• Robb G. Best

Eating Mushrooms May Lower Depression Risk

Insert joke about being a "fun guy" here: new research led by Penn State College of Medicine suggests that eating fungi, specifically edible mushrooms, might decrease a person's risk of depression.

Researchers at Penn State combed through data on diet and mental health obtained from over 24,000 U.S. adults between 2005 and 2016. Even accounting for socio-demographics, major risk factors, self-reported diseases, and other dietary factors, they found that people who ate mushrooms were at lower odds for developing depression.

Why? For one thing, the researchers explained that mushrooms contain ergothioneine, an antioxidant believed to protect against cell and tissue damage in the body. While the precise cause of mental illnesses like depression remain largely unknown, studies have demonstrated that antioxidants help prevent several such conditions, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression.

“Mushrooms are the highest dietary source of the amino acid ergothioneine — an anti-inflammatory which cannot be synthesized by humans,” said lead researcher Djibril Ba. “Having high levels of this may lower the risk of oxidative stress, which could also reduce the symptoms of depression.”

While we have no data on the particular types of mushrooms eaten, we do know that white button mushrooms, the most commonly consumed mushroom variety in the U.S., are rich in potassium, which is thought to lower anxiety. We also know that some other types of mushroom, especially Hericium erinaceus or Lion's Mane, may stimulate nerve growth factor synthesis, which could impact the prevention of disorders like depression.

That said, the researchers did also find that eating a ton of mushrooms didn't provide people with any additional benefit. They also tried getting people to substitute a serving of red meat with a serving of mushrooms each day, and found no lowered odds of depression.

It is also probably worth pointing out that food diaries are not always a reliable way of gathering data about what people are actually eating. For example, in the studies used, the participants had to key in food codes issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the process was prone to error.

Still, if you enjoy the taste of mushrooms, working them into your diet certainly can't hurt. They're full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, and they seem to provide an immune system boost. If you're looking for a place to start, check out this recipe for Roasted Mushrooms with Herbed Quinoa. Bon apetit!

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