Mushrooms are used in various cuisines, and they are considered as nutrient-rich ingredients. Mushrooms contain large amounts of antioxidants that prevent cell damage caused by free radicals.
Unhealthy habits like smoking and even something as vital as breathing can cause the body to produce free radicals that attack healthy cells.
When healthy cells are damaged, the body becomes vulnerable to diseases and some types of cancer. Antioxidants (e.g., vitamins C and E and carotenoids) protect healthy cells from free radical damage.
Some mushrooms are edible, and despite being classified as fungi, they can be found in the vegetable section in grocery stores.
Both cultivated and wild species of edible mushrooms are rich in antioxidants, dietary fiber, and protein. Mushrooms also contain lots of vitamins and minerals.
An individual with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) may have symptoms characteristic of Alzheimer's disease, like poor memory. However, these symptoms usually manifest in subtle ways that don't significantly affect quality of life.
Scientists from the National University of Singapore (NUS) hypothesized that consuming nutritious mushrooms may help preserve cognitive function in late adulthood and prevent MCI. (Related: Which mushrooms have the most brain-boosting benefits?)
To test their hypothesis, they investigated the effect of consuming mushrooms commonly used in Singaporean dishes on the risk of developing MCI. These mushrooms include:
The researchers gauged the association between eating mushrooms and the risk of MCI by measuring the volunteers' cognitive abilities. Since MCI symptoms are subtle, the researchers tried to determine if people with MCI will perform poorly on standard neuropsychological tests compared with healthy people of the same age and educational background. They used certain tests based on the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, a commonly used IQ test battery.
The researchers also conducted interviews and asked volunteers to take tests that gauged aspects of their physical and psychological functioning. The interviews, according to first author Lei Feng, took into account things like demographic information, diet, medical history, and psychological factors.
The results showed that consuming more than two portions of cooked mushrooms per week lowers the risk of MCI by 50 percent. Feng commented that the study findings are very promising, especially since they imply that mushrooms, which are widely available foods, can significantly reduce the risk of MCI.
It is worth noting that while this is a correlative observation, there could be a causal relationship involved in the findings.
Dr. Irwin Cheah, co-author of the study, said that they will be looking into ergothioneine (ET) next. ET is a unique antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound that the human body can't produce naturally. ET can also be obtained from mushrooms.
According to an earlier study published in the journal Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications, ET can directly affect the risk of cognitive decline. Individuals with MCI also have lower levels of ET in their blood than healthy people of the same age.
The researchers believe that, aside from ET, mushrooms also contain other substances, such as dictyophorines, erinacines, hericenones, and scabronines, whose exact roles in brain health remain unknown.
Some experts suggest that these compounds may help inhibit the production of beta-amyloid and phosphorylated tau. The over-accumulation of these two toxic proteins in the brain is linked to the development of Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia.
The researchers plan on conducting randomized controlled trials in the future to determine the effects of ET and other plant-derived compounds on brain health. Further studies can help elucidate the possible roles of these compounds and their effect on cognitive decline.
In the meantime, follow a healthy diet and consume mushrooms regularly if you want to boost your brain health.