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Can a compound found in mushrooms help prevent dementia?

Higher blood levels of ergothioneine, an amino acid that occurs in certain mushrooms and other food sources, may help protect against dementia and cognitive impairment, according to recent findings from a study reported in Free Radical Biology & Medicine.1  

By comparing ergothioneine levels in blood samples collected from 496 men and women recruited from memory clinics and the Singapore community, researchers found that:

  • People with dementia had the lowest ergothioneine levels
  • Those who had cognitive impairment without dementia had intermediate levels
  • People without cognitive decline had the highest levels of ergothioneine
  • People who had higher plasma ergothioneine levels also had less brain atrophy

Lower levels of ergothioneine were also seen in individuals who had the combination of dementia or cognitive impairment with cerebrovascular disease.

“Deficiency of ergothioneine may contribute towards neurodegeneration- and cardiovascular disease-associated cognitive impairments, possibly via the exacerbation of oxidative stress in these conditions,” they concluded. “Given that blood ergothioneine may be elevated via dietary [intake], this highlights a potential therapeutic agent for cognitive impairment.”

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Apply What You've Learned: Mushrooms

  • Mushrooms have been recognized for their health-giving properties for centuries and have gained the interest of modern researchers. A few better-known medicinal mushrooms are lion’s mane (which is used to help support cognitive function and contains the amino acid ergothioneine), reishi (known as “the mushroom of immortality”), turkey tail, shiitake, maitake and chaga mushrooms.2
  • Mushrooms commonly used as food include white button mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, wood ear mushrooms, straw mushrooms, and more. Mushrooms are a natural food source of vitamin D; however, the predominant form of vitamin D they contain is vitamin D2, which may not be as bioavailable as vitamin D3.3,4
  • Ergothioneine is a highly researched compound from mushrooms and has been suggested to be a “longevity vitamin”.5 You would need to consume about 2-5 cups of white button mushrooms to obtain 5 mg of L-ergothioneine—the amount contained in other dietary sources.6,7
  • Could eating more mushrooms help you live longer? One study found a 16% lower risk of dying from any cause during a 19.5-year period among people who consumed mushrooms compared to those with no mushroom intake.8 Another recent study that administered ergothioneine to a commonly studied fly resulted in an extension of life span.9

References

  1. Wu LY et al. Free Radic Biol Med. 2021 Dec;177:201-211.
  2. Roda E, et al. Nutrients. 2022 Mar 11;14(6):1177.
  3. Cardwell G, et al. Nutrients. 2018 Oct 13;10(10):1498.
  4. Tripkovic L et al. Am J Clin Nutr. 2017 Aug;106(2):481-490.
  5. Beelman RB, et al. FEBS Lett. 2021 Dec 26.
  6. Halliwell B, et al. FEBS Lett. 2018 Oct;592(20):3357-66.
  7. Kalaras MD, et al. Food Chem. 2017 Oct 15;233:429-33.
  8. Ba DM et al. Nutr J. 2021 Apr 22;20(1):38.
  9. Pan HY et al. Food Funct. 2022 Jan 4;13(1):227-241.

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