Consuming mushrooms may reduce the risk of depression, according to a study.

September 13, 2022

In addition to their potential benefit for preventing cancer, mushrooms may also be good for your mental health, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

“Mushrooms are the highest dietary sources of a certain amino acid called ergothioneine, which is anti-inflammatory,” says lead researcher Djibril Ba, PhD, research data management specialist at the Penn State College of Medicine. “Having high levels of this may lower the risk of oxidative stress, which could also reduce the symptoms of depression.”

The most popular form of mushrooms in the United States, white button mushrooms, are also high in potassium, a mineral that has been associated with lowered anxiety levels in earlier studies, Dr. Ba added.

About the Study

Researchers examined diet information and mental health diagnoses for more than 24,000 American adults and discovered those who consumed more mushrooms had a lower risk of developing depression. Although this indicates correlation rather than causation, the connection is noteworthy and likely results from a particular property found in high levels in mushrooms, according to Dr. Ba. The statistics do not make it obvious whether adding more mushrooms to one's diet on a regular basis could significantly lessen depression in people who already have the disorder.

Dr. Ba and other researchers conducted a test in which red meat or processed beef was swapped out for mushrooms at various meals in an effort to shed some light on that subject. They did not observe a substantial improvement in depressive symptoms, which suggests that either it may take more time for the beneficial characteristics of mushrooms to take effect or that they are more effective as a preventative measure than as an additional treatment for depression. Dr. Ba highlighted that more research would be required to determine whether increased consumption has an impact, particularly with a large number of individuals.

Ergothioneine has, however, previously been linked to potential health benefits. Ergothioneine is an amino acid found in liver, kidney, black and red beans, oat bran, and mushrooms. For instance, one study in the journal Biological Research for Nursing on the pain, depression, and fatigue associated with fibromyalgia in women suggested the amino acid may be helpful for reducing symptom severity. They might therefore have the same effect.

Gut Health Booster

Mushrooms and other foods containing ergothioneine offer fiber as well as anti-inflammatory and antioxidant substances, which may be beneficial to mental health. Think of the gut-brain axis as a bidirectional superhighway with chemical signals sent between the brain and the digestive system, rife with exit ramps toward the autonomic nervous system, endocrine system, and immune system. Fiber benefits the digestive system, which has long been associated with emotional health. That connection is so strong that the gut is occasionally referred to as "the second brain."

"The importance of maintaining good gut health for better emotional regulation can't be overstated, because they're so connected. We often see that if one is thrown off, the other is affected, sometimes quite dramatically," says Lisa Mosconi, PhD, author of “Brain Food: The Surprising Science of Eating for Cognitive Power."

She adds that fiber, probiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, vitamins, and minerals should be consumed regularly to maintain healthy gut function, which is essential for both cognitive performance and emotional control. She adds that fiber, probiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, vitamins, and minerals should be consumed regularly to maintain healthy gut function, which is essential for both cognitive performance and emotional control.

“What has gone unnoticed until now is the discovery of how, of all the organs in our body, the brain is the one most easily damaged by a poor diet,” she notes. “From its very architecture to its ability to perform, everything in the brain calls out for the proper food.”

Discuss your symptoms with a healthcare practitioner or mental health expert if you find yourself dealing with emotional or mental health issues and showing signs of depression or anxiety.

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