Study: Mushrooms May Help Slow Mild Cognitive Decline

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Singapore—Researchers have found that seniors who consume more than two standard portions of mushrooms weekly may have 50% reduced odds of having mild cognitive impairment (MCI), according to an article in NUS News.

The researchers are a team from the Department of Psychological Medicine and Department of Biochemistry at the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine. Their study was conducted from 2011 to 2017, and collected data from more than 600 Chinese seniors over the age of 60 living in Singapore. The results were published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

MCI is the stage between the cognitive decline of normal aging and the more serious decline of dementia, the article says. It generally involves some form of memory loss, and may involve a decline in functions such as language, attention, and visuospatial abilities. That said, the article notes, these changes do not affect everyday life activities.

Assistant Professor Feng Lei, lead author of the study, said that interviews to determine a participant’s diagnosis were extensive and included a two-hour standard neuropsychological assessment. “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.”

The study referenced golden mushrooms, oyster, shiitake, white button, and dried and canned mushrooms, all commonly consumed in Singapore. The article says that they have a common compound that may be helpful. Dr. Irwin Cheah, senior research fellow from NUS Biochemistry, said in the article, “We’re very interested in a compound called ergothioneine (ET), a unique antioxidant and anti-inflammatory which humans are unable to synthesize on their own. But it can be obtained from dietary sources, such as mushrooms.”

An earlier study by the same team revealed that plasma levels of ET in participants with MCI were significantly lower than age-matched healthy individuals. That said, the article adds, other compounds contained in mushrooms may also help decrease the risk of cognitive decline: hericenones, erinacines, scabronines and dictyophorines may all be useful for the synthesis of nerve growth factors, for instance.

Assistant Professor Feng said, “This correlation is surprising and encouraging. It seems that a commonly available single ingredient could have a dramatic effect on cognitive decline.”

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