Throughout history, mushrooms have held a place of significance across the globe. In Egypt, mushrooms were reserved for royalty, in China and other parts of Asia, various types of mushrooms were first used medicinally to cure a variety of illnesses and conditions, and in France, the mushroom was established as an haute cuisine favorite.
By the 1800’s, the mushroom love spread to the U.S. Foraging clubs were established across the country to search for the fungi with numerous natural health benefits that include cancer fighting compounds, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory micronutrients.
They are considered a superfood for their enormous positive effects on our bodies. The mushroom is the fruiting body of the underground network of fungal threads known as the mycelium. And while there are more than 300 known edible types of these fungi, only 10 types of mushrooms are grown commercially in the U.S.
High in Vitamin D
Mushrooms are a great source of vitamin D, an essential daily vitamin that can enhance calcium absorption for healthier and stronger teeth and bones. Vitamin D is also important in boosting the immune system. In fact, farmers can give mushrooms a few seconds of UV light after harvest to add additional Vitamin D. In general, mushrooms have about 20% of our daily requirement for vitamin D. If you live in cooler climates or don’t spend a lot of time in the sun (a natural source for Vitamin D), consider upping your daily intake of mushrooms.
Boosts the Immune System
According to a recent study by the American Society for Nutrition, white button mushrooms promote immune function by increasing the production of antiviral and other proteins released by cells when repairing the body’s tissues. Other studies have shown that mushrooms stimulate the maturation of immune system cells from bone marrow.
There is strong evidence to suggest that mushrooms have strong anti-cancerous properties. In fact, all edible mushrooms contain beta-glucans that can pass through immune cells to a cancerous area to kill cancerous cells within a malignant tumor. Studies have shown that beta-glucans aid in the protection against certain cancers including breast, lung and skin cancers. In addition, several studies suggest that white bottom and shitake mushrooms can help fight prostate cancer. And recently, a team of Taiwanese doctors found that F3 polysaccharides, a type of carbohydrate molecule found in reishi mushrooms, can induce antibodies to recognize and kill antigens associated with tumors or cancer cells.
Aid in Weight Loss
The next time you bake lasagna, consider swapping the meat for mushrooms. Simply substituting mushrooms for your meat in meals can save you about 400 calories a day, and help you lose around five pounds in a year, according to a study done by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Mushrooms are low in calories and can even help lower your cholesterol.
Types of Mushrooms and Their Uses
CORDYCEPS, also called caterpillar fungus, is popular with athletes due to its ability to increase ATP production, endurance, and strength. It is widely used for its anti-aging effects.
One of the compounds in Cordyceps, known as cordycepin, is one of several active medicinal compounds found in these fungi. It is presently being studied by scientists at The University of Nottingham for use as a cancer drug.
Cordycepin has the ability to reduce elevated blood glucose, protects kidneys and liver, increases blood flow, and helps normalize cholesterol levels. It has also been used to treat hepatitis B.
More recent studies suggest it has potent anti-inflammatory properties that may be helpful to those suffering from asthma, stroke damage, rheumatoid arthritis, and renal failure.
TURKEY TAIL (Trametes versicolor) is also known as the “cloud mushroom.” Two polysaccharide complexes in Turkey Tail, PSK and PSP, are receiving a great deal of scientific attention, making it the most extensively researched of all medicinal mushrooms with large scale clinical trials.
A seven year, $2 million NIH-funded clinical study in 2011 found that Turkey Tail improves immune function when dosed daily to women with stage l-lll breast cancer . The immune response was dose-dependent, with no adverse effects. PSP has been shown to greatly enhance immune status in 70-97 percent of cancer patients. Turkey Tail is being used to treat many different infections, including E.coli, HIV, Herpes, streptococcal pneumonia, and aspergillus. It is also hepatoprotective.
REISHI (Ganoderma lucidum) is also known in China as the “spirit plant.” It’s also been called “Mushroom of Immortality.” Reishi has been used medicinally throughout Asia for several thousand years. The list of Reishi’s health benefits is large:
- Helps to normalize blood cholesterol and blood pressure
- Boosts the immune system
- Reduction of prostate symptoms
- Anti-inflammatory, including the reduction of symptoms due to rheumatoid arthritis
- Antiviral (Epstein-Barr, Herpes), antifungal (including Candida), and antibacterial
SHIITAKE (Lentinula edodes) is a popular culinary mushroom. It contains a number of healthy agents, including lentinan. This polysaccharide has been used to treat stomach and other cancers due to its antitumor properties. The list of its health benefits is also large:
- Antiviral (including hepatitis, HIV, and colds), antibacterial, and antifungal effects
- Blood glucose reduction
- Reduction of atherosclerosis
- Cholesterol reduction
Make sure you use only organically grown mushrooms. Mushrooms concentrate whatever they absorb from soil, air, and water. Also, avoid picking mushrooms in the wild unless you are a true expert at this. Growing your own is a far safer alternative to picking wild mushrooms.
How about you? What are your favorites? How do you prepare them? Please share your experiences in the comment section below.