New research suggests that certain edible and medicinal mushrooms contain compounds that may promote nerve growth in the brain and protect against “neurotoxic stimuli such as inflammation” that contribute to neurodegenerative diseases, such as dementia.
The study looked at the “bioactive compounds” in mushrooms and their neuroprotective and cognitive benefits. Researchers reviewed scientific evidence and discovered that “they may fulfil a preventive function against the development of Alzheimer’s disease” and that “mushrooms contain diverse yet exclusive bioactive compounds that are not found in plants.”
The team of scientists – from the University of Malaysia – said experiments on rodents and humans show that a “number of edible mushrooms” contain rare compounds, which could benefit the brain. They found that 11 types of mushroom increased production of nerve growth factor (NGF) – a molecule involved in regulating growth, maintenance, increase and survival of certain nerve cells in the brain. Other mushrooms were found to have specific health benefits, including the “lion’s mane mushroom”, which was found to possibly improve mild cognitive impairment and the Reishi mushroom.
There are obvious limitations to the study and further research is needed before any conclusions can be drawn.
Professor Vikineswary Sabaratnam, of Malaya University in Kuala Lumpur, said:
“Regular consumption of the mushrooms may reduce or delay development of age-related neuro-degeneration… However, extensive animal and human clinical trials are warranted, which may then lead to designing functional food or novel therapeutic drugs to prevent or mitigate the effects of neuro-degenerative diseases.”
Journal of Medicinal Food Editor-in-Chief Sampath Parthasarathy said:
“In contrast to the body of literature on food ingredients that may benefit cardiometabolic diseases and cancer, very few studies have focused on food that may benefit neurodegenerative diseases… The current study might stimulate the identification of more food materials that are neuroprotective.”
We spoke to Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research and Development at Alzheimer’s Society to get his thoughts:
“This research summarised a number of studies looking at the effects of certain compounds found in mushrooms. The researchers reported these compounds have effects in the brain that could possibly be beneficial for people with diseases such as Alzheimer’s. However, almost all of the studies were carried out in mice and none of them involved people with dementia.”
“The evidence here is too weak to suggest mushrooms could reduce the risk of dementia or benefit people who already have the condition. The best evidence suggests eating a Mediterranean-style diet, taking regular exercise, and not smoking can reduce your risk of dementia.”
According to Alzheimer’s Research UK, there is currently no way we can completely prevent dementia. However, there may be some simple things we can all do that might help lower our risk.
Risk factors for cardiovascular disease (like heart disease and stroke) are also risk factors for dementia. Leading a healthy lifestyle and taking regular exercise will help lower your risk of cardiovascular diseases, and it’s likely you could be lowering your risk of dementia too, particularly vascular dementia. For good heart health, the charity suggests:
• Not smoking
• Staying active and undertaking regular exercise
• Maintaining a healthy weight
• Eating a healthy balanced diet
• Minimise alcohol intake
• Keep cholesterol and blood pressure at a healthy level
They also add that studies suggest it may be particularly important to maintain a healthy lifestyle in your forties and fifties to help lower your risk of dementia.
The mushroom research was published in the Journal of Medicinal Food 2017.
Read More: 15 Brain Foods That Boost Focus and Memory