Eating mushrooms may be a surprising way to reduce depression

Mushrooms, often regarded as a superfood due to their various health benefits, may help reduce the symptoms and risk of depression, according to a new study from Penn State University. Key to this potential benefit is a potent antioxidant called ergothioneine, which helps protect the body from damage. Of all the foods that contain this antioxidant, mushrooms are the greatest source.

There is a huge variety of edible mushrooms, including the white button mushroom, which is the most commonly eaten mushroom in the United States. There may be multiple compounds in various mushrooms that can help reduce or prevent anxiety and depression. Eating mushrooms has been linked to a lowered risk of cancer, as well.

This new study involved mental health and diet data on more than 24,000 adults in the US; the data was collected from 2005 to 2016. An analysis of this data showed that the people who ate mushrooms were less likely to have depression, something potentially driven by the antioxidant ergothioneine.

Past research has linked antioxidants with helping prevent the development of mental health disorders like depression and schizophrenia. Beyond that, the researchers note that some other compounds in mushrooms may also help support mental health, including everything from potassium to a compound that stimulates nerve growth factor.

The researchers suggest that high levels of ergothioneine — which the human body can't synthesize on its own — may decrease oxidative stress in the body's tissues and cells, contributing to a decrease in depression symptoms. Among other things, the study accounted for other potentially influential factors, ultimately finding a "significant association" between eating mushrooms and a decreased risk of depression.