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Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is the medical definition of the stage between normal cognitive decline, which accompanies aging, and the more serious cognitive decline which leads to dementia. Those seniors with MCI show signs of forgetfulness and memory loss, along with reduced cognitive function in the areas of attention, language, and visuospatial abilities. However, these symptoms are mild to subtle, during the MCI phase, and are not severe enough to affect everyday activities, as with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
In 2011 scientists began a 6 year study, following 600 Chinese seniors over the age of 60, who resided in Singapore, to find out what dietary factors might influence the development of MCI. Since those with MCI do not always manifest overt symptoms, the researchers used neuropsychologist tests, which are “specifically designed tasks that can measure various aspects of a person’s cognitive abilities”.
These tests, along with extensive interviews, take into account “demographic information, medical history, psychological factors, and dietary habits. A nurse will measure blood pressure, weight, height, handgrip, and walking speed. They will also do a simple screen test on cognition, depression, anxiety”.
What the study ultimately revealed was that those participants who consumed more than two portions of mushrooms every week, had a 50% reduction in their odds of developing MCI. There were six types of mushroom consumption tracked in the study: those most commonly consumed by citizens of Singapore. These included dried and canned mushrooms (undefined by type), and the consumption of fresh golden, oyster, shiitake, and white button mushrooms.
As the dried and canned mushrooms were not tracked for type, the researchers commented that “it is likely that other mushrooms not referenced would also have beneficial effects.” In this study, the researchers determined there was a particular compound, found in most varieties of mushrooms, which was responsible for the reduced prevalence of MCI in those who regularly consumed mushrooms.
This compound, “ergothioneine” (ET), “is a unique antioxidant and anti-inflammatory which humans are unable to synthesise on their own”. In fact, this study had been preceded by an earlier one, by the same team, also carried out with elderly Singaporeans, and that study had also “revealed that plasma levels of ET in participants with MCI were significantly lower than age-matched healthy individuals”.
So, the conclusion of both studies was essentially that a deficiency in ET may be a risk factor in neurodegeneration, and increasing ET intake by eating mushrooms may indeed maintain cognitive well being. Of course, the researchers also pointed out that, as well as ET, there are other compounds found in edible mushrooms that may contribute to protecting the brain and reducing the risk of cognitive decline.
Some of these compounds (dictyophorines, erinacines, hericenones, and scabronines) may promote the synthesis of nerve growth factors, while other bioactive compounds may “protect the brain from neurodegeneration by inhibiting production of beta amyloid and phosphorylated tau, and acetylcholinesterase”.
The next stage of research for this team is to perform a controlled trial using pure isolated ET, “and other plant-based ingredients, such as L-theanine and catechins from tea leaves, to determine the efficacy of such phytonutrients in delaying cognitive decline”.
Optimal Amount of Mushrooms
So, just how much mushroom did those participants with reduced incidence of MCI actually consume? In this study, a “portion” was “defined as three quarters of a cup of cooked mushrooms with an average weight of around 150 grams”. Now, that is a fairly large amount of mushroom, with two portions (the amount consumed weekly) roughly equal to about half a plate.
However, according to the researchers, “while the portion sizes act as a guideline, it was shown that even one small portion of mushrooms a week may still be beneficial to reduce chances of MCI”. (Study)
Since in previous newsletters and blogs I have looked at how our JointStart Supreme also serves to heal leaky gut, and AdrenalStart also helps to normalize sleep patterns, I thought it would be worth finding out if our mushroom-containing immune-supporting formula could also help with preventing MCI. I did a rudimentary search through PubMed and found that the six mushrooms used in our ImmuneStart product, all contain some ergothionein (as well as many other beneficial bioactive compounds).
- Agaricus blazei (Study)
- Cordyceps Sinensis (Study)
- Maitake (Grifola) (Study)
- Shiitake (Study)
- Turkey Tail (Coriolus versicolor) (Study)
- Reishi (Study)
And, while the astragalus component of this formula does not contain ET, there are a number of studies showing that extracts of astragalus do help prevent Alzheimer’s disease (AD). In mouse studies, astragalus extract has proven to improve cognitive ability, reduce cell death, and prevent the build up of amyloid plaque in the brain. (Study)
As well, it was shown that the active components of astragalus “may exert a neuroprotective effect against AD by reducing iron overload in the AD brain”. (Study)
Since the patented mushroom formula used in ImmuneStart is highly concentrated, I believe it would serve as a reasonable alternative to consuming large amounts of mushrooms.
At 1400 mg of mushroom concentrate per serving (4 caps), being concentrated at a ratio of 250 lbs to make one pound of extract, we can math out a serving to be roughly equivalent to 350 grams of mushrooms. Far more material than the study indicated would be of benefit. Thus, given the added benefit of the inclusion of a four to one concentrate of astragalus, ImmuneStart should be an effective protective agent against cognitive decline.
A Final Word
As I have mentioned repeatedly elsewhere, mushrooms are excellent at pulling toxins, including heavy metals and radiation, out of soil. Thus I firmly believe that for maximum benefit to be derived from eating large amounts of mushrooms, they should be grown organically. And, while mushrooms are the food with the highest content of ET, a few other foods contain some as well, including kidney, liver, black and red beans, and oat bran.(Source)