What are the Health Benefits of Eating Mushrooms?

By Michael Lloyd 

November 26th, 2019

Mushrooms were not initially considered to be a very nutritious food, as they do not offer large amounts of the more “mainstream” nutrients such as vitamin A, vitamin C, or calcium. In more recent years, there has been a much larger push to uncover just how healthy mushrooms are for you. Ever since listening to Joe Rogan’s podcast with Paul Stamets regarding mushrooms and all of their potential benefits, I decided to do some research. I’ve even tried to incorporate them into my daily diet on a more regular basis.

Let’s begin with a micronutrient that has become prominent in the research for prevention of progressive diseases: selenium. When selenium is present at higher levels, research has shown that there has been a lower incidence of most cancers, including lung and colorectal cancer. These studies have led to the interpretation that low selenium levels may leave you exposed to the development of some cancers. 1, 2 

Mushrooms are one of the foods known to be high in selenium. A 100-gram serving of mushrooms will give you about 12 mcg (micrograms) of selenium.3 The health benefits of selenium can be attributed to its antioxidant effects. Being an antioxidant, selenium reduces the stress put on our cells caused by free radicals. Free radicals can damage our cells, including our DNA, which can attribute to mutations leading to cancers and other chronic diseases. Selenium also has been found to aid in the destruction of cancer cells themselves through impeding the progression of the disease; this makes it very apparent that selenium may be a potent anti-cancer agent for individuals.

Mushrooms are also considered a prebiotic, which means that they serve as the food for the beneficial bacteria in our gut. This allows healthy bacteria to flourish and carry out their essential processes.4 The microbiota in our gut has shown to help with digestion as well as maintaining overall immune health. When levels of the microbiota are low, excess inflammation results. If this is left untreated, it can lead to several issues including irritable bowel syndrome and the worsening of anxiety and depression symptoms.5

One beneficial mushroom that I found to be extremely interesting was lion’s mane mushroom. Lion’s Mane mushroom has numerous protective and regenerative properties on our nervous system. These mushrooms have been found to stimulate Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) synthesis in nerve cells.6 NGF functions to play a role in the growth and organization of the nervous system.7 Studies still need to prove that these effects carryout significant levels in our growth and regeneration; however, preliminary findings are promising. If findings remain consistent, then lion’s mane mushroom may offer a holistic form of therapy to those that suffer brain damage like that from a concussion to help with recovery, as well as prevent further issues caused by repetitive damage to the brain.

Beta glucans are found in the cell wall of mushrooms and provide many benefits to the prevention or maintenance of chronic illnesses, including coronary artery disease and diabetes. High cholesterol is a risk factor for coronary artery disease, which eventually can lead to strokes and heart attacks. Beta glucans are a type of soluble fiber, and as such they help to lower LDL cholesterol levels. This is very important because when at high levels in our body, the LDL cholesterol can get stuck on our arterial walls. This can cause a blockage of blood flow, leading to a heart attack or stroke.8 Beta-Glucans also have been found to help manage hyperglycemia and hyperlipidemia, two risk factors associated with diabetes.

Mushrooms have been used as a vegetarian alternative to meats during meals, but they are so much more than just a dietary substitute. They provide a number of preventative health properties, and at the same time, they are low calorie, low fat, and low carb. This makes them perfect for adding to your diet without major concerns for them being detrimental to your health. More research on mushrooms is being conducted, as they offer a wide variety of health benefits. So, as time goes on, a greater variety of mushrooms are sure to be discovered, while those already found will be strengthened by continuous research. 

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References

1. Lener, Marcin R, et al. Can Selenium Levels Act as a Marker of Colorectal Cancer Risk? BMC Cancer, BioMed Central, 29 Apr. 2013, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3641950/.

2. Knekt, P, et al. Is Low Selenium Status a Risk Factor for Lung Cancer?American Journal of Epidemiology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 15 Nov. 1998, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9829869/.

3. Healthline, Selenium Foods: 20 foods rich in Selenium, 2019, https://www.healthline.com/health/selenium-foods

4. Jayachandran, Muthukumaran, et al. A Critical Review on Health Promoting Benefits of Edible Mushrooms through Gut Microbiota. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, MDPI, 8 Sept. 2017, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5618583/.

5. Carabotti, Marilia, et al. The Gut-Brain Axis: Interactions between Enteric Microbiota, Central and Enteric Nervous Systems. Annals of Gastroenterology, Hellenic Society of Gastroenterology, 2015, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4367209/.

6. Lai, Puei-Lene, et al. Neurotrophic Properties of the Lion’s Mane Medicinal Mushroom, Hericium Erinaceus (Higher Basidiomycetes) from Malaysia.International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2013, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24266378.

7. The Embryo Project Encyclopedia. Nerve Growth Factor | The Embryo Project Encyclopedia, Arizona State University, 4 July 2018, https://embryo.asu.edu/pages/nerve-growth-factor.

8. Beta Glucan: The Heart Healthy Fiber. Healthline, Healthline Media, 28 July 2016, https://www.healthline.com/health/beta-glucan-heart-healthy.

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