Mushrooms are one of the most mysterious foods on the planet, the fruity spores of fungi that grow up from the forest floor, or on the barks of trees – like little stacked terraces – as shade dwellers that now, according to science, provide some of the most powerful health benefits of any natural food we can eat. Past studies have identified cancer-fighting compounds in mushrooms and now a new study has just found another reason to eat mushrooms: they appear to lower the risk of depression.

"Magic mushrooms" have long been known to have hallucinogenic powers, and the types of mushrooms taken during the psychedelic sixties and seventies contain psychoactive and hallucinogenic compounds, psilocybin or psilocin. But these are not the types of mushrooms that the latest study referred to.

The new mushroom news is that researchers from Penn State University released a report in the scientific Journal of Affective Disorders that found that people who eat mushrooms appear to have a lower risk of experiencing depression. The study details how mushrooms may positively affecting consumers’ mental health.

The Penn State researchers collected data from more than 24,000 American adults between 2005 and 2016 to determine how mushroom-heavy diets correlate to mental health and depression levels. The researchers decided to examine fungi because they contain several bioactive compounds that have been linked to reduced anxiety. Some of these include B12, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory agents, and nerve growth factors. The study concluded that high consumption of these nutrients correlates to a lower incidence of depression.

“Mushrooms are the highest dietary source of the amino acid ergothioneine—and anti-inflammatory which cannot be synthesized by humans,” Lead Researcher Djibril Ba said in a statement. “Having high levels of this may lower the risk of oxidative stress, which could also reduce the symptoms of depression.”

The study analyzed the relationship between mushroom consumption and depression statistics, accounting for major risk factors, socio-demographics, self-reported diseases, medications, and other dietary factors.

The average age of the study subjects was 45 with the majority of the cohort being whites. The Penn State research team observed that higher mushroom consumption was associated with lower rates of depression. However, the study authors stressed that this association could not be made into a clear cause-and-effect benefit of mushroom consumption on mood.

"The study adds to the growing list of possible health benefits of eating mushrooms," Penn State Cancer Institute researcher and professor of Public Health Sciences Joshua Muscat said.

The research team conducted a follow-up analysis believing that the correlation could indicate that replacing red meat with mushrooms could present more mental health benefits. The study ended with inconclusive results, but the research team noted limitations that can be fixed in future studies. The research team announced that the study serves to highlight the potential clinical and public health importance of both mushroom consumption and plant-based consumption. Although the study remains relatively inconclusive, the report paves the way for further research concerning diet and depression.

For years, researchers across the world have studied the relationship between plant-based diets, food, and mental health issues. Although the research is sparse, several studies have indicated that dietary change could potentially be a central factor in curbing the risk of mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety. A study from Havard Health researchers recently revealed that the connection between food and mental health is irrefutable. especially regarding mood disorders and depression.

"Modifiable lifestyle factors such as dietary choices, smoking, and physical activity could potentially affect depression risk but do not act independently," Visiting Scientist at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Patricia Chocano-Bedoya said. "While we can study what modifiable risk factors can be associated with depression, we cannot estimate what percentage of depression is associated with a specific factor, as they are mostly interrelated.”

Another report published in Psychiatry Research concluded that dietary patterns were explicitly linked to rates of depression. The report states that “A dietary pattern characterized by a high consumption of red and/or processed meat, refined grains, sweets, high-fat dairy products, butter, potatoes and high-fat gravy, and low intakes of fruits and vegetables is associated with an increased risk of depression.” Studies continue to link plant-based diets to lower rates of depression, signifying that foods such as mushrooms could be the key to undercutting risk factors.

Although the Penn State study is currently inconclusive, another report from Preventative Medicine examined 300,000 people over the age of 12, finding that reduced meat and dairy intake and increased fruit and vegetable consumption were associated with lower levels of stress and depression. The mental health benefits join an increasingly extensive list of other plant-based diet advantages including lower risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancers, and high blood pressure.


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