Mushrooms often addressed as the ‘elixir of life’ and ‘foods for the Gods’ are the powerhouse of health boosting nutrients. They are the richest source of proteins, fibre, vitamins (D, B1, B12, C and E), potassium, phosphorus and selenium.
Not just nutrients, they are also packed with phenolic compounds, carotenoids, polysaccharides and indoles which show antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties. These beneficial properties help to reduce the risk of inflammatory diseases, allergies, heart diseases, hypertension and cancer.
As functional medicine and holistic nutrition are mainstream in the recent scenario, there has been a resurgence of interest in this marvelous superfood and its ability to prevent or reduce risk of cancer. Let’s explore the health benefits of mushrooms in cancer prevention.
What are medicinal mushrooms?
Mushrooms are fruiting body and have been used as a medicine (medicinal mushrooms) for thousands of years in Japan and China. They have been destined to be taken in the form of supplements or powders and their potential has been widely studied in cancer trials.
These anti-cancer benefits are attributed to the presence of polysaccharides especially beta-glucans. These polysaccharides also activate white blood cells to boost immunity, reduce inflammation, a major trigger for progression of tumor cells and also prevent the formation of cancer cells.
Common anticancer mushrooms
The most commonly used and well-researched varieties of mushrooms which are widely used for their anti-tumor and immune enhancing roles in cancer patients are:
- Reishi: It is one of a great variety which has been shown to improve immune response, reduces side effects of chemotherapy such as nausea and provides antioxidant benefits. It is also known to prolong life, improve vitality, strength and stamina.
- Shitake: It is a button mushroom used both as a delicacy and a medicinal mushroom due to its tenderness. Due to its immune enhancing properties, it is used for alternative and complementary therapy for cancer. Lentinan, a compound present in this mushroom increases survival rate, improves quality of life and reduces recurrence of cancer.
- Turkey Tail: It is the most researched mushroom in cancer across the world.Clinical studies have shown that it significantly improves survival rates with its immune stimulation and anti-tumor properties. It can also enhance the effects of chemotherapy and reduce the side effects of radiation therapy.
- Cordyceps: These white mushrooms act as an immune stimulator by improving the activity of T cells, natural killer cells and white blood cells. It protects the kidneys from the side effects of chemotherapy.
- Maitake: It is one of the varieties of mushrooms commonly used in Japanese foods. It protects body cells from damaging effects of free radicals and also reduces the inflammatory markers involved in cancer development. It also reduces the proliferation and spread of cancer through its anti-metastatic effects.
- Chaga:This mushroom is rich in betulinic acid, which inhibits the activity of topoisomerase (cancer-promoting enzyme). It also promotes apoptosis and cell death in various types of cancers such as skin, brain, ovarian and head and neck cancers.
What research says about the use of medicinal mushrooms in cancer?
Different clinical trials support the use of medicinal mushrooms in cancer prevention. The findings of the clinical studies have indicated the potential role of Turkey Tail (especially Trametes versicolor and Coriolus versicolor), Maitake and Reishi mushrooms in improving survival of patients with cancers such as breast cancer, colorectal cancer, gastric cancer and liver cancer and reduce the risk of cancers such as prostate and colon cancer.
In addition, these studies have also demonstrated that medicinal mushrooms can be beneficial when used as a complementary therapy or adjuvant therapy with chemotherapy and radiotherapy only after evaluating their interactions with these treatments. They should not be used as the first-line cancer treatment.
Other health benefits of medicinal mushrooms
Despite cancer prevention and immune boosting properties, Medicinal mushrooms also offers a myriad of benefits such as:
- Reduce risk of bacterial and viral infections by boosting immune system
- Promotes heart health by lowering inflammation
- Improves energy levels and reduces fatigue
- Gives you sharper memory while improving cognitive function
- Supports nervous system and brain function
- Helps to maintain healthy body weight
- Regulates blood sugar levels
- Relieves allergy and asthma by inhibiting release of histamine
- Encourages sound sleep, alleviates anxiety and depression
- Fights free radicals, thus reduces skin aging
How to include medicinal mushrooms into diet?
Mushrooms are commonly used by chefs to create rich savory rich flavors called umami, which is mostly found in meat, fish, cheese, soy and fermented foods due to the presence of glutamate. You can relish this savory flavor by including it in your diet. These superfoods can be incorporated in your daily diet in a number of ways:
- Some varieties of mushrooms such as reishi and turkey tail are too tough and bitter to eat. You can consume these mushrooms in the form of dried powders only. These powders can be added to tea, coffee, boiled water, smoothies or your chocolate desserts.
- Other anticancer mushrooms such as maitake and shiitake can be consumed by cooking by sauteing quickly over high heat or simmering over low heat. They can be added in side dishes, salads, soups, omelettes, pasta, soups, broths, stews, and colorful stir fries.
That was a lot of information, Right! Now you must be aware of the benefits of medicinal mushrooms and how they are important for cancer patients. So, next time you make a salad or think of supplements, you must consider adding these varieties. Because an ample amount of fresh mushrooms can significantly reduce your risk of getting this deadly disease, cancer.
Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
Q. What are the risks of taking medicinal mushrooms?
Ans. Medicinal mushrooms are safe to use in your daily diet. However they may cause side effects and increase the risk of allergy, diarrhea, bloating and dermatitis in some patients. It is also suggested that patients who are taking warfarin, blood thinners, immunosuppressants and those who are allergic to it should not consume them.
They may also interact with other drugs such as anti-diabetic drugs, medicines, or other food supplements, so you should consult your doctor before consuming them.
Q. How to consume medicinal mushrooms?
Ans. Medicinal mushrooms are usually consumed in the form of dietary supplements either as capsules or dried powders. However, some varieties such as shitake can be consumed by simple cooking. Also you should not consume wild mushrooms, if you are not 100% sure of their varieties. Some varieties are not edible and thus can be poisonous.