Brain health: the benefits of mushrooms

Regular consumption of mushrooms would have a protective effect against the decline in cognitive function: two servings per week is a good pace.

The study (National University of Singapore) covered a thousand seniors followed for seven years. At periodic intervals, the researchers estimated their usual consumption of mushrooms, while evaluating the evolution of their cognitive health (memory, attention, reasoning...). They considered a range of parameters: age, gender, socio-economic status, tobacco, alcohol, hypertension, diabetes, physical exercise, social activities...

Result: Compared to those who eat less than one portion per week, people who consume at least two portions (300 g in total) of mushrooms per week are at a halved risk (-57%) of developing mild cognitive impairment. This results in alterations in cognitive functions, but not to the point of disrupting daily life and compromising autonomy. However, this deficiency can be an early indicator of much more severe degradation, leading to dementia (Alzheimer's disease).

To what can we attribute this beneficial action of mushrooms? Their bioactive components, and in particular, it seems, ergothionein, whose antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties have already been identified. Other substances would be involved in the protective process. The authors add: "Our data support the hypothesis that fungi may play a role in delaying the neurodegenerative process.
The best ways to cook mushrooms to preserve their nutrients

Mushrooms can be prepared in different ways, but what cooking will best preserve their nutrients?

Mushrooms are a source of nutrients that are beneficial to health. They contain fibre, minerals (zinc and selenium), vitamins (B1, B2, B12, C, D and E) and proteins in their own right. They are also an important source of bioactive components such as beta-glucans. However, mushrooms are often heated before being consumed. This raises the question: does the preparation of the fungus influence its nutritional profile?

Cooking mushrooms in oil or water

A recent study evaluated the effect of different cooking methods (water, microwave, grilling and frying) on the nutritional composition, beta-glucan content and antioxidant activity of four types of mushrooms (white mushrooms, shiitake, oyster mushrooms and panicaut oyster mushrooms). Cooked and raw mushrooms were frozen, then their composition and antioxidant activity were studied.

The analysis shows that fried mushrooms contain less protein and carbohydrates, but are richer in fat and energy. Cooking in water increases their beta-glucan content and reduces their protein content. Both methods, frying and water, also reduce the antioxidant power of mushrooms.

The loss of protein and antioxidants generated by these two cooking methods can be explained by the dissolution of substances soluble in water and oil.
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Cooking in the grill or microwave oven

Grilled or microwaved mushrooms had significantly higher levels of polyphenols and antioxidants. Moreover, these cooking methods did not cause any nutritional loss. The addition of a small amount of oil did not cause the loss of nutrients. It even appears to have increased the antioxidant power of mushrooms.

In conclusion, the choice of cooking method is an essential factor in preserving the nutritional value of mushrooms.

Can so-called health fungi be considered as medicines?

Mushrooms have been used in oriental medicine for centuries to treat everything from asthma to gout. Nowadays they are marketed in the West as medicinal fungi capable of preventing certain diseases or stimulating brain function, but there are relatively few human trials to support these claims. Here is what science has to say about it.

There are more than 2,000 species of edible fungi on the planet, but many of us probably only know a few species. Cooking button mushrooms may seem familiar in France, but in other parts of the world, especially in Asia, it is soups and stews containing shiitake or maitake that are familiar. We can talk about local products.

Why are mushrooms so popular?

Mushrooms are appreciated by consumers because they are healthy and low in calories, but mushrooms offer much more than that.

They contain dozens of nutrients such as selenium, vitamin D, potassium and especially specific compounds called beta-glucans, which can help fight inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation can contribute to many diseases of aging, such as cancer, Parkinson's disease and dementia.

How is the research progressing?

In the laboratory, researchers reported all kinds of promising benefits for fungi, ranging from reducing cancer in human cells to reducing insulin resistance in diabetic mice.

But human research has not been as prolific. Most edible mushrooms contain high levels of nutrients and antioxidants, are high in fibre and low in cholesterol, and can help us lose weight if we choose them over less healthy foods. But some seem to contain properties that could potentially benefit human health. Here are some selected mushrooms and what science has to say about them:

    Shiitake mushroom extracts (Lentinus Edodes) seem to help prolong the life of stomach cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, Japanese doctors now prescribe them. Extracts of this widely consumed fungus can help humans improve their immune systems, kill some viruses in the laboratory and improve intestinal microbes in mice.
  •     Maitake or Grifola Frondosa seems to help improve the immune system in some cancer patients and reduce blood sugar levels in rats.
  •     Ganoderma Lucidum (Reishi) is believed to reduce obesity in mice by modifying their intestinal bacteria.
  •     Hericium erinaceus. This fungus has been shown to inhibit the growth of human cancer cells and protect against neurodegeneration in the laboratory and in mice.
  •     Pleurotus ostreatus. In the laboratory, extracts of this fungus appear to inhibit the growth of breast and colon cancer cells.
It is difficult to draw any major conclusions about the impact of these extracts on a wide range of people, as the studies were small and focused on specific populations.

But this has not prevented the food supplement industry from relying on information about the presumed health benefits of mushrooms. There are teas, coffees and pills containing mushroom extracts that promise to reduce stress or stimulate your brain.

Unfortunately, at the risk of conformity, if you do not have a healthy lifestyle, a healthy and balanced diet with regular physical exercise, no magic food will prevent you from getting sick.

Perhaps one day science will be able to prove that fungi can help prevent and treat diseases. In the meantime, mushrooms are really delicious, so why not add a few to your diet?

Mushrooms, a balanced food?

Low in carbohydrates and calories, mushrooms are concentrates of vitamins and minerals with beneficial effects on health. Feel free to try different varieties to find your favorite and enjoy its benefits regularly.

Mushrooms come in different shapes, sizes and colours. They are part of alternative foods to meat for vegetarian/vegetarian enthusiasts, and are rich in essential vitamins and minerals. Here are some good reasons to eat them regularly and tips on how to include them in your diet.

Nutritional benefits

Mushrooms are low-carbohydrate, virtually fat-free and protein-rich foods. Although they are small and contain very few calories, they provide about 15 vitamins and minerals such as vitamin B6, magnesium, zinc and potassium. They are also rich in antioxidants, such as ergothionein and selenium, two of the anti-inflammatory compounds. They are among the few foods that contain vitamin D, which strengthens bones, reduces inflammation and improves immune function. Finally, recalls the Time site, the phytochemicals present in mushrooms are said to have anti-cancer and anti-ageing properties.

Which ones to focus on

There are thousands of varieties of mushrooms, many of which have different nutritional profiles. Mushrooms contain the most potassium, while cremini and portobello mushrooms contain the most antioxidant ergothionein. Oyster mushrooms and shiitake are the richest in fibre, and raw maitake mushrooms are among the richest in vitamin D. Conclusion: choose the mushroom you like, and that you want to eat regularly. No matter what type you prefer, they all offer different advantages as long as you are sure of their origin and non-toxicity.

How to eat them

As an omelette, raw in salads, sautéed in a frying pan with a little oil... don't hesitate to try different kinds and different cooking methods to see what you like best. Because their taste and texture are particularly similar to meat, mushrooms can be mixed to make tasty meatballs or pies that help you reduce your consumption of animal products.

10 tips for safe mushroom picking

Ceps, chanterelles, boletus mushrooms... It's time to take advantage of the weekend to go into the forest with your basket under your arm. But to prevent any intoxication related to the consumption of inedible mushrooms, here are the prevention tips to follow.

Autumn is the mushroom season. But before you go out with your family for a harvest in the undergrowth, remember what to do and what not to do to avoid getting sick by eating your harvest. Every year, the Institut de veille sanitaire records several hundred food poisonings due to fungi. In most cases, poisonous mushrooms have been confused with edible mushrooms.

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  •     Pick only the mushrooms you know: some boletus and cortinaria are edible, others are not and yet they look alike, so make no mistake.
  •     Pick whole mushrooms in good condition: all mushrooms in your basket must have their hats and stems and show no signs of rot.
  •     Sort the mushrooms: take one basket per mushroom species. Thus, in the event of an error in your picking, you will only throw away the basket containing the inedible mushroom and not your entire harvest.
  •     Have your mushrooms examined: as there is always the possibility of an error, before you go home, take your mushrooms to a pharmacist or a mycology association to confirm their identification.
  •     Don't pick anywhere: mushrooms are real sponges: they absorb what's in the soil. So avoid picking them near polluted sites such as industrial areas, highways, landfills, non-organic fields...  They may contain a certain amount of heavy metals, fertilizers, pesticides... harmful to health.
  •     Store them flat in a cardboard box or wooden crate, but never in a plastic bag that accelerates rotting and promotes the growth of bacteria and toxic substances.
  •     Consume them quickly: the mushrooms are fragile and can be stored for a very short time in the refrigerator: maximum 2 days.
  •     Do not give it to children: for safety reasons, it is best never to give young children the mushrooms you have picked. To help them discover this vegetable, simply prefer the market gardener's button mushroom.
  •     Always cook them: never eat your raw mushrooms. Cook them sufficiently and consume them in small quantities.
  •     Photograph your harvest before cooking: the photo will be useful to the pharmacist or doctor at the poison control centre in case of poisoning, to decide on the appropriate treatment.

If, after consuming mushrooms, one or more of these symptoms appear (vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, tremors, blurred vision, etc.), call immediately on 15 or the poison control centre in your area, indicating that you have eaten mushrooms. These symptoms, which indicate severe intoxication, appear at least 6 hours after the meal, and most often 12 hours after.

Do you know these 4 Chinese medicinal mushrooms and their unique properties?

Shiitake, Maitake, Cordyceps, Reishi... have you ever heard of these Chinese mushrooms with incredible virtues? Here's a little recap!

Medicinal mushrooms have been part of the traditional Chinese pharmacopoeia for thousands of years, so a branch of phytotherapy is entirely dedicated to them: mycotherapy.

While their virtues are well known in Asia, Western science is increasingly interested in them (particularly in the field of oncology) and has already demonstrated their effectiveness against diabetes, cholesterol and fatigue.

The benefits of shiitake

Also called "black mushroom", shiitake has been cultivated in Asia for about 2000 years for its gustatory and medicinal properties. It contains lentinane (0.02%), a substance used as a drug in Japan and China to stimulate the immune system, especially that of people with cancer treated with chemotherapy. This fungus is also known to prevent the formation of cancer cells, especially in the case of colon cancer. Finally, its high content of ergosterol, which our body can convert into vitamin D (the vast majority of the northwestern population is in deficit), makes it a valuable ally for health.

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The benefits of maitake

Historically, mitake was a very rare precious care mushroom that grew wild in Asia, Europe and North America. Since the 1980s, we now know how to grow it (the largest producer being Japan). It can reach up to 50 centimetres in diameter and weigh several tens of kilos, and contains active substances with multiple health benefits. Known to help the body resist the various stresses to which it is subjected, maitake promotes emotional balance and resistance to disease. Like shiitake, it is also studied for its antitumor and neuro-protective action.

The benefits of cordyceps

This fungus grows wild in Tibet, in the Himalayan mountains, at an altitude of about 4000 meters. It has been used in Asian medicine for over 3000 years and was often reserved for nobles (such as the Dalai Lama) who wanted to improve their physical condition. Cordyceps is known to strengthen the activity of the kidneys, lungs and liver, as well as improve sexual function. Like the two previous fungi, cordyceps has an immunosuppressive effect.

The benefits of reishi

Like cordyceps or shiitake, reishi is an adaptogenic fungus. It is thus able to regulate the action of the adrenal glands, which release hormones into the bloodstream, including adrenaline and cortisol (the stress hormone). Thus, reishi is particularly interesting to help the body better manage stressful situations.

It also relaxes the nervous system, regulates mood and helps to improve the body's defensive actions. Reishi also seems to act on another form of stress: oxidative stress.

Still in the improvement of the body's resistance, reishi increases the production of natural killer cells such as T cells and macrophages.

By lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels, reishi protects the heart from cardiovascular problems and reduces the symptoms of certain heart diseases: palpitations, chest pain, shortness of breath...

Overall, the results obtained by the various studies conducted on the subject reveal that a supply of reishi helps to regulate blood glucose levels. However, most of them have been carried out on animals and must therefore be confirmed by clinical studies.

Mushrooms that are good for the memory

One study reports that older people who regularly eat mushrooms have a half chance of developing mild cognitive deficits, such as memory loss.

Loss of performance

Like all organs in the human body, the structure and function of the brain gradually deteriorates with age. This aging is quite normal and, in most cases, does not have a major impact on a person's quality of life. In some cases, however, the decrease in brain performance may become more significant and lead to the development of "mild cognitive deficits", i.e., episodes where cognitive functions are subtly impaired and cause unusual problems with memory, attention, language or visual-spatial functions (orientation, driving, etc.).

Over time, these deficits may progress to greater losses in cognitive function and, eventually, to the onset of dementia. As the population ages, this deterioration in cognitive health is likely to have serious consequences: according to recent estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO), the number of people with dementia is expected to triple over the next 30 years, with disastrous consequences for the quality of life of people with dementia and their families (1).

Preventing decline

The WHO report emphasizes the importance of preventing the onset of dementia through the adoption of a healthy lifestyle, including regular physical activity, body weight control and good nutrition (e.g. the Mediterranean diet). It is also interesting to note that several studies suggest that some foods rich in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory polyphenols (olive oil, dark chocolate, turmeric, blueberries) appear to have a positive effect on brain function, raising the interesting possibility that including these foods in eating habits may enhance the neuroprotective potential associated with healthy eating. Although a proportion of dementias are genetic in origin and therefore unavoidable, it is important to be aware that many of them can be prevented through lifestyle changes.

Protective fungi

Mushrooms are another category of foods that could help prevent cognitive decline. For example, studies have reported that regular consumption of fungi is associated with better cognitive performance in Norwegians aged 70-74 years, as well as a significant decrease (20%) in the risk of dementia in Japanese people aged 65 years and over.

This neuropreventive potential of fungi is also highlighted by the results of a recent study conducted in Singapore on 663 people aged 60 and over (2). Compared to those who rarely ate mushrooms (less than once a week), those who ate them regularly (2 or more servings per week) were 56% less likely to have mild cognitive deficits such as memory loss.

As the authors point out, this protective effect of fungi is biologically explicable. On the one hand, fungi contain several specific molecules (hericones, eracins, scabronins and dictyophorin) known to promote the synthesis of neuronal growth factor (NGF), a molecule involved in the survival of neurons. On the other hand, fungi are a very important source of L-ergothionein (ET), a molecule that has a very high antioxidant activity and can accumulate in the brain and protect neurons from oxidative stress. Moreover, a study showed that SD rates are significantly decreased in people with mild cognitive impairment, suggesting that SD deficiency may represent a risk factor for neurodegeneration (3). By increasing the levels of SD in the brain, regular consumption of fungi could therefore prevent or at least reduce the processes involved in the deterioration of cognitive functions associated with aging and its progression to neurodegenerative diseases such as dementias.

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 (1) World Health Organization. Adopting a healthy lifestyle helps reduce the risk of dementia (

(2) Feng et coll. The association between mushroom consumption and mild cognitive impairment: a community-based cross-sectional study in Singapore. J. Alzheimer’s Disease. 2019; 68 : 197-203.

(3) Cheah I et coll. Ergothioneine levels in an elderly population decrease with age and incidence of cognitive decline; a risk factor for neurodegeneration? Biochem. Biophys. Res. Commun. 2016; 478 : 162-167.

(4) Irene Roncero-Ramos et al: Effect of different cooking methods on nutritional value and antioxidant activity of cultivated mushrooms. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition. DOI: 10.1080/09637486.2016.1244662