Mushrooms for MenopauseFeb 22, 2023
Can these fungi help with mood swings, brain fog, and other menopause symptoms? Science is trying to find out.
By Selene Yeager
Note: This article was first published in February 2022. Since then, new research and CounsumerLab recommendations have been published. This article has been updated.
Mushrooms are having a moment. People have used mushrooms medicinally for thousands of years. But they’re currently enjoying a surge in popularity in the mainstream wellness sphere. A Fortune Business Insights report predicts that the demand for functional mushrooms like lion’s mane, reishi, and Chaga in the food & beverage industry is expected to grow at a rapid pace over the next several years.
Companies like MUD\WTR and Four Sigmatic are encouraging active folks to trade in their usual cup of java for adaptogenic mushroom blends that promise to provide immunity and alertness without the jitters or caffeine crash. Mushroom powders and capsules are popping up in the endurance and sports nutrition space for promoting endurance and recovery. And, functional mushrooms have made their way into the menopause orbit, with menopause wellness sites promising that they can lessen some of the symptoms that come with hormonal fluctuation and decline.
I’ve used the functional fungus cordyceps in Optygen HP (which also contains other adaptogens such as Rhodiola and most recently ashwagandha) on and off for more than a decade. I always felt it improved my endurance capacity, especially during arduous events like mountain bike stage races. And research (though somewhat limited in scope) supports that.
Though I enjoy mushrooms as food, I’ve never investigated supplementing them (or deliberately eating more of them) for other reasons, until a new study on mushroom intake and depression crossed my desk and I started digging deeper into the literature on these fascinating fungi.
The depression study, which was published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, analyzed data from 24,699 women and men, average age 45.5, and reported that mushroom consumption was associated with lower odds of depression, even after taking other major risk factors like medications, diseases, sociodemographics into consideration.
Specifically, compared with participants who ate no mushrooms or ate very few mushrooms, those who ate them regularly—with a median intake of 4.9 grams of mushrooms per day (for reference ½ cup of mushrooms is 44 grams) — were 69 percent less likely to have depression. The researchers hypothesize that the benefits could be due to high amounts of an amino acid called ergothioneine many mushrooms contain, which acts as an antioxidant and could protect against cell damage in the brain.
This study echoes older research that found that women who consumed baked goods containing lion’s mane mushrooms (which is one of the varieties that is popular in the mushroom coffee drinks and other supplements) for four weeks reported significantly fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression than those who ate placebo baked goods that contained no lion’s mane mushrooms.
New pre-clinical research on lion's mane mushrooms found that the active compounds in the fungus had a significant impact on the growth of brain cells in the laboratory setting. This supports findings from a 2013 study on lion’s mane, which reported that it has neurotrophic (i.e., is nourishing to the nerve cells) properties and that regular consumption might promote nerve and brain health.
Other studies in the past several years have reported that the polysaccharides found in mushrooms may make them particularly good for strengthening immunity and that mushrooms act as an adaptogen, helping the body be more stress resilient.
Regarding menopause symptoms specifically, there’s evidence in animal research that the phytoestrogens found in the mushroom cordyceps (which is a functional rather than culinary mushroom) can help prevent bone loss related to estrogen decline.
And that’s all just reporting on mushrooms through a Western medicine lens that shows up via research papers in PubMed. As mentioned earlier, mushrooms have been used for thousands of years in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Japanese Traditional Medicine.
What does all this mean? It’s hard to say based on rigorous, well-designed clinical trials, because those are hard (and in some cases impossible) to come by. It can also be hard to find quality supplements. In a recent review by ConsumerLab.com, the independent supplement review site gave both MUD/WTR and Four Sigmatic Instant Coffee Mix a "Not Able to Approve" designation. MUD/WTR was labeled as such for claiming to be made from mushroom extracts when they include extracts from the mycelium, the part of the fungus that is below ground and not the fruiting portion above the ground that is commonly referred to as the "mushroom." Similarly, Four Sigmatic's ingredients suggest that it includes mycelium rather than just the fruiting body and/or less lion's mane mushroom than labeled. Their top pick for those interested was Real Mushrooms Lion's Mane.
If you’re someone who enjoys adaptogens like ashwagandha, you can always try an adaptogen blend (like Optygen) that includes cordyceps and see how you feel. Or you can just eat more mushrooms (there’s a huge variety, so there’s bound to be one or two you like) as part of a well-rounded diet. It may help your menopausal health and maybe even boost your lifespan.
Mushrooms are a rich source of powerful antioxidants ergothioneine and glutathione and recent research reports that people who regularly eat mushrooms have a lower risk of premature death, regardless of their demographics, lifestyle choices and other dietary factors.
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