Mushroom’s immune system boosting benefits & 4 other surprising health perks

It’s that time of year when there’s lots of  talk about how to fight off colds and the flu. Debates abound about flu shots and various supplements  but all too often, the benefits of various foods are left out of the discussion. (More on supplements in another post). Well, it’s time for a change in thinking. Why not visit the produce aisle  to add to your arsenal of weaponry to fight the flu and colds choices?

Mushrooms are just one example of nature’s potent  defenses.

A recent news report about research on shiitake mushrooms asks,  “Could a mushroom a day help keep the doctor away?”. Well, according to accumulating evidence, it does seem that we should be adding mushrooms to the list of foods with medicinal properties. The recent study, carried out  at the University of Florida and  published  in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, showed  increased immunity in people who ate a ½ cup serving cooked shiitake mushroom every day for four weeks. The research, conducted on healthy adults, age 21 to 41, also showed decreased inflammation –   inflammation that’s produced when the immune system gears up.

Do we need to consume mushrooms every day to reap the benefits? More research needs to be done to determine the answer. But you could get some guidance about food and immune system functioning by  looking at what the subjects were instructed  not  to consume during the study:  no tea, probiotics or eating more than 7 servings of fruits and vegetables per day as they all can also improve the immune system functioning. They were also limited to 14 glasses of alcoholic beverages per week as excess can suppress your body’s ability to fight off infection.

But mushrooms have much more going for them besides their impact on fighting off infection. These low calorie vegetables have a number of surprising health benefits.

Here are just 4 more of mushrooms stellar actions:

•    Provide  anti-inflammatory action
While there are thousands of  varieties of mushrooms, only a few dozen are used in culinary preparations.  But within these varieties, there are numerous compounds that help to put out the fires of inflammation including those such as    polysaccharides, terpenoids and  phenolic compounds. When you consider that inflammation is at the root of many of today’s common ills, including heart disease and stroke, some cancers, Alzheimers’ disease and more, including mushrooms on your menu on a regular basis makes sense.

•    Help to regulate blood sugar levels
Mushrooms, in particular the oyster variety, have been linked to blood sugar lowering effects. In one study, the impact of dried oyster mushrooms was assessed in both healthy volunteers and those with type 2 diabetes using diet only for blood sugar management.  In the healthy subjects, the mushrooms  reduced both fasting blood sugar readings in additions to those readings following a test amount of  sugar (glucose). In those with diabetes, the mushrooms reduced the blood sugar readings following the test sugar as well.

•    Are a super low calorie source of potassium
While many look at sodium as the dietary offender in developing high blood pressure, consuming too little potassium is also a potential culprit.  For a mere 15 calories per cup of sliced mushrooms, you get a whopping 223 milligrams of potassium. Compare that to the 90 calories and 362 milligrams of potassium in a small banana.

•    Fight the spread of breast cancer cells
There have been numerous studies evaluating mushrooms and their effects on breast cancer cells which have included varieties such as maitake, crimini,   portabella, oyster  and  the commonplace, the white button type.  Overall, all test mushrooms significantly suppressed the spread of breast cancer cells and also promote apoptosis (almost like a cancer cell suicide).

Men aren’t being left out of the mushroom investigations with  animal research on mushrooms and  prostate cancer showing some promise but more work needs to be done.  There also appears to be protective effects against colon cancer as well.

Are you a fan of mushrooms? What  are your favourite kinds and how do you prepare them? Please share in the comment section below.

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Categories: Research Roundup

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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