Mushrooms are fascinating organisms that have existed on this planet since the beginning of time. Used both in the culinary and wellness realms for almost as long, fungi run the gamut of both flavor and effect. In terms of medicinal mushrooms, the compounds have been touted for their perceived abilities for everything from digestive health to immune system function.

Certain fungi may also have a dramatic effect on cognitive function. But which are the best mushrooms for brain health? Read on to find out.

Mushrooms for Brain Health – A Brief Overview

There are thousands of varieties of mushrooms in the natural world, with several unique species represented. Research on which specific mushrooms boost brain health remains somewhat limited but typically focuses on three types: reishi, cordyceps, and lion’s mane (more on them later). However, it turns out even commonly used culinary mushrooms like oyster and shiitake could bode well for our brains.

Researchers at the University of Singapore recently found increased mushroom consumption may protect the brain from decline. The six-year study followed 663 Chinese adults over the age of 60, revealing those who ate mushrooms as part of their regular diet twice a week performed better on cognitive function tests and processed information faster than those who only had one serving per week or less. The correlation is surprising and encouraging, with scientists eager to continue exploring how the unique antioxidants in mushrooms could impact efforts to prevent conditions like dementia.

Now let’s explore how the three mushrooms mentioned earlier (reishi, cordyceps, and lion’s mane) may boost brain health.

Reishi — The “Mushroom of Immortality”

Ganoderma mushrooms, typically referred to by their Japanese name reishi, was nicknamed “the mushroom of immortality” thanks to its multitude of perceived benefits. One of the most interesting abilities lies in its neuroprotective properties. A 2012 study published in the journal Neuropharmacology found reishi extract promotes the production of nerve growth factor, an important protein for peak neurological performance. While this research was conducted on mice, it can be deduced the compound would serve a similar purpose in humans.

Cordyceps — A Rare and Powerful Fungus

Cordyceps is not technically a mushroom, but it is a fungus. Typically found on certain types of caterpillars in Himalayan mountains (making it exceedingly hard to come by), most commercial cordyceps are synthesized in labs at scale. Highly desired for its myriad of potential health benefits, this compound has revealed itself to be an excellent aid for cognitive function. A 2018 Chinese study suggests cordyceps improved learning and memory in mice by destroying oxygen free radicals and thus preventing oxidative damage.

Another study published in the Saudi Journal of Biological Sciences showed the compound helps protect the brain’s hippocampus and may be a beneficial treatment for certain neuroinflammatory conditions. These studies have encouraged researchers to continue to examine the possibilities cordyceps may have in preventing and treating such issues.

Lion’s Mane — The Brain’s Best Friend

If there’s one mushroom that seems to be most impactful on neurological health, it’s lion mane. This superhero fungi has been shown time and time again to boost brain function and help protect the organ from future damage. In mice, the compound has decreased memory loss and prevented the build-up of amyloid-beta plaques known to lead to Alzheimer’s, according to research.

In humans, lion’s mane has also indicated promise. A survey of older adults with mild cognitive impairment showed those who took three grams of powdered lion’s mane mushroom daily for four months had increased mental function. Scientists believe lion’s mane abilities come from the presence of hericenones and erinacines, two compounds known to stimulate brain cell growth.
Mushrooms For Brain Health — Final Thoughts

Mushrooms are a fantastic dietary source of a wide range of compounds known to have a positive impact on brain health. Many of these, such as lion’s mane, cordyceps, and reishi, may also have an effect on cognitive decline, helping prevent devastating conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. While more research is needed to cement these findings, the current research is indeed promising. Beginning a mushroom regimen may help boost brain function, but always consult with your primary care provider for medical advice prior to starting.