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Eating Mushrooms May Ease Depression, Research Suggests

drawing of man cooking mushrooms

Verywell / Madelyn Goodnight

Key Takeaways

  • A new study found that people who ate mushrooms were less likely to have depression.
  • Researchers believe it's due to the essential antioxidant ergothioneine, which must be obtained exclusively through dietary sources.
  • Further research is needed to establish a clear link between mushroom consumption and improved mental health.

Psychedelic mushrooms have been a hot topic in recent years, with early-stage studies suggesting that their psilocybin compound is good at reducing symptoms of depression. But regular mushrooms—yes, the type you can pick up at the grocery store—may also have mental health-boosting benefits. 

That’s according to new research led by Penn State College of Medicine, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders. Here's what they know so far.

The Study in Detail 

Using data on diet and mental health collected from more than 24,000 U.S. adults between 2005 and 2016, the Penn State researchers found that people who ate mushrooms had lower odds of having depression.

College-educated, non-Hispanic white women were more likely to eat mushrooms. However, it should be noted that the average age of surveyed participants was 45, and the majority (66%) were non-Hispanic white people. 

The researchers reported a significant association between mushroom consumption and lower odds of depression after accounting for self-reported diseases, major risk factors, and socio-economic and dietary factors. However, they also said that relatively high mushroom intake provided no clear additional benefit.

Uma Naidoo, MD

From a nutritional standpoint, mushrooms are a source of fiber, vitamin B, vitamin D, potassium, and various antioxidants. We know that these nutrients all support improved mental fitness and emotional wellbeing.

— Uma Naidoo, MD

In a secondary analysis, the team looked at whether the risk of depression could be reduced by replacing a daily serving of red or processed meat with a daily serving of mushrooms. Ultimately, they weren’t able to associate this dietary switch with a lower risk of depression.

Uma Naidoo, MD, a Harvard-trained nutritional psychiatrist, professional chef, and the author of This is Your Brain on Food, believes the study is well-placed to motivate further research on a link between mushroom consumption and mental health. However, she also points out the complexities of nutrition studies, especially those that utilize dietary recall dependent on self-reported data such as this one.

"A highly controlled randomized trial would allow us to put more weight on utilizing mushrooms as a means of mental health improvement," Dr. Naidoo says. "But this study is certainly a starting point in better understanding this relationship."   

What’s So Special About Mushrooms?

It may come down to the antioxidant ergothioneine, says John Richie, professor of public health sciences and pharmacology at Penn State. “This is a unique amino acid with powerful antioxidant properties,” he explains. “This essential antioxidant cannot be synthesized by humans and must be obtained exclusively through dietary sources. Mushrooms are the primary source of ergothioneine in the diet.” 

The researchers speculate that having high levels of ergothioneine may lower the risk of oxidative stress, which could also reduce the symptoms of depression.

John Richie

This study adds to the growing list of potential health benefits of mushroom consumption.

— John Richie

There are approximately 2,000 species of edible mushrooms, according to a 2021 review in Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety. The most commonly consumed variety in the U.S. is the white button mushroom. But the Penn State study couldn’t address what type of mushrooms show the highest potential for warding off depression. “This is an important question,” says Richie. “Nonetheless, the study adds to the growing list of potential health benefits of mushroom consumption.” 

Dr. Naidoo says mushrooms have become a hot topic in the scope of medicinal foods, and are increasingly being used in teas, elixirs, coffees, and even skin care products.

"From a nutritional standpoint, mushrooms are a source of fiber, vitamin B, vitamin D, potassium, and various antioxidants," Dr. Naidoo explains. "We know that these nutrients all support improved mental fitness and emotional wellbeing."

Dr. Naidoo points out that antioxidants in particular help the brain to resist the damaging effects of oxidative stress that can impair function and lower mood.

Mushroom Varieties and Mental Health

Of the legal mushrooms available to us, Dr. Naidoo highlights several that show great benefit for mental health.

For instance, shiitake is a hearty edible mushroom that contains nearly all of the amino acids that support healthy brain function, cellular activity, and structure.

Portobello mushrooms are notably high in potassium, which is an important mineral that helps maintain energy levels and resist brain fog.

Porcini mushrooms are naturally high in the antioxidant ergothioneine, which has been linked to reduced risk of cognitive decline and depression.

Reishi is an adaptogenic variety of mushroom (meaning it helps the body resist all sorts of stressors) that is rich in beta glucans and ganoderic acids, and has been shown to reduce symptoms of both depression and fatigue.  

Finally, Lion’s mane is a medicinal mushroom that has powerful effects in supporting the nervous system and mental health. It has been shown to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, memory loss and boost overall mental function.

What This Means For You

If you like mushrooms, you can easily add them to various dishes, from pasta to stir fry. And if you don't like the taste of them, don't worry. You can still get the benefits from mushroom teas, elixirs (to mix in beverages), coffees, and supplements. Just make sure you consult your doctor before including a new supplement or medicinal ingredient into your routine.

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7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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