According to a report published by the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health problems, particularly depression, will be the first of the global burden of diseases in 2030 and the leading cause of mortality and morbidity . Depression is a mood disorder characterized by persistent feelings of sadness and loss of interest . Depressive disorders are often accompanied by somatic and cognitive changes that may significantly impact an individual’s capacity to function and decrease quality of life . However, we cannot forget that many individuals present with high-functioning depression, as well.
The underlying cause of depression is multifactorial as both genetic and environmental factors may play a role, but most research points to an interaction between neurotransmitter availability and receptor regulation, such as a disturbance in serotonin activity . Approximately 60% of those with depression do not seek help because of the existing stigmas surrounding mental health disorders; instead, we rely on online depression tests rather than a medical diagnosis in order to feel validated .
Medicinal mushrooms have powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotective effects that may have a positive effect on mental health. Although antidepressant medications are the standard of care, many individuals are refractory to treatment or have difficulties living with the adverse effects. Mushrooms may be an appropriate choice as both an alternative and complementary method in treatment of depressive mood disorders.
Lion's Mane Mushroom to Support Depression and Anxiety
A clinical trial was completed assessing the ability of Lion’s Mane to improve factors of depression, anxiety, and sleep in a group of overweight patients after 8 weeks of supplementation . The researchers assessed the serum levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and its pre-cursor, pro-BDNF, before and after supplementation . The results concluded that, after 8 weeks, the patient’s presented with increased serum levels of pro-BDNF, along with improvements in the severity of their depression, anxiety, and sleep quality . The mechanisms of action of BDNF are far from simple, but it has been found that decreased BDNF or a dysfunction in its processes can cause decreased excitatory neurons, which may potentially lead to depression .
The hippocampus is a region of the brain responsible for emotion and memory. Countless studies have found that in mood disorders, such as depression, this region is less than average in size, meaning there is a shrinkage of brain circuits in the area, affecting its functioning. A study published in 2018 found that the actions of Lion’s Mane in exerting anxiolytic and anti-depressant effects may lie in its ability to enhance neurogenesis in the hippocampus .
Lion’s Mane also contains a class of constituents known as terpenes. Hericenones is one of many terpenes found in Lion’s Mane that has been studied extensively, but it is unique in that it is able to pass the blood-brain barrier . Not only has this constituent been shown to improve neurocognitive impairment and stimulate the growth of brain cells, but its anti-inflammatory and antidepressant-like effects have allowed it to alleviate symptoms of depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders .
The Effects of Reishi Mushroom on Mental Health
Reishi, or Ganoderma lucidum, is another medicinal mushroom that may have profound effects on mental health. Polysaccharides extracted from Reishi have expressed anti-depressant effects in many research studies . One study found that Reishi exhibited antidepressant and anxiolytic effects by antagonism (blocking) of 5HT2A receptors, much like certain antidepressant pharmaceuticals . Research suggests that activation of this receptor may lead to mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, OCD, and insomnia . Thus, the use of Reishi may alleviate symptoms of depression and combat the comorbidities that tend to develop alongside it, such as anxiety and sleep disruptions.
Cordyceps Mushrooms for Inflammation and Anti-Depressive Effects
Cordyceps has historically been used as a complementary therapy to treat depression and anxiety because of its powerful anti-inflammatory actions . In one study, Cordyceps mushroom extract exhibited anti-depressive and anxiolytic effects by reducing inflammation and modulating certain neurotransmitters . The Cordyceps formulation significantly reduced levels of glutamate in the amygdala of the brain . Currently, there is increasing evidence of a possible relationship between glutamate and the development of depression; dysregulation of glutamate in the brain and gastrointestinal tract may play a role in the underlying pathophysiology of depressive disorders .
With a large proportion of our population living with daily symptoms of depression and other mental health disorders, research into alternative methods is continuously diving deeper. Medicinal mushrooms hold many properties that would be beneficial to those suffering from depression while also providing additional health benefits and lowering the risk of adverse effects.
We hope you have found this article informative. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them in the comment section below!
By Silvana Jakupovic — BSc and 4th Year Student of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM-Boucher)
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