Study: Eating Mushrooms Protect Brain Health

Maria Cohut wrote . . . . . . . . .

Researchers at the National University of Singapore (NUS) near Clementi hypothesized that eating mushrooms could help preserve cognitive function in late adulthood. So, they conducted a new study to see whether they could find any evidence in this respect.

Their findings — which now appear in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease — suggest that the mushrooms common in Singaporean cuisine may help reduce the risk of mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

The study lasted 6 years, from 2011 to 2017, and it included 663 participants aged 60 and older at baseline. The researchers recruited them through the Diet and Healthy Aging project.

The investigators focused on the consumption of some of the most common mushrooms that people in Singapore eat:

  • golden mushrooms
  • oyster mushrooms
  • shiitake mushrooms
  • white button mushrooms
  • dried mushrooms
  • canned button mushrooms

The team defined mushroom portion sizes as three-quarters of a cup of cooked mushrooms per portion, weighing about 150 grams, on average.

To gauge the association between eating mushrooms and MCI risk, the researchers also measured the participants’ cognitive abilities.

According to first study author Lei Feng, who is an assistant professor at NUS: “People with MCI are still able to carry out their normal daily activities. So, what we had to determine in this study is whether these [people] had poorer performance on standard neuropsychologist tests than other people of the same age and education background.”

“Neuropsychological tests are specifically designed tasks that can measure various aspects of a person’s cognitive abilities. In fact, some of the tests we used in this study are adopted from commonly used IQ test battery, the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale,” he adds.

The team also conducted targeted interviews and asked the participants to undergo a series of tests measuring aspects of physical and psychological functioning. “The interview,” Feng states, “takes into account demographic information, medical history, psychological factors, and dietary habits.”

Then, he continues, “A nurse will measure blood pressure, weight, height, handgrip, and walking speed.” Participants “also do a simple screen test on cognition, depression, anxiety.”

Finally, the team conducted 2-hour assessments of each person’s neuropsychological health and rated them on a dementia symptom scale.

‘A dramatic effect on cognitive decline?’

The researchers’ analysis revealed that eating more than two portions of cooked mushrooms per week could lead to a 50 percent lower risk of MCI. Feng says that “[t]his correlation is surprising and encouraging.”

“It seems that a commonly available single ingredient could have a dramatic effect on cognitive decline.” – Lei Feng

This is only a correlative observation, but the team believes that there may be a causal relationship involved.

Study co-author Dr. Irwin Cheah notes that the scientists are “very interested in a compound called ergothioneine (ET), […] a unique antioxidant and anti-inflammatory which humans are unable to synthesize on their own.”

However, “it can be obtained from dietary sources, one of the main ones being mushrooms.” The idea that ET may have a direct effect on the risk of cognitive decline, Dr. Cheah explains, came from a previous study that appeared in the journal Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications.

That research found that people with MCI had lower blood levels of the compound than healthy peers of the same age. Also, the researchers note, mushrooms contain many other substances whose exact role in brain health is not yet clear.

These include hericenones, erinacines, scabronines, and dictyophorines — a series of compounds that could contribute to the growth of neurons (brain cells).

Substances derived from edible mushrooms could also inhibit the production of beta-amyloid and phosphorylated tau, two toxic proteins whose overaccumulation in the brain coincides with the development of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

In the future, the researchers would like to conduct randomized controlled trial testing the effect of ET and other plant-derived compounds on brain health — specifically verifying their protective role against cognitive decline.

Source: Medical News Today

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How the Lowly Mushroom is Becoming a Nutritional Star

Robert Beelman wrote . . . . . . . .

Mushrooms are often considered only for their culinary use because they are packed with flavor-enhancers and have gourmet appeal. That is probably why they are the second most popular pizza topping, next to pepperoni.

In the past, food scientists like me often praised mushrooms as healthy because of what they don’t contribute to the diet; they contain no cholesterol and gluten and are low in fat, sugars, sodium and calories. But that was selling mushrooms short. They are very healthy foods and could have medicinal properties, because they are good sources of protein, B-vitamins, fiber, immune-enhancing sugars found in the cell walls called beta-glucans, and other bioactive compounds.

Mushrooms have been used as food and sometimes as medicine for centuries. In the past, most of the medicinal use of mushrooms was in Asian cultures, while most Americans have been skeptical of this concept. However, due to changing consumer attitudes rejecting the pharmaceutical approach as the only answer to healing, that seems to be changing.

I study the nutritional value of fungi and mushrooms, and my laboratory has conducted a great deal of research on the lowly mushroom. We have discovered that mushrooms may be even better for health than previously known. They can be excellent sources of four key dietary micronutrients that are all known to be important to healthy aging. We are even looking into whether some of these could be important in preventing Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

Four key nutrients

Important nutrients in mushrooms include selenium, vitamin D, glutathione and ergothioneine. All are known to function as antioxidants that can mitigate oxidative stress and all are known to decline during aging. Oxidative stress is considered the main culprit in causing the diseases of aging such as cancer, heart disease and dementia.

Ergothioneine, or ergo, is actually an antioxidant amino acid that was initially discovered in 1909 in ergot fungi. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins.

Ergo is produced in nature primarily by fungi, including mushrooms. Humans cannot make it, so it must be obtained from dietary sources. There was little scientific interest in ergo until 2005, when pharmacology professor Dirk Grundemann discovered that all mammals make a genetically coded transporter that rapidly pulls ergo into the red blood cells. They then distribute ergo around the body, where it accumulates in tissues that are under the most oxidative stress. That discovery led to a significant increase in scientific inquiry about possible role of ergo in human health. One study led to a leading American scientist, Dr. Solomon Snyder, recommending that ergo be considered as a new vitamin.

In 2006, a graduate student of mine, Joy Dubost, and I discovered that edible cultivated mushrooms were extremely rich sources of ergo and contained at least 10 times the level in any other food source. Through collaboration with John Ritchie and post-doctoral scientist Michael Kalaras at the Hershey Medical Center at Penn State, we showed that mushrooms are also a leading dietary source of the master antioxidant in all living organisms, glutathione. No other food even comes close to mushrooms as a source of both of these antioxidants.

Our current research is centered on evaluating the potential of ergo in mushrooms to prevent or treat neurodegenerative diseases of aging, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. We based this focus on several intriguing studies conducted with aging Asian populations. One study conducted in Singapore showed that as people aged the ergo content in their blood declined significantly, which correlated with increasing cognitive impairment.

The authors suggested that a dietary deficiency of ergo might predispose individuals to neurological diseases. A recent epidemiological study conducted with over 13,000 elderly people in Japan showed that those who ate more mushrooms had less incidence of dementia. The role of ergo consumed with the mushrooms was not evaluated but the Japanese are known to be avid consumers of mushrooms that contain high amounts of ergo.

More ergo, better health?

One important question that has always begged an answer is how much ergo is consumed in the diet by humans. A 2016 study was conducted that attempted to estimate the average ergo consumption in five different countries. I used their data to calculate the estimated amount of ergo consumed per day by an average 150-pound person and found that it ranged from 1.1 in the U.S. to 4.6 milligrams per day in Italy.

We were then able to compare estimated ergo consumption against mortality rate data from each country caused by the common neurological diseases, including Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis. We found, in each case, a decline in the death rates with increasing estimated ergo consumption. Of course, one cannot assume a cause and effect relationship from such an exercise, but it does support our hypothesis that it may be possible to decrease the incidence of neurological diseases by increasing mushroom consumption.

If you don’t eat mushrooms, how do you get your ergo? Apparently, ergo gets into the food chain other than by mushroom consumption via fungi in the soil. The fungi pass ergo on to plants grown in the soil and then on to animals that consume the plants. So that depends on healthy fungal populations in agricultural soils.

This led us to consider whether ergo levels in the American diet may be harmed by modern agricultural practices that might reduce fungal populations in soils. We began a collaboration with scientists at the Rodale Institute, who are leaders in the study of regenerative organic agricultural methods, to examine this. Preliminary experiments with oats have shown that farming practices that do not require tilling resulted in significantly higher ergo levels in the oats than with conventional practices, where tillage of the soil disrupts fungal populations.

In 1928 Alexander Fleming accidentally discovered penicillin produced from a fungal contaminant in a petri dish. This discovery was pivotal to the start of a revolution in medicine that saved countless lives from bacterial infections. Perhaps fungi will be key to a more subtle, but no less important, revolution through ergo produced by mushrooms. Perhaps then we can fulfill the admonition of Hippocrates to “let food be thy medicine.”

Source: The Conversation

American Fast-food Restaurants Sonic Drive-In Add Blended Beef-mushroom Burgers to Their Menu

Dan Charles wrote . . . . . .

It’s a long way, metaphorically speaking, from the campus of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., to the Sonic Drive-In burger joints that line America’s highways and small towns, particularly in the South.

Come Monday, though, two new items on Sonic’s menu will make that leap. They’re blended beef-mushroom burgers, a food that the institute has boosted through its “menus of change” initiative. According to the institute, this is the kind of menu change that’s “a powerful, and previously underappreciated, way to drive improvements in our health and our planet.”

The idea is that mixing chopped mushrooms into our burgers boosts the umami taste, adds more moisture and reduces the amount of beef required for a burger. And reducing the need for beef has a big impact on the environment. According to the World Resources Institute, if 30 percent of the beef in every burger in America were replaced by mushrooms, it would reduce greenhouse emissions by the same amount as taking 2.3 million vehicles off of our roads.

Sonic, though, isn’t stressing the saving-the-planet angle. In a press release, the company’s vice president of product innovation and development, Scott Uehlein, said that its new blended cheeseburgers, which contain 25 percent mushrooms, will “deliver the juicy savory deliciousness you expect from a burger in a way that makes you feel like you’re getting away with something.”

The company promises that people eating the burger will get all this flavor but “none of the guilt” but does not reveal whether the guilt reduction will come from cutting calories or greenhouse gas emissions.

Richard Waite, from the World Resources Institute, is thrilled. “I think it’s great!” he says. WRI has been pushing the blended beef-mushroom burger as a candidate to become one of America’s most-served menu items, which WRI calls “power meals.” According to Waite, the list of the top 20 meals served by food service companies currently contains only one plant-based item, a veggie wrap. The rest are meat-centric, including four versions of the classic hamburger.

Many niche burger makers and school cafeterias have joined the blended burger bandwagon. In the dining rooms of Stanford University, Waite says, it’s the only kind of burger you’ll find. But Sonic’s 3,500 drive-in restaurants represent a huge boost to the concept.

Source: npr


Read more about the Menus of Change initiative by The Culinary Institute of America and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health . . . . .

Mushrooms May Slow Aging

Ana Sandoiu wrote . . . . . .

A new study published in the journal Food Chemistry suggests that certain mushrooms contain two antioxidants thought to improve healthspan and stave off aging.

The new research was led by Robert Beelman, professor emeritus of food science and director of the Pennsylvania State University Center for Plant and Mushroom Products for Health in State College. Michael D. Kalaras, a postdoctoral assistant in food science, is the first author of the paper.

Researchers were already aware that mushrooms are “the highest source” of an antioxidant called ergothioneine, but little was known about glutathione, another major antioxidant.

Additionally, levels of antioxidants vary across different species of mushroom, so the researchers wanted to know which species had the most of these two chemicals.

The new findings are significant in the context of the so-called free radical theory of aging. As Prof. Beelman explains, “[The theory] has been around for a long time [and it] says when we oxidize our food to produce energy there’s a number of free radicals that are produced that are side products of that action and many of these are quite toxic.”

“The body has mechanisms to control most of them,” he goes on to say, “including ergothioneine and glutathione, but eventually enough accrue to cause damage, which has been associated with many of the diseases of aging, like cancer, coronary heart disease, and Alzheimer’s.”

However, it is worth mentioning that the free radical theory of aging is controversial. Some rodent studies have shown that by removing free radicals from cells, they can extend the lifespan of the animals.

That being said, other studies have failed to show that supplementing the body with antioxidants can do the same — although the chances of living disease-free until the end of the maximum lifespan have been shown to increase with antioxidants.

Porcini mushrooms richest in antioxidants

Prof. Beelman summarizes the findings of his research, saying, “What we found is that, without a doubt, mushrooms are [the] highest dietary source of these two antioxidants taken together, and that some types are really packed with both of them.”

“We found that the porcini has the highest, by far, of any we tested,” he adds. The researchers tested 13 species.

More common species of mushroom, on the other hand, had less of the two antioxidants. White button mushrooms, for instance, had a low concentration of the antioxidants, although it was still higher than in other foods.

Additionally, the study found a correlation between ergothioneine and glutathione, as mushrooms that had high concentrations in one also had high levels of the other. Prof. Beelman also noted that cooking the mushrooms should not alter the antioxidants, as the compounds are “very heat stable.”

He went on to suggest that future studies ought to look into the effects of these two antioxidants on neurodegenerative disorders.

He says, “It’s preliminary, but you can see that countries that have more ergothioneine in their diets, countries like France and Italy, also have lower incidences of neurodegenerative diseases.”

However, Prof. Beelman adds, “People in countries like the United States, which has low amounts of ergothioneine in the diet, have a higher probability of diseases like Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s.”

“Whether that’s just a correlation or causative, we don’t know,” he admits. “But,” he continues, “it’s something to look into, especially because the difference between the countries with low rates of neurodegenerative diseases is about 3 milligrams per day, which is about five button mushrooms each day.”

Source: Medical News Today

Six Cancer-Fighting Medicinal Mushrooms

Dr. Nalini Chilkov wrote . . . . . .

Mushrooms of Immortality: Modern Medicine From Ancient Chinese Herbs

Medicinal mushrooms and mushroom extracts are used worldwide to fight cancer and enhance and modulate immune response. Lentinula edodes (shiitake), Grifola frondosa (maitake), Ganoderma lucidum (mannentake), and Cordyceps have a history of medicinal use for millennia in parts of Asia. Research has indicated mushrooms have possible anti-cancer, antiviral, anti-inflammatory and liver protective activities. Here are six of the most well-researched anti-cancer mushrooms rich in polysaccharides and beta glucans, the primary active immune-enhancing constituents.

Reishi Mushroom (Ganoderma) 靈芝

This is one of the great longevity tonics of Chinese Medicine used in cancer treatment in Traditional and Modern Chinese Medicine to improve vitality, strength and stamina and to prolong life. Reishi enhances immune response, alleviates chemotherapy side effects such as nausea and kidney damage and protects cellular DNA by raising antioxidant capacity.

Shiitake (Lentinula edodes) 香菇

This is a tender and tasty mushroom found in many Asian cuisines. It is considered both a delicacy and a medicinal mushroom. Shiitake contains a glucan called AHCC (Active Hexose Correlated Compound) and is widely used in alternative and complementary treatment of cancer in Japan due to its immune-enhancing functions. Lentinan, a compound found in Shitake, is used as an intravenous anti-cancer drug with antitumor properties. Clinical studies have associated lentinan with a higher survival rate, higher quality of life and lower recurrence of cancer.

Turkey Tail Mushroom (Trametes versicolor) 云芝

This is one of the most well-researched medicinal mushrooms in the world. It is a biological response modifier. Turkey Tail has been used in Chinese Medicine as a tonic for centuries. Studies show that it improves survival rates and acts an immune modulator with immune stimulating and anti-tumor properties. Some studies show that it can enhance the effects of chemotherapy cancer treatment and reduce the side effects of radiation therapy.

Chinese Caterpillar Fungus (Cordyceps sinensis) 冬虫夏草

Cordyceps acts an immune stimulator by raising cancer- and virus-fighting T Cells and Natural Killer Cells and prolongs the life of white blood cells, improving resolution of infections. It has demonstrated anti-tumor properties and also protects the kidneys from chemotherapy side effects. It is one of the most widely used tonics in anti-cancer formulas in Chinese Medicine.

Maitake (Grifola frondosa) 舞菇

This is used in traditional Chinese and Japanese medicine to enhance the immune system. It is one of the major mushrooms in Japanese cooking. Studies have shown that it can enhance both the innate immune response to fight infections as well as adaptive immune response conferring long-term immune enhancement. Maitake also protects cells with its antioxidant properties and decreases the inflammatory factor COX2 enzyme so common in cancer physiology. Studies have also shown that Maitake has potential anti-metastatic properties inhibiting the proliferation and spread of cancer.

Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) 桦树菇

This has been used as a medicinal mushroom in Russian and Eastern European Traditional Medicine. Chaga has been studied as a potential anti-cancer agent. Chaga contains betulin, a precursor to betulinic acid, which has been shown to inhibit the cancer-promoting enzyme topoisomerase. Betulinic acid has been found to be active against skin, brain, ovarian and head and neck cancers by promoting apoptosis, or the natural progression of programmed cell death. Cancer cells do not go through this natural life cycle and become immortalized and do not die.

Source: Huffington Post