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Mushrooms in brain health: not only antioxidant but neuro-enhancers against dementia as well

Mushrooms have been making headlines due to their many health advantages. Not only do they lower one’s risk of cancer and premature death, but new research led by Penn State College of Medicine also reveals that these superfoods may benefit a person’s mental health. According to the researchers, mushrooms contain ergothioneine, an antioxidant that may protect against cell and tissue damage in the body. Studies have shown that antioxidants help prevent several mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression. White button mushrooms, which are among the most commonly consumed mushroom variety, contain high amounts of potassium, which is able do promote diuresis, reduce blood pressure and to lower anxiety. In addition, certain other species of edible mushrooms, especially Hericium erinaceus, also known as Lion’s Mane, may stimulate the expression of neurotrophic factors such as nerve growth factor synthesis, which could have an impact on preventing neuropsychiatric disorders including depression.

Hercium mushroom contain herinacins, terpenoid substances which long ago were screened to find compund provided with neuroprotective activity. Two glucoterpenoids called herinacine A and B were identified as substances able to enhance the synthesis of nerve growth factor (NGF) in brain neurons. This phenomeno could prove itself useful to treat many neurodegenerative conditions like multiple sclerosis, Parkinson disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and other conditions were neuronal survival is impaired. In a very recent paper, scientist proved that the extract from H. erinaceus not only promoted the differentiation of oligodendrocyte progenitors into its mature form, but also increased the level of myelin basic protein (MBP) on neuronal fibers. Moreover, daily oral administration of this extract into neonatal rat pups for 7 days enhanced MBP expression and oligodendrocytes in the postnatal rat brain. Along erinacine A and C, another called erinacine S was found to be responsible of this bioactivity.

In their research, Penn State researchers used data on diet and mental health collected from more than 24,000 american adults between 2005 and 2016. They found that people who ate mushrooms had lower odds of having depression. According to the researchers, college-educated, non-Hispanic white women were more likely to eat mushrooms. The average age of surveyed participants was 45, and the majority (66%) were non-Hispanic white people. The investigators observed a significant association between mushroom consumption and lower odds of depression after accounting for socio-demographics, self-reported diseases, major risk factors, use fo medications and dietary factors. They said, however, that there was no clear additional benefit with relatively high mushroom intake. The team conducted a secondary analysis to see if the risk of depression could be lowered by replacing a serving of red or processed meat with a serving of mushrooms each day.

However, findings show that this substitution was not associated with lower odds of depression. Prior to this research, there have been few studies to examine the association between mushroom consumption and depression, and the majority have been clinical trials with fewer than 100 participants. The researchers said this study highlights the potential clinical and public health importance of mushroom consumption as a means of reducing depression and preventing other diseases. Beside, very recently new substances were identified in Hericium herinaceus: a group of korean scientists found four more molecules from mycelia of this mushroom that coudl ehnance NGF production: hericerin, corallocin A, isohericenol A and N-dephenylethyl-isohericerin. These substances, along with other discovered in 2016 belong to isoindoline family of alkaloids and they are similar to mycophenolic acid, a well known immune suppressor to clinicians.

No wonder that these substances could enhance NGF production via an intervention of some kind of immune cells. It would not be the first time: rapamycin, a well recognized immunosuppressor is also neuroprotective against oxidative stress and ischemic insults in bvulnerable brain areas; and more and more evidences are accumulating about the potential role of immune surveillance in the control for the aging-related cognitive decline.

  • edited by Dr., Gianfrancesco Cormaci, PhD, specialist in Clinical Biochemistry.

Scientific references

Ba DM et al. J Affective Disord 2021; Nov; 294:686-692.

Ba DM, Gao X et al. Nutrition J 2021 Sep 21; 20(1):80.

Ghosh S et al. J Food Biochem. 2021 Jun 24: e13833.

Valu MV et al. J Fungi (Basel). 2021 Jun 12; 7(6):477.

Rai SN et al. .Biomed Pharmacother 2021; 137:111377.

Huang HT, Ho CH et al. Sci Rep. 2021 Mar; 11(1):6551.

Ryu SH et al. Bioorg Med Chem Lett 2021; 31:127714.

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Dott. Gianfrancesco Cormaci

Medico Chirurgo, Specialista; PhD. a CoFood s.r.l.
- Laurea in Medicina e Chirurgia nel 1998 (MD Degree in 1998) - Specialista in Biochimica Clinica nel 2002 (Clinical Biochemistry residency in 2002) - Dottorato in Neurobiologia nel 2006 (Neurobiology PhD in 2006) - Ha soggiornato negli Stati Uniti, Baltimora (MD) come ricercatore alle dipendenze del National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA/NIH) e poi alla Johns Hopkins University, dal 2004 al 2008. - Dal 2009 si occupa di Medicina personalizzata. - Guardia medica presso strutture private dal 2010 - Detentore di due brevetti sulla preparazione di prodotti gluten-free a partire da regolare farina di frumento enzimaticamente neutralizzata (owner of patents concerning the production of bakery gluten-free products, starting from regular wheat flour). - Responsabile del reparto Ricerca e Sviluppo per la società CoFood s.r.l. (Leader of the R&D for the partnership CoFood s.r.l.) - Autore di articoli su informazione medica e salute sul sito www.medicomunicare.it (Medical/health information on website) - Autore di corsi ECM FAD pubblicizzati sul sito www.salutesicilia.it
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