SINGAPORE – If you add mushrooms to your meals more often, you can increase your thinking power. A new study shows that seniors who consume two servings of mushrooms a week are half as likely to have mild cognitive impairment (MCI).
MCI is considered a stage of cognitive decline not as severe as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, but patients are still struggling to some degree of memory, attention and other executive functions. No fewer than one in five elderly people fight against MCI, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
Researchers at the National University of Singapore (NUS) say that two servings of mushrooms are equal to about half a plate or 300 grams, but even enjoying one serving per week still offers benefits for the brain.
“This correlation is surprising and encouraging. It seems that a commonly available single ingredient can have a dramatic effect on cognitive decline,” said lead author Lei Feng, assistant professor of Psychological Medicine at NUS ‘Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, in a statement .
For the study, researchers conducted extensive health and cognition tests on 663 Chinese adults over 60 in Singapore. Participants participated in a standard neuropsychological examination, including an assessment for dementia, and were interviewed by the authors.
“The interview takes into account demographic information, medical history, psychological factors and dietary habits. A nurse measures blood pressure, weight, height, hand grip and walking speed. They will also do a simple screen test about cognition, depression, anxiety,” says Feng. “People with MCI are still able to perform their normal daily activities. So, what we had to determine in this study is whether these seniors had worse performance in standard neuropsychologist tests than other people of the same age and educational background.”
They found that participants who consumed at least two servings of mushrooms – including dry and canned mushrooms, as well as golden, oyster, shiitake, and white bud – were significantly less likely to develop MCI than participants who said they consumed less than one portion weekly.
“This association was independent of age, gender, education, smoking, alcohol use, hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, physical activity, and social activity,” the authors write.
The research team was interested in a certain substance found in mushrooms: ergothionein or ET. The researchers called it a “unique antioxidant and anti-inflammatory” substance that the body cannot produce on its own.
Other compounds in mushrooms – hericenones, erinacins, scabronins and dictyophorins – may promote the synthesis of nerve growth factors that researchers say. They also point to bioactive substances that could also protect the brain against neurodegeneration by slowing the production of beta amyloid, which can build up and cause cognitive degeneration and Alzheimer’s disease.