Nutritional scientists researching the therapeutic values of the mushroom are finding that the common fungus among us has almost as many benefits as it does varieties. These popular spores contain antioxidants, vitamin D, thiamin, magnesium, phosphorus, selenium, and copper – ingredients have been shown to fight inflammation, lower blood pressure, improve muscle and nerve function, prevent coronary artery disease, improve blood sugar levels, and lessen chronic fatigue syndrome and joint pain. Other health benefits include improved metabolism and thyroid function as well as better red blood cell production. [This article, “Stuffed With Health Benefits, Mushrooms Have Gone Mainstream” was originally published in HealthXWire]
Not bad for something that also tastes great when sautéed and served on top of a steak.
So Many Mushrooms
Mycologists – scientists who study fungi – have identified more than 14,000 species of mushrooms. Of these, 114 are classified as containing fatal toxins, so there are still plenty of “good mushrooms” to go around. Because many of these are used in various cuisines from around the world, humans have been getting large portions of the mushrooms’ health benefits for generations. Archaeologists have found evidence of human consumption of mushrooms as far back as 13,000 years ago at a site in Chile. At least one mummy of a man who lived around 3400 BCE in Europe was found to contain two different types of mushrooms, and Roman emperors were known to employ food testers to make sure their mushrooms weren’t poisonous.
The prevalence of mushrooms in the human diet has continued to increase over the centuries, and they are now more popular than ever. According to Fortune Business Insights, the global mushroom market is currently 12.74 million tons and is projected to reach 20.84 million tons by 2026. Annual sales are expected to be $34.3 billion by 2024, according to the Cornell College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
In addition to their role as food, mushrooms have been used by practitioners of folk medicine for generations to treat all sorts of ailments from malaria to diabetes. Now researchers have learned how to isolate the beneficial elements in mushroom and pack them into dietary supplements so they can become a daily part of a health regimen.
Good For What Ails You
While people have know about some of the healthful properties of mushrooms for centuries, modern science has isolated the specific nutrients that provide these benefits and explained their impact on the human body. Among the most helpful elements are:
• Vitamin D – Essential for bone health and contributes to overall feelings of wellness.
• Zinc – Needed for a healthy immune system.
• Potassium – Vital for normally functioning cells and can contribute to stable and lower blood pressures and functional muscle contractility.
• Macrophages – These are cells that “eat” foreign bodies and improve immunity. Mushrooms are also rich in antioxidants, which counteract cell damage. They also contain useful amounts of thiamin, magnesium, phosphorus, selenium and copper, each of which helps the body function properly at the cellular level.
Packing In The Good Stuff
Mushroom-based nutritional supplements, which concentrate the beneficial compounds found in their various species, are becoming a big business. The Harvard School of Public Health notes that many varieties of mushrooms contain polysaccharides, indoles, polyphenols, and carotenoids – a chemistry lab full of materials that have been shown to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticancer effects in animal studies. There are so many good things, in fact, that a wide range of products can be based on these individual components.
Troop, a supplement manufacturer based in Los Angeles, is one of the companies expanding the market by combining different types of mushrooms to take advantage of their unique properties. Started by cousins Jake Mellman and Stephanie Moyal, Troop now markets three different gummies, each designed to improve specific areas of health based on the types of mushrooms used in the formulation of the product. Super Troop is crafted to enhance focus and energy while promoting overall immunity, health and balance; Lion’s Mane is formulated to improve mental clarity and focus as well as provide a general boost to the brain; and Reishi is designed to help users stay calm, cool and collected during times of everyday stress.
In its first two months of business, Troop sold out of its inventory, a good indicator of a serious buzz around mushroom products. The company reports good feedback from its customers and features their testimonials on its website. Stephanie Moyal, co-founder and CEO of Troop, says she’s pleased with the reception her company has experienced so far. “Functional mushrooms have been used for centuries to enhance immunity and protect the body from viruses and infections, help with sleep, improve cognitive function and more,” she said. “We believe you shouldn’t have to sacrifice anything to be healthy, so
we created delicious gummies that are packed with these benefits.”
More Spores In Store
While supplements concentrate certain benefits of many different species of mushrooms, healthy eaters may want to experiment with the actual products themselves as they improve their overall diets. The website mindbodygreen.com has posted a useful guide to 13 varieties of mushrooms and the best ways to use them. With so much variety, home cooks should find a favorite fungus for almost any occasion.
• Shiitake – This mushroom is native to east Asia. It is known for being high in vitamin D and also contains B vitamins. Shiitakes have a high amount of natural copper. They are also rich in selenium.
• Portobello – These savory mushrooms are a great source of riboflavin, which helps to break down carbohydrates, thus increasing metabolism and energy production. They are also a great source of dietary fiber, which reduces the risk of
• Maitake – Also known as Hen of the Woods, these are rich in antioxidants, beta- glucans, B and C vitamins, copper, potassium, fiber, minerals and amino acids.
They were shown to lower cholesterol in mice in a 2013 study.
• Reishi – These mushrooms have been shown to boost immunity in humans. A 2005 study found a possible connection to improved outcomes in patients with advanced colorectal cancer, and the author of the report recommended further
• Crimini – These mushrooms contain probiotics which improve digestion and immunity. They also appear to block the creation of estrogen, which could be incredibly beneficial in the treatment of breast, lung, and uterine cancer.
• Oyster – Packed with antioxidants, the oyster mushrooms were the subject of a 2006 study that showed significant benefits in rats. If these results can be duplicated in human trials, these mushrooms may hold the key to reducing free
• Porcini – These tasty treats are known for being fat free and a great source of protein as well as fiber. They have the same antioxidant effects of many other mushrooms, plus they have been known to improve ulcers, inflammation, colon
cancers, and have aided in weight loss.
• Enoki – Also called winter mushrooms and golden needle mushrooms, these are rich in antioxidants and have been shown to reduce inflammation in coronary arteries. At least one study has indicated that the enoki might also contain a
substance that could slow cancer cell growth, and further research was recommended.
• Chantrelle – These meaty and hearty mushrooms contain an assortment of vitamins including A, E, C, and beta-carotene, which is an important precursor to vitamin A. They contain lycopene, which is useful in normalizing blood pressure
and reducing inflammation.
• Morel – A common mushroom species found throughout America’s heartland, morels contain a high amount of antioxidants and are known to help prevent type 1 and type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and heart disease.
• Lobster – Like most mushrooms, these are a great source of fiber, phosphorus and zinc. They also contain a good deal of copper, which helps the body in its production of red blood cells.
• King Trumpet – This species, commonly found in countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, is rich in potassium, sodium, magnesium and calcium. They have been shown to improve blood glucose and lipid levels in mice.
Keeping It Real
Whatever form the mushroom takes – as an ingredient in healthy recipes or a concentrated supplement added to a dietary regimen – nutritionist stress that this fungus will do the most good when found in the most natural state. Companies such as Troop emphasize the organic nature of their collection and processing of mushroom-based products. The less done the better is the motto of many processors who are looking for better ways to bring the benefits of mushrooms to the marketplace. They have proven to be a healthy part of the human diet since before history began being recorded, and mushrooms show no sign of disappearing from the table or the health food marketplace anytime soon.
Important Note: The information contained in this article is for general informational purposes only, and should not be construed as health or medical advice, nor is it intended to diagnose, prevent, treat, or cure any disease or health condition. Before embarking on any diet or program of nutritional supplementation, it is advisable to consult your healthcare professional to determine its safety and probable efficacy in terms of your individual state of health.