Eating mushrooms may lower risks of anxiety and depression: Study
People who eat mushrooms may have a lower chance of developing anxiety and depression, according to a large observational study in the US.
The study, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, used dietary and mental health data from more than 24,000 participants to draw the association between mushroom consumption and lower odds of depression.
A majority of the previous studies on mushrooms and depression have been clinical trials with fewer than 100 participants, according to the study's press release.
"Mushrooms are a potent source of antioxidants, such as ergothioneine and potassium, which could reduce oxidative stress and inflammation. These are known to be risk factors for depression," says Xiang Gao, MD, PhD, a professor and director of the Nutritional Epidemiology Lab at The Pennsylvania State University and a co-author of the study.
Gao said that people who incorporate mushrooms into their diet have a 43% lower likelihood of having depression, but his research team didn't find that eating more mushrooms would lower chances of depression further.
"We need more studies to replicate our findings and understand the potential biological mechanisms," Gao says, adding that the self-reported data didn't specify the types of mushrooms either.
Despite the drawbacks, this study does support other evidence that mushrooms should be included as part of a healthy diet.
Health Benefits of Mushrooms
The researchers chose to study mushrooms because they contain rich minerals. Previous research also indicated that mushroom intake may lower cancer risks.
"Ergothioneine is an amino acid with potent antioxidant properties present in high levels in mushrooms," said Djibril Ba, PhD, MPH, a research data management specialist at Penn State College of Medicine and a study co-author.
"This important antioxidant can only be obtained through dietary sources," he says. "Having high levels of ergothioneine in the body may help to prevent oxidative stress, which could also reduce the symptoms of depression."
Since other studies have shown a connection between high-sodium and low-potassium diets and increased depression chances, the researchers focused on the effects of potassium for this new observational study.
"Potassium is an important mineral that helps to regulate fluid in the body and nerve signals," Ba says. "Mushrooms contain potassium, which may help to lower the risk of anxiety."
In addition to ergothioneine and potassium, mushrooms offer many other health benefits as well, including lowering lipid levels.
Elizabeth Watt, a registered dietitian at the UNC Wellness Center, says that mushrooms are a low-calorie, low-fat food that is rich in protein, fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.
"Mushrooms are pretty high in Vitamin D, especially if it's being grown in an area with a lot of UV light. And that's one of those nutrients that most of us are walking around deficient in," she adds.
Watt recommends mushrooms as a meat source alternative, as one cup of white button mushrooms contains 2.2 g of protein. For example, you can dice up mushrooms and mix them into meatballs, or opt for a portobello mushroom instead of a beef burger.
"You are not going to get all of the nutrition you need out of just mushrooms," she says. "But it's another way to enhance your overall diet."
Some mushrooms—known as "magic mushrooms"—naturally contain psilocybin, a hallucinogenic substance that may be as effective as antidepressants. But scientists are still learning about the different impacts of edible and magic mushrooms on depression.