A mushroom might be the last thing you think of when it comes to immunity. Sure, they’re great as part of a meat sauce or salad, but their benefits go way beyond cooking – they’re actually incredible for our immune system! In fact, some mushrooms are even called medicinal mushrooms since they have mega-health – even cancer-fighting – properties, which alone are astounding.
Mushrooms are also one of the few edible sources of Vitamin D. Vitamin D is so important because it regulates our immune system, neuromuscular system, and helps calcium build strong bones. Per one study, Vitamin D can also help with respiratory disease in children, cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative diseases, and type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
Medicinal Mushrooms Anti-Cancer Benefits
One of the most striking medicinal benefits of mushrooms are their anti-cancer properties. Reishi, cordyceps, and maitake are best known for anti-cancer, as research shows these types have been used to fight cancer for centuries. They were shown to inhibit tumor growth and may help the body create new healthy cells, so definitely consider including them in your diet if you’re undergoing chemo and radiation.
Medicinal mushrooms also pack beta-glucan, which stimulates cell healing and improves immune function. For breast cancer in particular, try ganoderma mushrooms, which may suppress tumor growth by altering lipid metabolism and triggering cell death. For colorectal cancer, try chaga mushrooms.
Research Proves Anti-Cancer Potency
I interviewed Ocean Robbins, founder of Food Revolution Network when writing my book, Cancer Free with Food, and he pointed me to a study done in Australia that indicates we should all be eating mushrooms regularly and in conjunction with green tea. In his book 31-Day Food Revolution, he highlights a 2004 study of 2,000 Chinese women, roughly half with breast cancer, conducted by the University of Western Australia, Perth.
He writes: "The scientists reviewed the women’s eating habits and factored out other variables that contribute to cancer, such as being overweight, lack of exercise, and smoking. They came to a startling conclusion about mushrooms. Women who consumed at least a third of an ounce of fresh mushrooms per day (less than one typical-size mushroom) were 64 percent less likely to develop breast cancer."
Dried mushrooms had a slightly less protective effect, reducing the risk by around half. What was even more impressive is that women who combined eating mushrooms with regular consumption of green tea saw an even greater benefit—they reduced their breast cancer risk by an astounding 89 percent.
What Makes Mushrooms So Powerful Against Cancer?
Aside from their immune-boosting properties, mushrooms are thought to protect against breast and other hormone-related cancers because they inhibit an enzyme called aromatase, which produces estrogen.
Mushrooms also contain specialized lectins that recognize cancer cells and prevent these cells from growing and dividing. Lectins, a type of carbohydrate-binding protein, have gotten a bad reputation in some circles, but some of them, such as the ones in mushrooms, can be beneficial.
7 Medicinal Mushrooms and Their Potential Benefits
While more research is needed on the effectiveness of mushrooms, some studies so far point to impressive potential health and medicinal benefits. Here are seven superfood mushrooms that have been lab-studied for a plethora of health conditions.
In addition to boosting your immunity, lion’s mane has been shown to improve cognitive and brain function, and even help fight off neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. A lab study on mice showed that lion’s mane helped reduce amyloid-beta plaques, which grow in the brain during Alzheimer’s. Lion’s mane can also be helpful in relieving depression and anxiety.
Shiitake mushrooms are some of the most potent of medicinal mushrooms. For one, they have been shown in studies to have anti-cancer benefits thanks to lentinan, a carbohydrate that may help fight tumors, and slow the growth of leukemia cells. Shiitake mushrooms also have amazing immunity-boosting properties and, according to Healthline, may help with heart health, bone strength, and fight off bacteria.
Maitake mushrooms are known adaptogens, which help your body respond to stress and anxiety. They can help keep your body balanced when under stressful situations, like regulating how much cortisol (stress hormone) your body releases. Maitake mushrooms are also packed with antioxidants, potassium, fiber, and more. WedMd notes they’re also shown to help with cancer, type 2 diabetes, blood pressure, and fighting off cold and flu viruses.
Reishi may be the most impressive of all medicinal mushrooms, being shown to help with depression, immunity, and even cancer. One study says reishi mushrooms even enhance immune response in patients with advanced-stage cancers, which may suggest reishi mushrooms could be helpful for cancer patients. Reishi mushrooms were also shown to reduce blood sugar in diabetic mice and may help lower cholesterol.
Chaga mushrooms may be beneficial for those on chemotherapy, as one study finds chaga mushrooms helped recover bone marrow that was damaged during chemotherapy. In another study, chaga supplements helped reduce cancer tumor cells by 60 percent. The Cleveland Clinic says chaga mushrooms have also been shown to reduce inflammation, lower blood sugar, and lower cholesterol.
Cordyceps is a mushroom that boosts anti-aging properties, thanks to its high antioxidant content. Antioxidants fight off free radical damage to our cells, and help boost new cell turnover. As an added bonus, studies say that cordyceps helped mice improve their sex drive and cognitive health. Healthline also says cordyceps may have anti-cancer benefits and could help with heart health and diabetes and even improve exercise performance.
Get Mushrooms Into Your Diet
Here are some easy ways to incorporate mushrooms into your kitchen and diet:
- Cook with fresh mushrooms at home and add them to your stir-fries and soups.
- Add raw mushrooms to your salads.
- You can take mushrooms in capsule form as a supplement.
- Check out mushroom-infused tea, coffee, and hot chocolate!
- Get a mushroom powder and add it to smoothies and desserts.
Please note that these statements do not constitute medical advice. Always consult with your healthcare professional before beginning any course of treatment.
For mushrooms and mushroom supplements, be sure to follow the recommended dosages on the back of the package in which you buy them. Also know that mushrooms are not for everyone, and that certain body types are intolerant to mushrooms. You can take a DNA or food allergy test to see if mushrooms are healthy for your body.
Liana Werner-Gray is the founder and owner of The Earth Diet, author of diet-related books and an advocate for natural healing using a healthy diet and lifestyle. Check out her books: Cancer-Free with Food, Anxiety-Free with Food, The Earth Diet, and 10-Minute Recipes. Connect with her on Facebook or Instagram @lianawernergray.
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