Often classified as a vegetable or a herb, mushrooms are actually a type of edible fungi. Humans have been consuming them for a thousands of years, dating back to Ancient Egypt. In fact the Egyptians called them “the food of immortality”. Medicinal mushroom use is well known in Traditional Chinese Medicine, but did you know that any edible mushroom, even the common varieties found in the vegetable aisle have great properties for your health?
What’s in a mushroom
They contain several vitamins and minerals that are good for you:
- Riboflavin (Vitamin B2): used by your body for turning your food into energy and helps to utilise other vitamins
- Niacin (Vitamin B3): also helps release energy from food, repairs DNA, helps your body cells absorb oxygen and is essential for growth
- Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B5): required for production of blood cells and Coenzyme Q10, it also helps convert food to energy
- Copper: needed by your body to produce red blood cells and maintaining healthy bones and nerves
- Selenium: a powerful antioxidant, it also supports thyroid and immune health
- Potassium: supports heart, nerve and muscle function
- Phosphorus: works with calcium for strong bones, it also helps to filter waste and repair tissues and cells.
Beta-glucans: different to beta-glucan contained in other foods, those in mushrooms are unique and are strong immune modulators. The immune activity of Beta-glucans also acts upon certain cancers.
Lectins: a specialised type carbohydrate-protein found in mushrooms which can recognise and kill cancers cells, stop cancer cells from dividing and growing.
How mushrooms promote good health
Improve immunity and reduce inflammation: Beta-glucan content is a potent immune modulator that possesses anti-viral properties.These polysaccharide antioxidants in mushrooms increase natural killer cells which are your first line of defence for your immune system. Other actions in your immune system include increased antibody production, reduction mediators of pain and inflammation (certain cytokines and prostaglandins)
Protect from cancer: Lectins can recognise and kill cancer cells. Mushrooms also reduce aromatase, an enzyme that promotes oestrogen production. Oestrogen has been linked to many types of cancer particularly breast and cervical. Current research is showing mushrooms are also effective for stomach, colorectal, breast, and prostate cancers.
Powerful Antioxidants: Higher gram for gram than many other antioxidant foods, mushrooms have a high selenium content which helps to reduce free radicals damage. Free radicals are linked to cancer and aging.
Type 2 Diabetes: beta-glucans help to maintain steady blood glucose levels. Mushrooms also contain chromium which is also used for blood sugar regulation.
Heart Health: Potassium and fibre support cardiovascular health. Beta-glucan fibre can help lower cholesterol and improve blood viscosity, which are risk factors for heart disease.
Improve gut health: Full of prebiotics and fibre, mushrooms have also been found to support the beneficial bacteria of your gut, particularly Acidophilus and Bifidobacterium.
Which kind are best?
All mushrooms exhibit the above properties, but research has indicated that some have a stronger action than others.
White button: strong anti-aromatase activity. (Women who consumed 25-30 grams daily were 6%less likely to develop breast cancer)
Portobello: strong anti-aromatase activity
Shiitake: reduce cancer, support immunity, anti-viral, lowers cholesterol, regulates blood sugar, promotes gut health
Oyster: cancer inhibiting, protects the liver, reduces inflammation, antioxidant. Oyster mushrooms may possess strong anti-viral properties, particularly with regard to HIV.
Reishi: Not a good eating mushroom, enjoy its as an extract or tea. It is used for reducing oxidation and reduction of free radical damage. Reishi supports liver health, enhances immunity and reduces cholesterol. It has also been used for altitude sickness.
Cordyceps: Valued for increasing energy and reducing fatigue because they promote production of Adenosine triphosphate (ATP), your body’s main energy source. In Chinese Medicine Cordyceps are used as a tonic food for debility and recovery or when fatigue there are high levels of fatigue.
Choosing and storing mushrooms
Fresh mushrooms offer the maximum health benefits but if unavailable dried or powdered extracts will also be adequate. Select mushrooms that are dry and firm to the touch. Avoid slimy, wilted, discoloured or damaged mushrooms. Do not keep mushrooms in plastic bags (or containers that collect moisture) as they will ‘sweat’ and deteriorate; store them in paper bags in the refrigerator and eat within 4-5 days. Only wash mushrooms before cooking as storing them after washing can promote degradation. If you choose to eat raw mushrooms ensure that you know where they come from and avoid consuming unless you are ABSOLUTELY sure you know what you are eating.
Desley Hatfield can be found at the Ashfield Clinic. As a naturopath Desley is interested in improving your vitality and energy for the results you want. She believes that what and how you eat are very important to good health and this is an major factor of any clinical work. No matter what difficulties you may be experiencing, Desley utilises practical and simple methods which she feels are often the best way to achieve your health outcomes.