Magic mushrooms: boosting immunity and fighting inflammation, plus six more benefits to mushrooms

Magic mushrooms: boosting immunity and fighting inflammation

As we transition from summer into autumn, our thoughts automatically go to walks in the forest to enjoy the beautiful foliage and by consequence to the many beautiful mushrooms that flourish in this moist yet warm season.
There's a good reason mushrooms are so popular in nearly every world cuisine.

While low in carbohydrates and calories, mushrooms are a great source of B-vitamins, trace minerals, fiber and even offer some protein.
But mushrooms offer more, they have anti-inflammatory properties and contains high levels of beta-glucans that keep immune cells alert, plus a powerful antioxidant called ergothioneine that helps lower body-wide inflammation.

The medicinal use of mushrooms has a very long tradition in Asian countries that dates back thousands of years. Although their use in the Western Hemisphere only started increasing in the past several decades, numerous recent studies show that they are vital, biologically active compounds with significant benefits to health.

Eight health benefits of mushrooms

Mushrooms fight tumor growth

Known to be a natural cancer treatment and one of the best foods for increasing “natural killer cells” — the type of immune cells that seek out and destroy dangerous cancerous cells — mushrooms are praised as powerful cancer-fighting foods.
The anti-cancer compounds found in mushrooms play a crucial role in protecting against oxidative damage.
Mushroom nutrition can help block DNA damage and stop cells from mutating, all while protecting healthy cells and increasing the body’s ability to detoxify itself of dangerous substances.

Mushrooms boost immune function

Mushrooms contain “compounds and complex substances with antimicrobial, antiviral, antitumor, antiallergic, immunomodulating, anti-inflammatory, antiatherogenic, hypoglycemic and hepatoprotective activities.” It means mushrooms can enhance almost every system in the body and protect you from numerous diseases since they’re associated with lowered inflammation. Sustaining high levels of inflammation long term has been shown to contribute to chronic conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

Mushrooms also have the natural ability to fight dangerous bacteria and viruses. In fact, they need to have strong antibacterial and antifungal compounds just to survive in their own natural environment. This is why it’s not surprising that these beneficial compounds can be isolated from many mushrooms and used to protect human cells. They are even shown to protect against deadly multi-resistant strains of bacteria and other microorganisms responsible for a multitude of health problems. In fact, some substances present in common antibiotics given to people when they’re sick — including penicillin, streptomycin and tetracycline — are derived from mushroom fungal extracts.

Mushrooms protect heart health

Eating more mushroom is one way to lower cholesterol levels naturally. Many types of mushrooms help lower levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol and keep arteries from hardening to reduce the risk of heart disease.

Mushrooms have sterol compounds that interfere with the production of cholesterol in the liver, yet at the same time they can raise levels of “good” HDL cholesterol. They also contain potent phytonutrients that help keep cells from sticking to blood vessel walls and forming plaque buildup, which can improve circulation and maintain healthy blood pressure.

Mushrooms enhance energy levels

Mushrooms are a great source of B vitamins, which help support adrenal function and turn nutrients from food into energy that your body can use. B vitamins also support neurotransmitter function to break through brain fog, prevent thyroid disorders and support a healthy metabolism.

Mushrooms supports weight loss

Regularly substituting mushrooms for meat might help you lose weight, since they are a low-calorie, nutrient-dense food. In fact, eating mushrooms several times per week has been linked with increased weight loss, reduced waist circumference and less body fat.

Mushrooms provide Vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency is a serious problem for many people and linked to everything from heart disease to depression. Although vitamin D is best obtained from sun exposure, certain kinds of mushrooms can also provide a hearty dose of this important vitamin as well.

Exposing mushrooms to UV light, whether they’re grown outdoors or indoors under certain light fixtures, increases their concentration of vitamin D. Adding a variety of vitamin D-rich foods to your diet is thought to reduce your risk of cancer, heart disease, mood disorders and bone loss. Studies show that certain kinds of mushrooms provide a good amount of vitamin D2 along with vitamin D3 (the kind best utilized by humans) and vitamin D4.

Mushrooms promote brain function

Is chronic stress killing your quality of life? Certain types of mushrooms, especially reishi, are also considered adaptogens. This means they can help your body to deal with stress and lower levels of cortisol. Certain mushroom species can also lower inflammation, which is thought to play a central role in cognitive function, mood, energy levels and age-related neurodegenerative diseases.

Mushrooms strengthen bones

Thanks to their impressive content of vitamin D, some research suggests that adding mushrooms to your diet can help strengthen bone health and protect against serious conditions like osteoporosis. Vitamin D is necessary for the absorption of calcium, and a deficiency in this key vitamin can increase the risk of fractures, weakened bones and mineralization defects. Feeding mice shiitake mushrooms enriched with vitamin D and calcium helped increase bone mineral density and reduced the risk of osteoporosis.

Mushroom nutrition facts

Although most people think of mushrooms as vegetables, they’re in fact a type of beneficial fungi. The term “mushroom” refers to any macrofungus with a distinctive fruiting body large enough to be seen with the naked eye and picked by hand. As of now, mushrooms constitute at least 14,000 different species — and perhaps way more. The number of mushroom species on the Earth is estimated to be 140,000, which suggests that scientists only know about 10 percent of the possible species at this time.

Some of the most common types of edible mushrooms include:
- cordyceps mushroom
- cremini (champignon)
- maitake / hen of the woods mushroom
- morel
- oyster mushrooms
- porcini mushroom
- portobello
- reishi
- shiitake
- turkey tail

Although various types of mushrooms differ in terms of their exact calorie and nutrient count, mushroom nutrition is typically very low in carbohydrates, calories, fat and sodium. Mushroom nutrition also provides an array of diverse nutrients, including antioxidants, energizing B vitamins, copper and selenium.

One US imperial cup of the most common white button mushrooms contain the following nutrients:

21 calories
2 grams carbohydrates
3 grams protein
1 gram fiber
0.4 milligrams riboflavin (23% DV)
5 milligrams niacin (17% DV)
4 milligrams pantothenic acid (14% DV)
0.3 milligrams copper (13% DV)
9 milligrams selenium (13% DV)
305 milligrams potassium (9% DV)
83 milligrams phosphorus (8% DV)

How to buy and prepare mushrooms

Look for fresh or dried mushrooms in grocery stores, health food stores or local farmers market, where you might be able to score some rarer types that have their own special benefits. It’s important to buy and eat organic grown mushrooms whenever possible because they’re very porous and have the tendency to easily absorb chemicals from the soil that they’re grown in.

Mushrooms can contain high levels of toxins like heavy metals and pesticides when they’re chemically sprayed or exposed to water pollutants, so it’s worth the extra money to buy the best quality you can. Dried mushrooms might be a bit more expensive than fresh ones, but they’re a good option when mushrooms aren’t in season.

To wash mushrooms, some need just a wipe down with a clean, damp cloth to remove any dirt (like white button, shiitake or portobello mushrooms). Others, such as the chanterelle mushroom, should be cleaned using a delicate brush.
Since mushrooms absorb water easily, you don’t want to rinse them for too long or keep them submerged in water, as this can make them “water-logged.” A quick rinse to get off any visible dirt is usually enough.

Keep them dry in the refrigerator until the time you’re ready to use them, and remember that they have a short shelf life so the quicker you use them, the better. Many people like to store them in a paper bag rather than a plastic one. This allows air to move in and out, which can keep them in better condition.

When it come to cooking mushrooms, each type needs to be handled a bit differently. Dried mushrooms, for example, can be rehydrated by combining them with boiling water and letting them sit for about 15 minutes so they plump up to a larger volume.

Large mushrooms like portobellos can be baked and still hold their firm texture, but more delicate mushrooms like shiitakes and cremini are best for sautéing in a pan or wok. Keep in mind mushrooms absorb a lot of liquid at first but later release their water, so don’t feel the need to drown them in sauce, oil or butter.

How to incorporate mushrooms into your diet

Mushrooms add an earthy flavor and chewy, hearty texture to all kinds of savory dishes — from omelets and stir-fries to whole grain pilaf or side dishes. They can also be used as a base for mushroom risotto, added to mushroom pasta or cooked into a tasty mushroom sauce. You can also sauté, roast, grill or stir-fry the fungi for a simple yet delicious side dish.

Precautions

If you buy mushrooms in extract form or scavenge for wild mushrooms on your own, always look for a reputable brand and consult with a specialist who knows about wild mushrooms and is well-versed in mushroom identification. Some mushroom types, such as psilocybin mushrooms and amanita mushroom, also known as psychedelic mushrooms or “magic mushrooms,” contain compounds that can cause symptoms like hallucinations and changes in perception. Other mushrooms, like the death cap mushroom, can be toxic or contaminated and are not meant for human consumption, so be careful where you purchase “medicinal mushrooms.”

Also, look for organic mushrooms whenever possible, and if you can’t find these, give dirty mushrooms a good rinse or wipe down to remove residue, bacteria and possibly even insects.

Keep in mind that most mushrooms contain purines that can be naturally found in some plants and are linked to health problems in some cases. Purines break down to form uric acid, which can accumulate and lead to conditions like gout or kidney stones in rare circumstances. Therefore, if you have an existing problem that’s worsened by purines, you should eat mushrooms in moderation.

In conclusion

The question whether mushrooms are good for you can be answered with a resounding yes.
Potential mushroom health benefits include reduced cancer cell growth, increased energy levels, enhanced heart health, better brain and immune function and improved weight control.
Mushroom nutrition is also very impressive. Although it can vary between different edible mushroom species, there are typically a low amount of calories, fat and carbs in mushrooms in each serving along with a good amount of antioxidants, B vitamins and other micronutrients in mushroom nutrition.
There are thousands of different species of mushrooms, many of which scientists have yet to discover. Common mushroom varieties include shiitake, morel, oyster and portobello mushrooms.
Keep in mind that not all mushrooms are safe for consumption. Certain types can actually be poisonous, and hallucinogenic mushrooms can even cause changes in perception.
Enjoy mushroom nutrition in a variety of different dishes such as sauces, stews, soups and side dishes to take advantage of the unique benefits that these flavorful fungi have to offer.

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