Mushrooms may reduce risk of memory problems

A study at the National University of Singapore (NUS) has shown that eating mushrooms several times a week can help prevent cognitive decline in people over 60.

Researchers at the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine have found that consuming at least two portions of mushrooms a week can reduce in 50% the risk of developing mild cognitive impairment (MCI) in men and women over 60, a condition that can lead to Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. The study was published on March 12, 2019, on the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

The study analysed the lifestyle of 633 chinese seniors living in Singapore, between 2011 and 2017, and the team interviewed and run several tests on the individuals, in order to establish a solid diagnosis. “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”, said Assistant Professor Feng Lei, lead author of the study.

Combining all the elements in analysis, the researchers concluded that seniors who consumed less than two portions of mushrooms a week were more likely to suffer from a more serious cognitive decline than the normal with the aging compared to those who consumed more portions a week. For reference, a portion was defined by the authors as the equivalent to 150g of cooked mushrooms, so two portions should fill up approximately half the plate. Although this can act as a guideline, it was proven that even one small portion can reduce the chances of MCI.

Ass. Prof. Feng Lei and Dr. Irwin Cheah believe that including mushrooms as part of a healthy lifestyle can help reduce cognitive decline in the elderly.

The researchers believe that this correlation might be associated with an amino acid founded in almost all six studied varieties. “We’re very interested in a compound called ergothioneine (ET),” said Dr Irwin Cheah, Senior Research Fellow. “ET is a unique antioxidant and anti-inflammatory which humans are unable to synthesise on their own. But it can be obtained from dietary sources, one of the main ones being mushrooms.” In fact food scientists at Penn State found in their 2005 study “that mushrooms are a better natural source of the antioxidant ergothioneine than either of the two dietary sources previously believed to be best.” Concluding they were twelve times more than wheat germ and four times more than chicken liver.

Based on these conclusions and previous studies such as the 2016 study (behind paywall) “Ergothioneine levels in an elderly population decrease with age and incidence of cognitive decline; a risk factor for neurodegeneration?” by Cheah, Feng, Tanga, Lim, and Halliwella, the authors believe that mushroom consumption may help prevent cognitive decline and neurodegeneration later in life.

For more information on the paper, the press release can be found here, with link to the full study (behind paywall).

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