While mushrooms are typically discussed in the context of culinary applications, many mushrooms also contain beneficial health properties, exerting antioxidant functions that may protect against a variety of diseases.
Mushrooms contain a large number of biologically active compounds that exert anti inflammatory and anticancer properties. Many researchers attribute this to polysaccharides, long chains of carbohydrate that are abundant in plant walls.
Specifically, researchers believe that bioactive polysaccharides stimulate the body’s natural immune response to infection and disease. In a number of research studies, mushroom extracts have been shown tostimulate the immune system, reduce tumor growth, and promote the apoptosis (death) of cancer cells (1).
It’s important to note that- in many studies- mushroom extracts have been modified in a laboratory setting to produce these effects, as the bioactivity of any one strain can potentially be increased by chemical modifications.
Studies of Cordyceps mycelium, a mushroom long used in traditional Chinese medicine, have shown beneficial impacts on levels of cellular inflammation, with the strain of fungus suppressing pro-inflammatory cytokines(2).
Given the role of inflammation in various debilitating and life threatening conditions (including, notably, heart disease and cancer), many researchers theorize that the use of Cordyceps Mycellium may be of benefit as an adjunct therapy (3).
Reishi Mycellium, another mushroom long popular in Chinese and Japanese medicine, has shown to elicit chemopreventive effects in the treatment of bladder cancer, whereas selenium-enriched extracts of Reishi mushrooms were shown to have a beneficial impact on the arrest of cellular pathogenesis of leukemia (4,5).
Meanwhile, Hericium erinaceus (also known as Lion’s Mane Mushroom) has been shown to elicit antimicrobial properties in wound healing. Hericium erinaceus has also been shown to promote neurotrophic growth, potentially benefiting neurological health and function. For these reasons, researchers have begun to investigate the potential for use of Hericium erinaceus as an adjunct therapy for neurodegenerative conditions, including dementia and Alzheimer’s disease (6,7).
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Benefits of Consumption
Mushrooms as a whole contain very few calories, plus beneficial fiber, vitamins, and minerals, many of which elicit antioxidant properties. The overwhelming majority of Americans fail to consume adequate amounts of fruit and vegetables, increasing risk for diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and other chronic, life threatening conditions.
Mushrooms are high in selenium, potassium, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin D, proteins, and fiber (8).
Studies have shown that regular mushroom consumption may enhance the activity of cancer-killing cells (appropriately known as “natural killer” cells), as well as increasing immunity to viruses and tumors by stimulating the immune system. Additionally, dietary consumption of mushrooms is typically well-tolerated, with very few potential side effects or risk of toxicity. Thus far, there has been an especially promising link between mushroom consumption and a reduction in breast cancer risk.
Given the low potential for negative outcomes, consuming common mushrooms in the form of crimini, white button, oyster, portobello, and shiitake is likely of high benefit to general health and functioning.
1. Banerjee S., Parasramka M., Paruthy S.B. (2015) Polysaccharides in Cancer Prevention: From Bench to Bedside. In: Ramawat K., Mérillon JM. (eds) Polysaccharides. Springer, Cham
2. Park, S.-Y., Jung, S.-J., Ha, K.-C., Sin, H.-S., Jang, S.-H., Chae, H.-J., & Chae, S.-W. (2015). Anti-inflammatory effects of Cordyceps mycelium (Paecilomyces hepiali, CBG-CS-2) in Raw264.7 murine macrophages. Oriental Pharmacy and Experimental Medicine, 15(1), 7–12. http://doi.org/10.1007/s13596-014-0173-3
3. Tuli, H. S., Sandhu, S. S., & Sharma, A. K. (2014). Pharmacological and therapeutic potential of Cordyceps with special reference to Cordycepin. 3 Biotech, 4(1), 1–12.
4. Yuen JW, Gohel MD.The dual roles of Ganoderma antioxidants on urothelial cell DNA under carcinogenic attack. J Ethnopharmacol. 2008 Jul 23;118(2):324-30. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2008.05.003. Epub 2008 May 8.
5. Shang D, Zhang J, Wen L, Li Y, Cui Q. Preparation, characterization, and antiproliferative activities of the Se-containing polysaccharide SeGLP-2B-1 from Se-enriched Ganoderma lucidum. J Agric Food Chem. 2009;57:7737–42.
6. Lai PL, et al. Neurotrophic properties of the Lion’s mane medicinal mushroom, Hericium erinaceus (Higher Basidiomycetes) from Malaysia. Int J Med Mushrooms. 2013;15(6):539-54.
7. Khan MA, Tania M, Liu R, Rahman MM.Hericium erinaceus: an edible mushroom with medicinal values. J Complement Integr Med. 2013 May 24;10. pii: /j/jcim.2013.10.issue-1/jcim-2013-0001/jcim-2013-0001.xml. doi: 10.1515/jcim-2013-0001.
8. Valverde, M. E., Hernández-Pérez, T., & Paredes-López, O. (2015). Edible Mushrooms: Improving Human Health and Promoting Quality Life. International Journal of Microbiology, 2015, 376387. http://doi.org/10.1155/2015/376387
9. Wu D, et al. Dietary Supplementation with White Button Mushroom Enhances Natural Killer Cell Activity in C57BL/6 Mice. The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 137, Issue 6, 1 June 2007, 1472–1477.
10. Ropas P, et al. The role of edible mushrooms in health: Evaluation of the evidence.Journal of Functional Foods. Volume 4, Issue 4, October 2012, 687-709.