Eating fresh foods is always a healthy option. However, it is difficult to know which ones are more beneficial.
It certainly helps if we know how the food we are eating can contribute to our body. It is not just the brightly coloured fruit and vegetables that are good for you; dull-looking mushrooms are packed with health-giving properties and show promise against a range of diseases, according to research.
The East has known for centuries that mushrooms are potent disease fighters, and not only the exotic types; even button mushrooms can help ward off disease. A brief look at the various types will give you an idea of the healthy properties of each variety.
The most commonly consumed mushroom is the white button mushroom, which is showing promise for fighting cancer, according to research. These mushrooms contain powerful polysaccharides known for their immune system regulating and anti-tumour effects.
Scientists have discovered that they have an ability to stop and even reverse the growth of breast cancer cells (J. Med. Food, 2012). Arizona State University researchers carried out a laboratory study using extracts of mushrooms and concluded that the white button mushroom, oyster mushrooms and other common mushrooms all reduced the growth of human breast cancer cells by up to 33 per cent (Exp. Biol. Med., Maywood , 2010).
In another study, when white button mushrooms were added to the diets of mice for 10 weeks, natural killer cells activity was increased. These immune system cells play a key role in fighting tumours as well as virus-infected cells (J. Nutr., 2007). A recent study of more than 1,000 Chinese women reported lower breast cancer risk among those who ate lots of fresh or dried mushrooms. (Int. J. Cancer, 2009).
Maitake mushrooms appear to be even more potent cancer fighters than white buttons. They suppress the growth of cancer cells and induce apoptosis (programmed cell death).
In one study, the polysaccharide found in maitake mushrooms killed over 95 per cent of prostate cancer cells (Mol. Urol., 2000). In a randomised Japanese study of 80 women suffering from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), it was discovered that although the usual medication for inducing ovulation was 94 per cent successful, those who received the maitake extract instead of the hormone stimulating drug were 77 per cent successful.
This makes it a viable alternative to those who do not wish to experience the side effects of the medication (J. Altern. Complement. Med., 2010).
Another condition tested in research was diabetes. A daily dose of 1,000 mg of maitake was found to permanently normalise blood sugar levels in patients who had severe type 2 diabetes (Diabet. Med., 2001).
Oyster mushrooms were found to be a natural source of a cholesterol-lowering compound when tested on animals. Although the trials have not yet been carried out on humans, a small clinical trial over a four-week period reported a 30 per cent reduction in the participants’ LDL cholesterol levels.
There are commercially available mushroom products; however, medicinal and culinary mushrooms are often the same, so many of the benefits of mushrooms can be received simply by making them a regular part of your diet.
Research by the US Department of Agriculture has discovered that most of the nutrients in raw mushrooms are fully retained when cooked, while others are retained at levels of 80-95 per cent.
Japanese researchers have found that eating raw mushrooms can eliminate bad breath. They have an ability to ‘capture’ methyl mercaptan, which is the main chemical responsible for halitosis. (J. Agric. Food Chem., 2001). Raw mushrooms are a tasty addition to a salad.
Fungus-based materials may make good artificial skin and wound coverage. The idea came from similar products based on crustacean shells and the fact that fungal cell walls also contain chitin and/or chitosan (J. Biomed. Mater. Res. A., 2005).
A Norwegian study concluded that an extract of Agaricus Blazei Murill, which is an edible mushroom from Brazil, can both treat and prevent bacterial infections such as bronchitis, pneumonia and meningitis (Scand. J. Immunol., 2005).
Other mushrooms with health-giving properties include the shiitake mushroom, which also helps treatment towards tumours, especially those in the stomach. In animal studies, shiitake mushroom powder had been found to lower blood pressure and cut cholesterol; it is stressed that trials have not been carried out on humans yet (J. Nutr. Sci. Vitaminol., 1987). The reishi mushroom has also been the subject of various studies and found to have an anti-diabetic and cardio-protective effect in humans.
It is important to remember that all mushrooms are fungal. Therefore, care should be taken when suffering from a fungal condition. In general, however, there are many facts which support mushroom consumption.
Maitake mushrooms are rich in fibre while being low in calories and fat. In a study of more than 30 overweight participants, those who took maitake tablets (equal to consuming 200 g of fresh mushrooms) daily for two months lost weight, despite making no other changes to their usual diets (Altern. Med. Rev., 2001).