Eating just five button mushrooms may halt dementia in its tracks, slash the risk of heart disease and even prevent cancer, scientists claim.
Researchers have found the fungi are abundant in two antioxidants that fight aging and bolster health.
Ergothioneine and glutathione combat ‘free radicals’ – damaging molecules highly linked to dementia, multiple forms of cancer and even heart disease.
And the new study shows, ‘without a doubt‘, that mushrooms are the highest dietary source of the combination of antioxidants.
Lead researcher Professor Robert Beelman, from Pennsylvania State University, said: ‘Some types are really packed with both of them.’
As the body uses oxygen, it releases free radicals. Scientists have long suspected that the toxic by-products fuel dementia.
These travel through the body looking to pair up with electrons, causing damage to cells, proteins and DNA – known as oxidative stress.
Professor Beelman said ‘eventually enough accrue to cause damage heavily linked to cancer, coronary heart disease and Alzheimer’s.
Replenishing antioxidants in the body, then, may help protect against this oxidative stress – however, some studies have cast doubt on this theory.
The new study found Italy’s favourite mushroom, the wild porcini, had the highest quantities, while more common varieties appeared to have lower levels.
However, the mushrooms that contained the lowest amounts of ergothioneine and glutathione still had higher quantities than other foods.
Cooking mushrooms does not seem to significantly affect the compounds, Professor Beelman said in the journal Food Chemistry.
He suggests that the results could go some way to explain why the countries which have mushroom-heavy diets, such as France and Italy, also have lower rates of dementia.
But the US, which has low amounts of ergothioneine in the diet, has a higher rate of diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
Professor Beelman warned the results are preliminary, and don’t allow for a direct cause and effect.
However, he claimed that the difference between the countries and their diets is ‘something to look into’.
‘The difference between the countries with low rates of neurodegenerative diseases is about 3mg per day, which is about five button mushrooms each day.’
Previous evidence has proven mushrooms exhibit antioxidant, anti-tumor, antivirus, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and anti-diabetic activities.
Mushrooms with anti-inflammatory properties may be used as functional foods to combating high blood pressure, which contributes to dementia.
A Malaysian study in January was the first to delve into the specific effects of mushrooms against preventing dementia.
They found they contain properties that could enhance nerve growth in the brain and protect against the devastating disease.