Like all organs in the human body, the structure and function of the brain gradually deteriorate with age. This aging is completely normal and in most cases does not have a major impact on a person’s quality of life.
In some cases, however, the decline in brain function can become more significant and lead to the onset of “mild cognitive deficits”, that is, episodes in which cognitive functioning is subtly altered and causes unusual problems with memory, attention, language, or visuo-spatial functions (orientation, driving, etc.).
Over time, these deficits can lead to greater loss of cognitive function and eventual onset of dementia. As the population ages, this deterioration in cognitive health is likely to have serious consequences: according to the latest estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO), the number of people with dementia could triple in the next 30 years, with devastating consequences for the quality of life of those affected and their families.
The neuroprotective effect of foods rich in polyphenols
The WHO report emphasizes the importance of preventing the onset of dementia by adopting a healthy lifestyle that includes regular physical activity, weight control and good nutrition (e.g. the Mediterranean diet).
It is also interesting to note that several studies suggest that certain foods rich in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory polyphenols (olive oil, dark chocolate, turmeric, blueberries) appear to exert a beneficial effect on brain function, raising the interesting possibility including these foods in dietary habits may increase the neuroprotective potential associated with healthy eating.
Although some dementias are genetic and therefore unavoidable, it is important to realize that many of them can be prevented with lifestyle changes.
Two servings of shrooms a week halves the risk of cognitive decline
Mushrooms are another category of foods that can help prevent cognitive decline. For example, studies have reported that regular consumption of mushrooms was associated with better cognitive performance in Norwegians aged 70-74 and a significant (20%) reduction in the risk of dementia in older Japanese aged 65 and over. This neuropreventive potential of mushrooms is also highlighted by the results of a recent Singapore study among 663 people aged 60 and over. Compared to people who ate mushrooms infrequently (less than once a week), those who ate them regularly (2 or more servings per week) had a 56% lower risk of experiencing mild cognitive deficits, such as memory loss.
The neuroprotective effect of mushrooms scientifically explained
As the authors emphasize, this protective effect of fungi can be explained biologically. On the one hand, mushrooms contain several specific molecules (Hericone, Erinacin, Scabronine and Dictyophorin) that are known to promote the synthesis of neuronal growth factor (NGF), a molecule involved in neuron survival. On the other hand, mushrooms are a very important source of L-ergothionein (ET), a molecule with very strong antioxidant activity that can accumulate in the brain and protect neurons from oxidative stress.
In addition, a study has shown that ET levels are significantly reduced in people with mild cognitive impairment, suggesting that ET deficiency may be a risk factor for neurodegeneration. Therefore, by increasing ET levels in the brain, regular consumption of mushrooms could prevent, or at least mitigate, the processes involved in the deterioration of cognitive function associated with aging and its progression to neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia.
World Health Organization. A healthy lifestyle helps reduce the risk of dementia (www.who.int).
Feng et al. The association between mushroom consumption and mild cognitive impairment: a community-based cross-sectional study in Singapore. J. Alzheimer’s Disease 197-203.
Cheah I et al. Ergothionein levels in an elderly population decrease with age and the onset of cognitive decline; a risk factor for neurodegeneration? biochem. biophys. Resolution Common. 478:162-167.
* Presse Santé strives to convey health knowledge in a language accessible to all. In NO CASE can the information given replace the advice of a doctor.
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