Mushrooms -- Top 7 Health Benefits

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June 24, 2014, last updated June 23, 2016
By Anita Lee, Editor and Featured Columnist  

[Health and fitness articles are reviewed by our team of
Doctors and
Registered Nurses, Certified fitness trainers and other members of our
Editorial Board.]

Mushrooms have been cultivated as human food for over
10,000 years. In fact, archaeologists have found edible
mushrooms in a site in Chile that date back over 13,000

Springing from the dark, moist undergrowth of the forest
floor and looking like miniature umbrellas, the whitish
brown sprouts must have startled our ancient ancestors.

Mushrooms actually are the body shoots of fungus. For at
least the past 2,000 years, mushrooms have been used not
only as food but as medicine in the Eastern cultures of
Japan, China and Korea.

Many of the medicinal claims from traditional Eastern
medicine about mushrooms seem doubtful –mushrooms
can grow hair and cure AIDS, really? –but, surprisingly,
Western universities have verified some of these outsized
claims and discovered several other, proven health benefits
of mushrooms.

Species of Mushrooms –Count the Stars

There are over 750 species of mushrooms known to
science. The most commonly cultivated mushroom are the
white “button” mushrooms found in almost every grocery
store aisle in the US and Europe and shiitake mushrooms.  
In addition, maitake, crimini
, honey mushrooms and oyster
mushrooms are popular.

In France, the truffle – a type of mushroom -- is harvested
as a culinary delicacy whose unique taste is so prized it
fetches prices upwards of $3,600 per pound.  In a Macau
auction in 2010, a large, white European truffle fetched a
record $330,000.

Why is the taste of mushrooms so fetching to humans?

Scientists from Japan believe they know.

Mushrooms are rich in a substance called
"glutamate". A
century ago, in 1908, Japanese scientist Kikunae Ikeda
from the University of Tokyo identified glutamate as that
“delicious” flavor we crave in foods such as parmesan
cheese, tomatoes, certain seaweed and, yes, mushrooms.

Scientists have since identified glutamate not just as a
flavor but as one of our essential tastes, right alongside
salty, sweet, bitter and sour. This fifth taste is now called

Scientists have learned that breast milk is especially rich in
glutamates. Our early suckling of this delicious milk
probably trains our taste buds to seek out foods which
have this umami quality.

So, go ahead --- slow grill some mushrooms in olive oil
tonight. And if, as the aroma wafts through the house, you
find that you start to feel strangely comforted, now you
know why.  You’re a babe in Mom’s arms again.

What are the health benefits of mushrooms? We have
scoured existing academic studies to collect together the
Top 7 proved health benefits of mushrooms:

Mushrooms Help Prevent Body Weight Gain

Shiitake mushrooms can prevent weight gain. In 2011,
researchers led by Dr. D. Handayani of the University of
Wollongong in Australia discovered that lab rates fed high
doses of shiitake mushroom powder gained 35% less
weight than the control group.  

Shiitake contain compounds called B-glucan and
eritadenine. B-glucan appears to help the body to resist
absorbing fat in your intestines, and causes your intestines
instead to excrete the fat deposits in your feces.

The researchers caution that the amount of mushroom
powder you would have to eat to achieve similar results is
about 90 grams per day –that’s about three quarters  of a


While all mushrooms contain Beta-glucan, portobello
mushrooms contain the most, according to a 2005 study
from the University of Illinois led by Cheryl Dikeman. Raw,
mature portabello mushrooms contain 0.2% of betaglucan,
while all other types of mushrooms contain half that
amount, 0.1.%.  

By the way, if you're wondering how to spell "portobello",
join the crowd. Portobello mushrooms can be spelled
"portabella" or even portabello". You'll find different
spellings not only in reciope books but also in scientific

2. Mushrooms Help to Prevent Heart Disease

Heart disease, also known as cardiovascular disease, is a
complicated process that starts with the inflammation of
your blood vessels. Inflamed blood vessels become
plastered with cholesterol, which then forms hardened
plaques. These plaques can break off and travel to your
heart, where they can cause a heart attack or to your brain,
where they can cause a stroke.  

This complex “cascade” of events starts with inflammation
an environment that encourages cells to stick to your artery
walls, creating blockages and plaque, a process known as

How do mushrooms fit into all this?

Mushrooms appear to disrupt the stickiness, according to a
2010 study from the College of Nursing and Health
Innovation in Arizona State University led by Dr. Keith R.

Mushrooms, especially the common white button
mushrooms, inhibit the adhesion process. The compound
which plays a key role in protecting your heart is D-

Bottom line---Eat more mushrooms, have less stickiness in
your arteries.  Less sticky arteries means greater, smoother
blood flow, which in turn means lower blood pressure and
fewer coronary events.

Mushrooms, Rich in Umami, Help to Satiate Your

One of the side benefits of being so rich in the umami taste
is that mushrooms tend to “satisfy” our taste buds, making
us feel full longer. We therefore become less likely to reach
for the quick hit tastes of sugar or salt, which makes us
again, less likely to become obese, have high blood
pressure or develop diabetes.

Mushrooms Fight Cancer

Several studies have found that mushrooms have anti-
cancer properties, including a 2004 study from Poland’s
Katedra Nauk Fizjologicznych, Wydziału Medycyny
Weterynaryjnej .

That study, led by Dr. Rajewska, concluded that , although
the exact mechaniusm through which mushrooms fight
cancer tumors is complex, “The biologically active
substances in mushrooms decrease DNA damage, reduce
carcinogen concentrations and their activation, inhibit the
growth of cancer cells by scavenging free radicals,
stimulate the immune system, and induce tumor cell
apoptosis[cell death].” (Read more about
foods that fight

Mushrooms contain a polysaccharide compound called
lentinan which the American Cancer Society and many
studies have found  can slow tumor growth.

However, the amount of lentinan which is effective in
slowing tumor growth and the exact mechanism are
unclear, pointing out the clear need for more studies.

Mushrooms Boost Your Immune System

Mushrooms are a font of biologically-active compounds,
including the aforementioned lentinan. Among the studies
which have found that mushrooms boost your immune
system is a 2009 study from Pennsylvania State University
led by Dr Sanhong Yo.

It turns out that the common , white button mushroom  ---
in particular --and other mushrooms (shiitake, crimini,
maitake and oyster mushrooms)  in general, trigger
production of microphages, one of the key protectors in
your immune system. In the lab, feeding mice mushrooms
also seems to protect the colon.

But we can’t stretch these results too far. Researchers
caution that protective results in the body –in vivo – were
mild, compared with the lab results.

What this means, if we try to interpret the various studies
correctly, is that eating white button mushrooms will not
dramatically boost your immune system robustness
immediately but, over time, you may experience a mild
protective effect, especially with respect to diseases that
attack your colon and digestive system. (Read more about
habits that boost your immunity by
increasing white blood
cell count.)

Save Your Teeth, Eat Mushrooms

Mushrooms, surprisingly, also have properties that protect
your teeth from cavities and your gums from

A 2000 study from Nihon University School of Dentistry in
Matsudo, Chiba, Japan  discovered that an extract from
shiitake mushrooms disrupts the ability of plaque to stick to
your teeth.

Mushrooms Help Protect Against Allergic Reactions

Mushrooms have been found to inhibit your body’s release
of histamine, which is the compound that causes red eyes,
itchy skin and the rest of the misery that accompanies
allergies, according to a 2012 review by researchers at the
University of North Carolina.


Mushrooms Help Control Blood Sugar

Mushrooms have so-called anti-glycemic" properties,
helping to stabilize your blood sugar throughout the day,
according to early results from two studies cited in the
2012 North Carolina review of mushrooms.

These studies, which were on lab animals, show that a diet
which includes mushrooms help to dampen swings in blood
sugar that normally follow the consumption of a meal high
in sugar or refined carbohydrates. More study is needed to
generalize the results from animal studies to humans.

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Shiitake mushrooms help prevent
weight gain and fight heart disease.