Mushrooms are an often overlooked and underappreciated food source. They have been used by cultures around the world for thousands of years and provide a variety of health benefits.
While there are thousands of known species of mushrooms, only a fraction are regularly grown and available to consumers. Popular mushrooms you can find in most health food stores include shiitake, portobello, oyster, lion's mane, chaga, and reishi, to name a few. These mushrooms each have their own unique nutrient profiles and health benefits. That said, the types you choose to consume will depend on your personal needs and preferences, but there are many reasons to include mushrooms in your diet.
In this article, you will learn about some major health benefits that come with the consumption of mushrooms as well as ways to buy them online and in person.
1. Mushrooms can enhance immune function
While mushrooms are considered vegetables, they are members of the fungi kingdom and contain many nutrients like vitamins B, C, and D. They're also high in fiber, protein, and minerals such as selenium, magnesium, and copper, among others.
In light of their nutritional content and anti-inflammatory properties, it's no surprise that mushrooms can have a positive impact on the immune system. One study published in Mycobiology in 2005 discovered that chaga, a medicinal mushroom, was extremely beneficial for people who were immunocompromised. In fact, they'd concluded that it could be helpful to use a water extract of chaga in addition to chemotherapy in order to support the immune system and lessen the damage done by the chemotherapy. (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3774877/)
You can find chaga mushrooms in powder form and easily sprinkle it into soups, smoothies, or even desserts. In most cases, the powder doesn't have an overpowering taste and is a simple way to get the benefits of eating mushrooms without actually having to eat them whole. This is an especially good option if you're not a fan of the taste or texture of mushrooms.
2. Medicinal mushrooms can improve cognitive abilities
Lion's mane is well known for its effect on the nervous system. It's been shown to optimize concentration and mental sharpness. This is not only great news for students, but also for patients struggling with dementia. A study published in Biomedical Research in 2011 found that lion's mane may be helpful in preventing cognitive decline. (pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21383512/)
This study examined mice who were given lion's mane as well as a drug that promoted cognitive dysfunction, and then were analyzed throughout the experiment. The researchers had the mice go through multiple tests and discovered that the consumption of this mushroom had helped protect the mice from memory impairment.
If you'd like to add lion's mane to your diet, a popular way this mushroom is prepared is as a tea or in a powder form that can be added to shakes or smoothies. Additionally, it can be eaten baked or sautéed with other vegetables, for those who enjoy the taste.
3. Some mushrooms may help fight cancer cells and inhibit tumor growth
Numerous studies over the years have touted the anti-cancer properties of mushrooms. As noted above, some species of mushrooms may even be added alongside treatment with chemotherapy.
One study found that the use of reishi extract may help to increase the activity of natural killer cells in cancer patients, which could lead to better treatment outcomes. (pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12916709/). Natural killer cells, a key part of our immune system, help fight off cancer and other pathogens. Another study found that Lentinan, a polysaccharide found in shiitake mushrooms, has been shown to fight the growth of tumors. (pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26974354/).
While reishi mushrooms may sound like a game-changer for your health, some people should exercise caution when consuming them. In 2005, there was a study that resulted in some participants experiencing liver damage after taking reishi in powder form. It's inconclusive whether the damage was due to a drug interaction or an underlying disease. (pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17621752/) In more recent studies, participants with blood pressure issues are typically excluded from experiments related to reishi.
If you're looking for a way to get more vitamins and minerals into your diet, mushrooms are an excellent choice. They can improve cognitive abilities, fight tumor growth, and aid in the immune system's function too. Incorporating this healthy vegetable into your daily life is easy, just add them as toppings on pizza or pasta dishes, make mushroom soup with some fresh thyme, or enjoy stir fried mushrooms at dinner tonight.