Mushroom Consumption May Lower Depression Risk, Study Says


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Key Takeaways

  • A new study suggests eating mushrooms could have a preventative effect on depression.
  • The likely reason is related to an anti-inflammatory compound that is abundant in mushrooms, researchers note.
  • This finding applies to other foods highlighted for potential depression reduction because they lower inflammation.

Mushrooms have recently been highlighted for their potential role in cancer prevention, and now a new study in the Journal of Affective Disorders suggests they could be beneficial for your mental health as well.

“Mushrooms are the highest dietary sources of a certain amino acid called ergothioneine, which is anti-inflammatory,” says lead researcher Djibril Ba, PhD, research data management specialist at the Penn State College of Medicine. “Having high levels of this may lower the risk of oxidative stress, which could also reduce the symptoms of depression.”

Dr. Ba added that white button mushrooms—the most consumed variety in the U.S.—are also high in potassium, a mineral that has been connected to lower anxiety levels in previous research.

About the Study

Researchers looked at data on diet and mental health diagnoses for more than 24,000 U.S. adults and found those who ate more mushrooms had a lower risk of developing depression.

Djibril Ba, PhD

Having high levels of [the amino acid called ergothioneine] may lower the risk of oxidative stress, which could also reduce the symptoms of depression.

— Djibril Ba, PhD

Although this shows correlation rather than causation, the link is notable and likely comes from a specific property found in high levels in mushrooms, according to Dr. Ba. What is not clear from the data is whether eating more mushrooms daily could significantly lower depression for those who already have the condition.

To try to answer that question, Dr. Ba and other researchers did a test involving the replacement of red meat or processed meat with mushrooms for numerous meals. They did not find a significant reduction in depression symptoms, which means either that it might take more time for the mushroom properties to work for mental health, or that mushrooms serve as more of a prevention tool than a complementary treatment for depression.

Dr. Ba noted more work will need to be done, particularly with a large number of participants, to see if higher consumption has an effect.

However, ergothioneine has been connected to potential health advantages before. For example, one study in Biological Research for Nursing looking at fibromyalgia pain, depression, and fatigue in women suggested the amino acid could be beneficial for reducing symptom severity.

Although mushrooms—especially oyster mushrooms—are particularly high in ergothioneine, other foods that contain the amino acid include liver, kidney, black and red beans, and oat bran. So, they could potentially have the same impact.

Gut Health Booster

In addition to their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds, mushrooms and other foods containing ergothioneine have another advantage that may benefit mental health—fiber. Fiber provides benefits for the digestive system, which has long been associated with emotional health.

Lisa Mosconi, PhD

The importance of maintaining good gut health for better emotional regulation can't be overstated, because they're so connected.

— Lisa Mosconi, PhD

That connection is so strong that the gut is sometimes called "the second brain." Think of the gut-brain axis as a bidirectional superhighway with chemical signals sent between the brain and the digestive system, rife with exit ramps toward the autonomic nervous system, endocrine system, and immune system.

"The importance of maintaining good gut health for better emotional regulation can't be overstated, because they're so connected. We often see that if one is thrown off, the other is affected, sometimes quite dramatically," says Lisa Mosconi, PhD, author of “Brain Food: The Surprising Science of Eating for Cognitive Power."

That means maintaining good gut function through consumption of fiber, probiotics, anti-inflammatory compounds, vitamins, and minerals is crucial for both cognitive function and emotional regulation, she suggests.

“What has gone unnoticed until now is the discovery of how, of all the organs in our body, the brain is the one most easily damaged by a poor diet,” she notes. “From its very architecture to its ability to perform, everything in the brain calls out for the proper food.”

If you find yourself struggling with emotional and mental health challenges and experiencing signs of anxiety and/or depression, talk with a healthcare provider or mental health professional about your symptoms.

What This Means For You

Research highlights how mushroom consumption may be associated with a lower risk of depression, thanks in part to high levels of an anti-inflammatory compound that may help the brain. Although more research is needed to determine just how this process works, you may want to add mushrooms to your eating plan especially if you are at risk for depression. If you are currently experiencing depression symptoms talk to a healthcare provider or mental health professional.



6 Sources
Verywell Fit 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.
  1. Ba DM, Gao X, Al-Shaar L, et al. Mushroom intake and depression: A population-based study using data from the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), 2005–2016Journal of Affective Disorders. 2021;294:686-692. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2021.07.080

  2. Torres SJ, Nowson CA, Worsley A. Dietary electrolytes are related to mood. Br J Nutr. 2008;100(5):1038-45. doi:10.1017/S0007114508959201

  3. Menzies, V., et al. Exploring associations fetween metabolites and symptoms of fatigue, Depression and pain in women with fibromyalgia. Biological Research for Nursing, 2020. doi:10.1177/1099800420941109

  4. Beelman RB, Kalaras MD, Phillips AT, Richie JP Jr. Is ergothioneine a 'longevity vitamin' limited in the American diet? J Nutr Sci. 2020;9:e52. doi:10.1017/jns.2020.44

  5. Swann OG, Kilpatrick M, Breslin M, Oddy WH. Dietary fiber and its associations with depression and inflammation. Nutr Rev. 2020;78(5):394-411. doi:10.1093/nutrit/nuz072

  6. Mayer EA, Tillisch K, Gupta A. Gut/brain axis and the microbiota. J Clin Invest. 2015;125(3):926-38. doi:10.1172/JCI76304

By Elizabeth Millard
Elizabeth Millard is a freelance journalist specializing in health, wellness, fitness, and nutrition.