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Mushrooms are packed with a lot of nutrients and it's a good plan to include them in your daily diet, and now there's more benefit to it as the everyday food can actually lower the risk of cognitive decline in older people, according to studies, reports Business Insider. The study, by the National University of Singapore, suggested that senior citizens who eat more than two standard portions of mushrooms, which is equivalent to 300g or half a plate,  per week may have 50 percent reduced chances of having mild cognitive impairment (MCI). So why exactly is including mushrooms in your diet so beneficial?

It could be because of the presence of a specific compound called ergothioneine found in almost all mushroom varieties, according to Dr. Irwin Cheah, a senior research fellow from NUS Biochemistry. "ET (ergothioneine) is a unique antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, which humans are unable to synthesize on their own. But it can be obtained from dietary sources, one of the main ones being mushrooms," said Dr. Cheah. 

“This correlation is surprising and encouraging. It seems that a commonly available single ingredient could have a dramatic effect on cognitive decline,” said Assistant Professor Feng Lei, who is from NUS Psychological Medicine, and the lead author of this work. The study was carried over a period of six years, from 2011- 2017, and data was collected from more than 600 Chinese seniors over the age of 60 living in Singapore. 

MCI is basically the stage between cognitive decline of normal aging and the more serious decline of dementia. Seniors with MCI may usually show some form of memory loss or forgetfulness, with chances of them showing a deficit in other cognitive functions, like language, attention, and visuospatial abilities, but subtler, compared to what the symptoms are when one suffers from Alzheimer's or dementia. 

“People with MCI are still able to carry out their normal daily activities. So, what we had to determine in this study is whether these seniors had poorer performances on standard neuropsychologist tests than other people of the same age and educational background. Neuropsychological tests are specifically designed tasks that can measure the various aspects of a person’s cognitive abilities. Some of the tests we used in this study were adopted from a commonly used IQ test known as the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale," explained Asst Prof. Feng. 

The researchers conducted extensive tests and interviews with the senior citizens so they could determine an accurate diagnosis. “The interview takes 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,” said Feng. 

After the tests and interviews, a two-hour standard neuropsychological assessment was performed that was combined with a dementia rating. The overall results of the study were then discussed in-depth with expert psychiatrists involved in the study so they could reach a correct diagnosis. There are basically six commonly consumed varieties of mushrooms in Singapore and were used for the study. However, it is highly likely the other mushrooms not mentioned would also have the same benefits.

Other compounds included in mushrooms could also be helpful to reduce the risk of cognitive decline.  Certain hericenones, erinacines, scabronines, and dictyophorines may promote the synthesis of nerve growth factors, while bioactive compounds found in mushrooms also help with protecting the brain from neurodegeneration by inhibiting production of beta-amyloid and phosphorylated tau, and acetylcholinesterase. Feng claims their next step is to identify other dietary factors that could be associated with healthy brain aging and reduced risk of age-related conditions in the future.