Mushrooms are powerful medicine

  • An article in “Advances in Nutrition” says mushrooms can reduce the risk of cancer. Photos by Ruth Clark

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    An article in "Advances in Nutrition" says mushrooms can reduce the risk of cancer. —Courtesy

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    An article in "Advances in Nutrition" says mushrooms can reduce the risk of cancer. —Courtesy

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    An article in "Advances in Nutrition" says mushrooms can reduce the risk of cancer. —Courtesy

For the Ledger-Transcript
Published: 11/5/2021 11:15:33 AM

Mushrooms have many healing abilities. A 2021 meta-analysis published in the journal “Advances in Nutrition” found that folks who ate roughly an eighth to a quarter of a cup of any type of mushroom daily had a lower risk from all cancers, but most significantly breast cancer.

Mushrooms are chock-full of glutathione and ergothioneine, which are powerful antioxidants that fight free-radical damage. This damage causes oxidative stress, which increases risk for cancer. Additionally, inflammation plays a large role in the development of cancer, so it isn’t surprising that mushrooms can be helpful in prevention and treatment.

In fact, cancer is one of the most-researched areas when it comes to medicinal mushrooms. Beta-glucans, which are found in high levels in mushrooms, activate the immune system to prevent the spread of cancer cells. Also, polysaccharides in mushrooms such as maitake and turkey tail inhibit tumor growth and prevent the start of new cancers. It’s interesting that in Japan and China, mushrooms have been used for more than three decades as supportive therapies along with standard cancer treatments.

For these reasons alone, mushrooms can be a great addition to your diet, plus there are several additional health benefits. 

1.  Widespread improvement of your immune system. Specific mushrooms such as reishi, shiitake, and maitake are excellent sources of beta glucans. These substances trigger a cascade of events that help regulate the immune system, making it more efficient. Beta glucans stimulate the activity of immune cells that ingest and demolish invading germs and stimulate other immune cells to attack. This is especially important to think about right now if you want to avoid colds and flu this winter season.

2.  Protect heart health. Mushrooms such as maitake, shiitake, lion’s mane and reishi promote healthy cholesterol regulation in the body. They increase cholesterol breakdown in the liver, which helps the body to get rid of excess cholesterol.

3.  Decrease inflammation directly. Some mushrooms act directly on reducing inflammation. For example, cordyceps, a mushroom that contains a compound called cordycepin, stimulates the production of anti-inflammatory substances in the body. Reishi mushrooms contain triterpenes, which have been shown to decrease several markers of inflammation in the laboratory. Other mushrooms act more indirectly by quenching free-radical damage to prevent inflammation. Chaga and oyster mushrooms are good examples.

4.  These wonderful fungi are a great source of fiber, as well as minerals that are hard to come by, including copper, selenium, phosphorus and a bit of iron, zinc, manganese and magnesium, and they are tasty, too. They are a fairly good source of protein, especially when you compare them to animal products on a calorie-to-calorie basis.

5.  Good source of vitamin D. Although we know that sunlight is the best source of vitamin D, over the past decade, scientists have found that exposing mushrooms to UV lamps or direct sun increases their vitamin D content. Mushrooms have the same ability to absorb vitamin D from the sun as human skin and are one of the only plant foods that are a good source of vitamin D.

The vitamin D produced is in the form of D2, which had been thought to be less potent and biologically less active than vitamin D3. But in a study published in “Dermato-Endocrinology” in 2013, vitamin D2 in mushrooms compared with D3 in a supplement showed that eating 2,000 IUs of vitamin D2 in mushrooms is as effective as ingesting 2000 IUs of vitamin D3 in a supplement in raising and maintaining blood levels of vitamin D. Given where we live (long nights for six months of the year), this is good news.

Mushrooms are easy to add to your diet. Throw a handful into a tomato sauce for pasta, or sauté with onions and/or garlic as a basis for an omelet or a topping for a salad. Soups are a great way to increase your mushroom intake. One of my favorites is mushroom and greens risotto. And I have some porcinis and black trumpet that I foraged this fall to add. Sounds like a fun dish to make next weekend as we move into daylight saving time and the shorter days. To keep in touch, please join my Facebook group Choices for Graceful Aging at facebook.com/groups/2925226717792896.

Ruth Clark, author of the best-selling book “Cool the Fire: Curb Inflammation and Balance Hormones,” is a registered dietitian nutritionist with a master’s in public health and more than 35 years of experience.  She lives in Sharon and her practice is 100% virtual.  Ruth specializes in mid-life and older women who are struggling with weight, mood and fatigue to regain their energy and vitality. You can reach her at ruth@ruthrd.com.


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