Mushrooms for the Mind - How Fungi Can Improve Brain Function
Have you ever thought about how the food we eat affects brain health?
It's true, every meal and snack we indulge in influences our mental capacity in some way.
The brain is incredibly intricate, managing everything, from emotions to bodily functions,
…hence it's unsurprising that keeping it functioning at optimal levels is key to overall wellness.
While a variety of foods have been known to aid mental performance,
… mushrooms hold a special spotlight due to their peculiar structures.
Certain strains contain active compounds that enhance cognitive abilities.
Providing sharper focus, as well as aiding with depression & anxiety.
All while increasing energy levels, and improving performance.
This article will explore the science of mushrooms by outlining the specific types essential for improving brain function.
Analysing how active ingredients work individually.
…as well as tips for a healthy intake into your diet.
Why Should We Focus on Enhancing Brain Function?
As the brain is responsible for managing a wide range of our bodily functions, the health of our brains can impact all areas of our lives. For better or for worse. The World Health Organisation estimates that 280 million people suffer from depression internationally. That’s 5% of the world's population. In the UK, the figures are remarkably higher. 17% of the UK’s population is said to suffer from depression. That’s up 7% since the pandemic struck the UK in 2020.
One staggering figure is that “56% of employees in the UK are experiencing symptoms of depression.” Which seriously impacts both quality of life and the functioning of the UK’s economy. That’s why we should take some time to find natural ways that we can boost cognitive function. Mushrooms seem to be a no brainer (pardon the pun). They are jam packed with compounds that can enhance brain function and have adaptogenic and tonic properties on the body. Medicinal mushrooms have been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years, modern science is now catching up with ancient traditions.
The Science Behind Mushrooms and Brain Function
Brain function can benefit from the vast range of active compounds contained within mushrooms. One such group of well known compounds are beta glucans - these are polysaccharides known for their ability to modulate immunity, found in a variety of mushroom types. Ergothioneine is an amino acid found in mushrooms, which has strong antioxidative and anti-inflammatory properties. Mushrooms also contain compounds known as polyphenols which have significant neuroprotective and antioxidant traits.
The connection between these unique compounds found in mushrooms and the brain is due to various effects on different pathways within the body system. Beta glucans stimulate immune activity - providing protective measures against inflammation induced neural degeneration. Ergothioneine, on the other hand, has been shown to protect neurons from oxidative stress, which is a type of damage that can occur when there are too many free radicals in the body. Polyphenols have been shown to promote the growth of new neurons and improve cognitive function.
Top 3 Brain Boosting Mushrooms
1. Lion's Mane Mushroom
…and its effects on cognitive function
Recognized by its Latin name "Hericium erinaceus” Lions' mane mushrooms are renowned for their potential neuroprotective effects. They’re endorsed through time-honoured use within traditional Chinese medicine, as a natural support for superior brain health. Scientific findings have supported these beliefs through research indicating that regular consumption of lion's mane extract could boost cognition, while shielding brain cells from damage. A study published in Behavioral Neurology found that lion's mane mushroom extract had a protective effect on brain cells, offering improvements in diseases such as: ischemic stroke, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and depression. Another study found that consuming lion’s mane for four months reduced anxiety levels in mice. Which shows promise for reducing anxiety in humans too.
2. Reishi Mushroom
…and its potential for reducing anxiety and depression
Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum) is a type of mushroom that’s been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) to promote both health and longevity. Recent studies have suggested that reishi mushroom may have anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects. One study published in the Biochemistry and Biophysics Reports found that mice given reishi mushroom extract exhibited reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression. This study also found that the consumption of Reishi Mushrooms could inhibit pain. Another study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food found that reishi mushroom extract reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression in mice by modulating the levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain.
3. Cordyceps Mushroom
…and its impact on energy and focus
Cordyceps mushroom (Cordyceps sinensis) is a type of mushroom that’s been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years, to improve physical performance and energy levels. Recent studies have now shown that cordyceps mushrooms may have a positive impact on both energy and focus. One study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that participants who consumed cordyceps mushroom extract exhibited improved exercise performance and reduced fatigue compared to those who received a placebo. Another study published in the Journal of Dietary Supplements found that cordyceps mushroom extract improved cognitive function in older adults with mild cognitive impairment.
Learn more: Tips For Boosting Energy During the Summer
Recommended daily intake of mushrooms for optimal brain function
While the specific recommended daily intake of mushrooms for optimal brain function has not been established, incorporating a variety of mushrooms into your diet can provide a range of beneficial compounds that may support brain health. One approach to incorporating mushrooms into your diet is to aim for at least one serving of functional mushrooms per day. A serving size is typically considered to be one cup of raw mushrooms. However, it's worth noting that the nutritional content of different types of mushrooms can vary, so consuming a variety of medicinal mushrooms can help ensure that you're getting a range of these beneficial compounds.
In addition to incorporating medicinal mushrooms into your diet, taking mushroom supplements may also be an option for those looking to boost brain function. However, it's important to note that the quality and effectiveness of mushroom supplements can vary, so it's a good idea to choose a reputable brand and consult with a healthcare professional before taking any supplements. While mushrooms can have potential benefits for brain function, it's important to be aware of precautions and possible side effects.
Precautions and potential side effects
Some people may need to avoid mushrooms altogether due to certain health conditions or medications. For example, people with mushroom allergies should avoid consuming mushrooms. Additionally, people who are taking blood-thinning medications or who have blood clotting disorders may need to avoid consuming certain types of mushrooms that can have anticoagulant effects, such as shiitake mushrooms.
Certain types of mushrooms, such as reishi mushroom, can interact with medications and may cause side effects. For example, reishi mushroom can interact with blood-thinning medications and may increase the risk of bleeding. Additionally, reishi mushroom may interact with medications used to treat high blood pressure, diabetes, and certain psychiatric disorders. So it pays to check what medications you might be taking prior to consuming functional mushrooms.
Learn more: The Healing Power of Mushrooms
Mushrooms have the potential to improve brain function due to their active compounds that interact with the brain. Scientific evidence suggests that mushrooms such as Lion's Mane, Reishi, and Cordyceps may have specific benefits for cognitive function, anxiety and depression. As well as enhancing performance by boosting energy levels and focus.
While the recommended daily intake of mushrooms for optimal brain function is not established, consuming a variety of mushrooms in your diet or through supplements may be a promising strategy for supporting brain health. Whether you sauté them as a side dish or blend them into a smoothie, or take a mushroom supplement, there are endless ways to enjoy the benefits of mushrooms for brain health.
Written by Rowanna Watson, who has a passion for natural health. Rowanna is an expert in all areas of holistic health, plant-based nutrition, detoxification Written by best-selling author and integrative nutrition health coach and personal development.
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