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I’ve been reading a lot about magic mushrooms lately, specifically how taking micro doses may help with mood and other mental health issues. But if you don’t want to dabble with the psychedelic kind, ordinary non-psychoactive mushrooms may still have a lot to offer.

Most recently, scientists from the National University of Singapore finished up a six-year study that found older people who eat more than 300g of cooked mushrooms (not the magic type) a week may be half as likely to experience mild cognitive impairment. That’s just two portions of mushrooms (or roughly half a plate) a week, people.

Mild cognitive impairment isn’t the same dementia, rather it’s when you have less severe problems with your mental abilities, such as memory or thinking. According to the UK’s Alzheimer’s Society, up to 20 per cent of people aged 65 and older have it. And while it’s not dementia as such, if you have mild cognitive impairment you’re more likely to go on to develop dementia than someone whose brain isn’t impaired. You could argue it’s a warning: change your lifestyle for the better if you want to reduce your chances of progressing to dementia. And perhaps one of those lifestyle changes could be eating more mushrooms.

Back to the study: 600 Chinese people over the age of 60 took part, providing information for the researchers to pour over. Published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, the study found those of the volunteers who ate mushrooms enjoyed several varieties, including golden mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms and white button mushrooms, as well as dried and canned types. Other mushrooms, the researchers note, are likely to have beneficial effects too.

So what is it about mushrooms that could make them so good for your brain?

A compound called ergothioneine (ET), apparently.

“ET is a unique antioxidant and anti-inflammatory which humans are unable to synthesise on their own. But it can be obtained from dietary sources, one of the main ones being mushrooms,” says Dr Irwin Cheah, Senior Research Fellow at the NUS Department of Biochemistry.

An earlier study by the same team also found that elderly people with mild cognitive impairment have significantly lower levels of ET in their blood than others of the same age without mild cognitive impairment, They said, at the time, they believed a deficiency in ET may lead to neurodegeneration, and that eating more mushrooms could be the answer.

Well perhaps they’re right The researchers are planning more studies, but as a mushroom fan I personally don’t need any more evidence to persuade me to eat my two portions a week.


Photo by Vince 6800 on Unsplash