Medicinal mushrooms offer many benefits for overall health. Each medicinal mushroom has its own unique set of compounds, and many offer support for brain health and cognitive functioning. In our modern, busy, stress-filled world, we are exposed than ever to the effects of chronic stress and inflammation, which can affect brain health and cause cognitive decline and symptoms related to this earlier in life. Let’s take a look at how mushrooms can support brain health…
Regular consumption of mushrooms has recently been shown to offer many benefits for brain health. Research found that people who regularly ate small amounts of mushrooms in their diets had a much lower risk of mild cognitive impairment which can lead to neurodegenerative conditions. Many mushrooms contain a compound called ‘ergothioneine’ which is a unique antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound that may have a direct effect on the risk of cognitive decline. Other compounds found in mushrooms like hericenones and erinacines also appear to contribute to the growth of brain cells and cognitive functioning.
The main medicinal mushroom you may have come across for supporting brain health is Lions Mane. Lions Mane has a long history of use for cognitive support, it was used by Buddhist monks to enhance brain power and heighten focus during meditation.
In recent years Lions Mane has been investigated for its beneficial effects on cognitive health. Lion’s Mane powder stimulates the production of nerve growth factor (NGF) which helps maintain the neurons which are brain cells responsible for helping us to process and transmit information, aiding learning and memory. It is also rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, and helps to modulate the immune system. Antioxidants are one way we can protect the body and battle the oxidative stress and chronic inflammation that leads to disease.
Lions Mane’s unique properties and benefits for brain health are due to the two families of compounds it produces: the erinacines and the hericenones which have strong anti-bacterial activity and help stimulate the generation of Nerve Growth Factor (NGF). There are strong links between NGF deficiency and neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease.
Lions Mane is also neuroprotective, it helps to rebuild myelin, the protective coating surrounding nerve fibres which act as insulation for the nervous system and speeds up brain cell communication. Many nervous system conditions are a result of the loss of myelin, so Lions Mane could be key to some of these conditions. It also offers benefits and support for some of the most common mood disorders and neurological diseases. A study in 2010 found that Lions Mane mushroom offered benefits for depression, helping to alleviate some of the symptoms of mood disorders, which may be due to its ability to reduce inflammation, particularly in the brain.
Many other medicinal mushrooms also offer support for brain health. Reishi mushroom powder has been found to support cognitive function. Reishi is the most anti-inflammatory of the mushrooms and reducing inflammation enables better brain functioning and performance, with more blood and oxygen flowing to the brain. Reishi’s anti-inflammatory benefits may protect nerves and brain cells from inflammation which can cause cognitive issues. Reishi mushroom has also been shown in studies to have highly therapeutic effects on neurodegenerative disorders, and similarly to Lions Mane mushroom helps to support the production of NGF which is essential for neurological functioning.
Cordyceps also shows much promise for brain health, and has been used as a nootropic for centuries in Asia. Cordyceps has strong anti-inflammatory properties that can help to stave off death of neuronal cells to prevent memory loss, and help to reduce the negative effects of stress on the mind and body. Chronic inflammatory stress on the body and brain can impair memory, cognitive processing, judgement and reasoning. Studies have found Cordyceps powder helps to improve memory impairments and offers neuroprotective benefits, reducing inflammatory markers in the brain, and it has also been shown to improve learning and memory.
Support your brain, and stave off cognitive decline with our fungi friends. Whether you are studying for exams, feeling a bit foggy-headed, or unable to concentrate, or looking to ward off chronic inflammation, mushrooms offer a simple and easy way to support the body and mind, and enable us to function and perform at our best.