Mushrooms for health and longevity
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, mushrooms have a special place of respect. Western Medicine is finally waking up to their value, especially with the treatment of cancer, psychological disorders and in support of the immune system. However, not all mushrooms are of equal medicinal value.
Medicinal mushrooms are taken in small quantities, and sometimes don't even taste so good. Food mushrooms that you find in most grocery stores also have some limited medicinal value, but not the same level of benefits offered by the more exotic Asian mushrooms.
Japanese and wild mushrooms such as shiitake, maitake, ganoderma, oyster, enokidake and reishi are highly nutritious, containing proteins, glyconutrients and a range of healing phytonutrients. The common white button mushroom is the least nutritious of them.
The Reishi mushroom is renowned for enhancing longevity, and is an important part of traditional medicine in China and Japan. It is hard, bitter and not suitable for cooking. However, several of the other mushrooms mentioned above are delicious. They improve your immune function, protect against tumours, have strong anti-allergy and anti-inflammatory effects, and are good for your liver.
Generally, you should not eat raw mushrooms.
One study (1) examined the effect of powdered white button mushrooms on the immune systems of mice. Mushrooms boosted the production of their natural killer cells, which help defend against tumours and virus infection.
Another study (2) found that mushrooms are high in an antioxidant that helps prevent plaque formation in arteries. Mushrooms may be the best source of this antioxidant - ergothioneine - which is also found in other foods like wheat germ and chicken liver. Even white button mushrooms have 4 to 12 times more than non-mushroom sources.
1. Dietary supplementation with white button mushroom enhances natural killer cell activity in C57BL/6 mice.
Wu, D. et al., Journal of Nutrition 2007 Jun;137(6):1472-1477
2. The novel antioxidant ergothioneine found in dietary mushrooms inhibits monocyte binding to human aortic endothelial cells. Martin, K. R., FASEB Journal. 2008;22:700.26.