help sharpen your brainpower. A new study finds that seniors who consume two portions of mushrooms per week are half as likely to develop mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

MCI is considered a stage of cognitive decline not as serious as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, but sufferers still find themselves struggling to a degree with memory, attention, and other executive functions. As many as one in five seniors battle MCI, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) say that two portions of mushrooms is equal to about a half a plate or 300 grams, though even enjoying one portion a week still provides brain benefits.

“This correlation is surprising and encouraging. It seems that a commonly available single ingredient could have a dramatic effect on cognitive decline,” says lead author Lei Feng, assistant professor of Psychological Medicine in NUS’ Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, in a statement.

For the study, researchers conducted comprehensive health and cognition tests on 663 Chinese adults over the age of 60 in Singapore. Participants took part in a standard neuropsychological assessment, including a rating for dementia, and were interviewed by the authors.

“The interview takes into account demographic information, medical history, psychological factors, and dietary habits. A nurse will measure blood pressure, weight, height, handgrip, and walking speed. They will also do a simple screen test on cognition, depression, anxiety,” says Feng. “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 seniors had poorer performance on standard neuropsychologist tests than other people of the same age and education background.”

They found that participants who consumed at least two portions of mushrooms — which included dry and canned mushrooms, as well as golden, oyster, shiitake and white button — per week were significantly less likely to develop MCI compared to participants who said they consumed less than one portion in a week.

“This association was independent of age, gender, education, cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption, hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, physical activities, and social activities,” the authors write.

A particular compound found in mushrooms interested the research team: ergothioneine, or ET. The researchers called it a “unique antioxidant and anti-inflammatory” substance that the body can’t produce on its own.

Other compounds in mushrooms — hericenones, erinacines, scabronines and dictyophorines — may promote the synthesis of nerve growth factors researchers say. They also point to bioactive compounds which could also protect the brain from neurodegeneration by slowing the production of beta amyloid, which can build up and cause cognitive degeneration and Alzheimer’s disease.

The study was published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

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