Anti-ageing diet: Mushrooms could help fight conditions such as dementia, cancer and heart disease
The secret to slowing – or even preventing – ageing and, in turn, delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, could lie in the humble mushroom, say scientists.
A study by Pennsylvania State University has revealed the popular edible fungi contains unusually high amounts of particular antioxidants, which could have an anti-ageing effect on the brain.
Antioxidants are compounds that prevent or stop cell damage, and they could help ward off dementia, as well as other deadly conditions like cancer and heart disease.
Researchers discovered that mushrooms are particularly rich in two key antioxidants, ergothioneine and glutathione.
Anti-ageing diet: Mushrooms contain high levels of particular antioxidants
Researchers have explored how the antioxidants in mushrooms could ward off neurodegenerative diseases, like dementia.
The findings come after previous research highlighted the dementia-fighting properties of mushrooms.
A study by the University of Malaysia, published in January, revealed the fungi contain compounds that could protect against inflammation that contributes to conditions like dementia, and may promote nerve growth in the brain.
In the new study, however, researchers have explored how the antioxidants in mushrooms could ward off neurodegenerative diseases.
Robert Beelman, professor emeritus of food science and director of the Penn State Center for Plant and Mushroom Products for Health, described the study as “preliminary” but pointed to a link between higher levels of the antioxidants and lower levels of dementia and Parkinson’s disease in particular nations.
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Anti-ageing diet: Previous research has found mushrooms could help ward off dementia
In countries like France and Italy, Beelman explained, there were higher levels of ergothioneine in people’s diets and fewer “incidences of neurodegenerative diseases”.
However, in the United States, where people consumed lower amounts of ergothioneine, there were higher levels of the condition.
Talking about the geographical differences, Beelman said: “Now, whether that’s just a correlation or causative, we don’t know. But, 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.”
Other foods, such as liver, black beans, egg yolk and oat bran also contain these antioxidants, mushrooms were discovered to be the best source.
Anti-ageing diet: Porcini mushrooms were found to have the highest levels of beneficial antioxidants
“What we found is that, without a doubt, mushrooms are highest dietary source of these two antioxidants taken together, and that some types are really packed with both of them,” he said.
“There’s a theory — the free radical theory of ageing — that’s been around for a long time that says when we oxidise 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, including ergothioneine and glutathione, but eventually enough accrue to cause damage, which has been associated with many of the diseases of ageing, like cancer, coronary heart disease and Alzheimer’s.”
This means replenishing the body with these mushroom-based antioxidants could be crucial.
Anti-ageing diet: Researchers studied 13 different types of mushrooms, including button mushrooms
The researchers studied 13 species of mushroom, and discovered that the porcini had the highest amounts of the two key antioxidants.
More common types of mushroom, like the white button mushroom, were less rich in antioxidants, but still had more than other foods.
Eating them raw or cooked does not matter, according to the scientists, since heat did not significantly affect antioxidant levels.
The scientists say further research will explore how ergothioneine and glutathione could decrease likelihood of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.