The simple mushroom was once considered a “plant of immortality,” revered by the pharaohs of Egypt and ritualized in civilizations like Russia, China, Greece, Mexico and Latin America. Along with immortality, mushrooms were sources of super-human strength, could help find lost objects and would lead your soul to the realm of the gods.1 Whether or not you believe the fungi will turn you into the next superhero, mushrooms can be a healthy addition to your diet.
A Fungus Among Us
France was one time considered the leader in mushroom cultivation. King Louis XIV may even be considered the first mushroom grower. Many French mushrooms were grown in caves near Paris that had been set specifically aside for mushroom farming.1 Today, mushroom cultivation happens throughout the world, with Pennsylvania being the leading state in producing edible mushrooms.1,2 From 2012 to 2013, Pennsylvania produced 544.9 million pounds of mushrooms which was equal to about 49 percent of the United States mushroom production.2
Mushrooms are often put in the category of vegetables because they provide many of the same nutritional benefits as produce. However, mushrooms also provide nutritional benefits often received from meats, beans or grains, depending on the variety.3 Mushrooms are low in calories, fat-free, cholesterol-free, gluten-free and low in sodium. The simple mushroom can even help people make healthier changes. They have been shown to assist Americans meet their dietary recommendations outlined in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines and Institute of Medicine’s Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D. When eating mushrooms, American naturally tend to eat a healthier diet.3
The list of vitamins and minerals received from mushrooms includes3:
B vitamins like riboflavin, niacin and pantothenic acid: These vitamins help in the process of breaking down proteins, fats and carbohydrates and help with the production of hormones.
Selenium: Works as an antioxidant to protect body cells from damage that could lead to heart disease, some cancers and other diseases of aging.
Ergothioneine: Another antioxidant that helps protect your body’s cells.
Copper: Aids in the creation of red blood cells and can keep your body’s bones and nerves healthy.
Potassium: Helps in the maintenance of normal fluid and mineral balance, managing the body’s blood pressure.
Beta-Glucans: provide immunity-stimulating effects, helping to build resistance against allergies. These may also play role in the processes related to the metabolism of fats and sugars.
Perhaps the best part about including mushrooms into your diet is that, either raw, dried grilled or cooked, they contain little, if any, amounts of vitamin K.4 The amount present in mushrooms is not even enough to measure.
Recent studies have looked into the ability of certain mushrooms or mushroom extracts to treat cancer. These studies look to see if mushrooms can prevent cancer, stop the growth of cancer, reduce treatment side effects or help people with cancer live longer.5 In Chinese medicine, over 100 different species of mushrooms are used in the treatment of different diseases and, in places like the United Kingdom, powdered shiitake, maitaki and reishi mushroom are used in supplements.5 However, most of these supplements have not shown to be true cancer cures or treatments.
Mushroom powders in supplements like maitaki and reishi mushrooms are items that a patient on warfarin should be mindful of taking. Both of these mushrooms have shown to have interactions with anticoagulants like warfarin. High doses of reishi mushroom may slow blood clotting, increasing the risk of bruising or bleeding.6 Maitake mushroom have also been shown to interact with warfarin, increasing its blood thinning effects and potentially increasing your risk of bleeding.7 As for any supplement, you should speak with your healthcare provider before adding any into your diet as you may need to be monitored closely or adjust your warfarin dosage.
1. The Mushroom Council. The Mushroom Story: History and Background. Fresh Mushrooms: Nature’s Hidden Treasure. 2016. Retrieved from the website: http://www.mushroominfo.com/history-and-background/.
2. Hoyle, S. Mushrooms Profile. Agricultural Marketing Research Center. March 2014. Retrieved from the website: http://www.agmrc.org/commodities-products/specialty-crops/mushrooms-profile/.
3. The Mushroom Council. Nutrition Benefits. Fresh Mushrooms: Nature’s Hidden Treasure. 2016. Retrieved from the website: http://www.mushroomhealthsummit.com/.
4. US Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Nutrient Data Laboratory. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 28. Version Current: September 2015, slightly revised May 2016. Internet: http://www.ars.usda.gov/nea/bhnrc/ndl.
5. "Mushrooms in cancer treatment". Cancer Research UK. 2013. Retrieved 25 June 2014.( http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/cancers-in-general/cancer-questions/mushrooms-in-cancer-treatment)
6. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, Consumer Version. Reishi Mushroom. RxList: The Internet Drug Index. 2016. Retrieved from the website: http://www.rxlist.com/reishi_mushroom/supplements.htm. Natural Medicines
Comprehensive Database, Consumer Version. Maitake Mushroom. RxList: The Internet Drug Index. 2016. Retrieved from the website: http://www.rxlist.com/maitake_mushroom/supplements.htm.