We tend to think of healthy superfoods as being dark green, red or orange—but there is one superfood that is actually tan, white, or brown—the mushroom. And as a superfood goes, it contains some very astounding power! Mushrooms contain around 20 different vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, but also some very unique and potent fat burning ingredients, as well as immune-enhancing, and cancer-fighting phytochemicals.
Mushrooms have been prized for thousands of years by the Pharaohs of Egypt, Greek warriors, and the Romans. And the Chinese and Japanese have actually used a variety of mushrooms for the last 3,000 years or more as medicine. What did they know about mushrooms that we don’t?
The most common mushrooms are the white Button mushroom, the Crimini, and the extra large Portabella mushroom. These mushrooms, especially the white button mushroom, contain a chemical that inhibits an enzyme involved in estrogen production in men and women (excess estrogen causes weight gain, “manboobs” in men, and certain cancers).
A new study shows that many varieties of mushrooms contain naturally occurring chemicals that inhibit an enzyme, aromatase, which is involved in the body’s production of estrogen. Aromatase inhibitors, like those found in mushrooms, also reverse age-related decline in testosterone, and help men convert testosterone into the more potent androgenic hormone, DHT, which aids in building lean muscle and increases the body’s ability to burn fat. And testosterone is not beneficial just to men, it helps women build lean muscle, burn fat, and enhance libido too! (Note: for men over 40 that want to boost their testosterone naturally, read this page)
The mushroom’s ability to block excess estrogen production is especially valuable in terms of estrogen-related cancers such as breast cancer, prostate cancer, ovarian cancer and others. Excess estrogen is very dangerous to health, and a major factor not only in weight gain, but also in cancer and tumor development.
Shiitakes, the Superfood Mushroom
One of my favorite types of mushroom, the shiitake, contains powerful medicinal qualities, including fighting cancer, weight loss, cardiovascular support, strengthening the immune system, or modulating an overactive immune system.
These particular types of mushrooms are known best for their positive effects on the immune system. Chemicals in the natural sugars and starches of shiitakes stimulate the immune system and put them on alert so they can readily fight off invaders like harmful pathogens, viruses, and cancer.
While most people want to strengthen and activate the immune system, those with autoimmune disorders often need to calm their immune system. Not only do shiitakes stimulate immune activity when needed, they are known to help slow down an overly active immune system, so they work on both sides of the spectrum to regulate and modulate the immune system for optimal function.
Shiitakes exert a powerful influence on a component of our immune system called macrophages. Macrophages, among other things, are scavengers to help to kill off cancer cells. All of us have cancer cells in our bodies, but with a healthy immune system, these cancer cells are killed off before they can take hold and multiply. Phytochemicals in shiitakes activate these macrophages to go on the offense against many types of cancer cells.
Shiitakes are best known for their powerful polysaccharides, which are a type of complex carbohydrate molecule made of multiple sugars. Shiitakes contain a type of polysaccharide called glucan, as well as other polysaccharides called fucoidan and galactomannins. These, and other poloysaccharides are extremely protective against a wide variety of onslaughts to our health including: exercise stress, high cholesterol, inflammatory toxins, radiation, and a weakened immune system
Shiitakes are also very protective of our cardiovascular systems—partly because of their effect on the immune system. Three compounds in mushrooms have been identified as protective for the heart: Eritadenine, Sterols, and Beta-glucans. These compounds help to lower cholesterol, reduce inflammation and prevent adhesion on our blood vessel walls.
The antioxidants in shiitakes also prevent oxidative stress that causes clogged arteries and inflammation. Shiitakes contain manganese, selenium and zinc, as well as more unique antioxidants like ergothioneine that protect our cell mitochondria—responsible for producing energy at the cellular level.
Shiitakes are best known for their super powerful effects on cancer, although most of the research on shiitakes and cancer, have been with extracts of the mushroom, not the whole food. While studies are still ongoing, more than 100 compounds have so far been identified that fight and kill cancer cells and stop tumor growth. One polysaccharide, lentinan, activates the immune system to tear apart and fight tumors, inhibits the growth and spread of leukemia cells, and work alongside chemotherapy to make it more effective and less damaging to the immune system. While most of the studies on shiitakes have been done on its extracts, not the whole food– adding shiitakes to your diet on a regular basis will help you fight cancer, especially prostate, breast and colon cancer.
A serving of mushrooms also provides an excellent source of copper, an important mineral for energy metabolism. Mushrooms contain rich amounts of the B vitamins, riboflavin, niacin, as well as the mineral selenium. Selenium is very valuable in protecting the body against many cancers, as well as helping the thyroid gland (which has a lot to do with your metabolism and energy) function properly.
The rich, chewy, slightly nutty flavor adds a meaty texture to many dishes and soups. You can purchase shiitakes either dried or fresh. Shiitakes and other mushrooms are better cooked.
You can get the benefits of mushrooms by taking a supplement, but it is always better to eat them as a whole food.