Can mushrooms really help against dementia?

‘Eat mushrooms to fight dementia’ ran yesterday’s front-page headline in the Daily Express. Will mushroom sales have spiked as a result? Given the Express‘s highly dubious reputation, this seems unlikely.

The implication is that mushrooms bought in the supermarket can help against dementia. This is not the case. As the Sun made clear, your average button or portobello won’t quite cut it.

The source of the coverage is not a study, but an article in the peer-reviewed Journal of Medicinal Food.

The authors identified 11 mushrooms that they argued offered cognitive and neuroprotective benefits — by suppressing inflammation and boosting nerve growth factor (NGF), among other mechanisms.

Few of these apparent benefits have been tested in humans.

One exception is the H. erinaceus — known as the lion’s mane mushroom — which is commonly eaten in China. In a small randomised controlled trial, H. erinaceus in tablet form improved mild cognitive impairment among Japanese men and women aged between 50 and 80.

Another mushroom, C. militaris, was found to improved the memory of rats, and made them navigate a water maze more efficiently.

Vikineswary Sabaratnam, a co-author of the study, said: ‘Regular consumption of the mushrooms may reduce or delay development of age-related neuro-degeneration.

‘However, extensive animal and human clinical trials are warranted, which may then lead to designing functional food or novel therapeutic drugs to prevent or mitigate the effects of neuro-degenerative diseases.’

Instant analysis
It comes as no surprise that The Journal of Medicinal Food is bigging up mushrooms and it will no doubt be taken with a pinch of salt. The story is not entirely empty, though. The theorising in the journal article is heavily referenced. And, while the majority of the references noted are either in vitro or animal studies which have negligible clinical implication, there are a couple of interesting trials cited.

Extensive trials are needed to establish the evidence. Sensational headlines have made the authors’ ideas sound far more established than they are.
MB
Research score: 2/5