The more mushrooms people ate, the better they performed in tests of thinking and processing. The University study’s findings were based on 663 Chinese adults, aged over 60, whose diet and lifestyle were tracked over a six-year period from 2011 to 2017.
This study is published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
In response to the study, Meadow Mushrooms CEO John Barnes expressed the company’s appreciation that the health benefits of mushrooms are gaining meaningful evidence and recognition.
“We know a diet rich in colourful fruit and vegetables is good for us, but the superfood status of mushrooms is still shrouded in secrecy. We’re taking a lot of heart from this research.
“Mushrooms are in fact New Zealand’s fourth most popular vegetable so it’s good to know so many of us are eating something that not only tastes delicious but delivers positive health benefits,” he said.
Over the course of the study, researchers found that eating mushrooms lowered the chances of mild cognitive impairment which can occur in people over the age of 60. Mild cognitive impairment is a mild form of dementia, found in approximately 6% of people in their 60s.
Mild cognitive impairment often turns into a more serious case of dementia as time goes on.
The participants in the study were asked how often they ate six different types of mushrooms: oyster, shiitake, white button, dried, golden and tinned. Approximately nine out of 100 people who ate more than two portions a week were diagnosed with Mild cognitive impairment, compared with 19 out of 100 among those who ate fewer than one portion.
This research points to the fact that mushrooms are one of the richest dietary sources of ergothioneine in our diets – an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory which humans are unable to make on their own. It is this unique antioxidant present in mushrooms that may have a protective effect on the brain, the study found.
Researchers did mention that it is not possible to prove a direct link between the popular fungi and brain function, but emphasised the importance of ergothioneine, and maintained that it can be obtained from dietary sources, one of the main ones being mushrooms.
Mushrooms also contain other important nutrients and minerals such as vitamin D, selenium and spermidine, which protect neurons from damage.