By: Pamela Egan, FNP-C CDE
Mushrooms have many health benefits
Though mushrooms are often grouped with vegetables and fruits, they are actually fungi.
For that reason, they are in a class of their own. They are low in calories, have no cholesterol and are virtually free of fat and sodium. Mushrooms stand alone when it comes to some of the essential minerals and B-complex vitamins not easily found in produce. In addition, they contain substances that might prove to be useful in the treatment and prevention of serious diseases.
For thousands of years, eastern cultures have revered mushrooms as both food and medicine.
Tradition has it that there are more than 50 species with healing properties.
When used as medicine, mushrooms are made into soup or tea, or taken as a tonic or elixer.
Selenium, an essential mineral, works closely with vitamin E to produce antioxidants that neutralize the cell-damaging free radicals that can increase the risk of cancer and other diseases of aging. It plays an important role in the immune system, the thyroid system and the male reproductive system.
Potassium is a mineral your body just can’t do without.
It helps maintain normal heart rhythm, fluid balance, muscle and nerve function. Some mushrooms supply more potassium than foods better known as sources for this mineral.
A serving of white mushrooms has more potassium than an orange or a tomato.
Copper is another essential mineral and mushrooms are a good source. We’re all aware of iron’s role in making red blood cells and delivering oxygen to every part of the body. But did you know that iron can’t do its job without copper?
Mushrooms are good sources of three hardworking B-complex vitamins – riboflavin, niacin and pantothentic acid.
They are found in every cell in our body, helping release energy from the fat, protein and carbohydrate in our food.
Riboflavin promotes healthy skin and good vision.
Niacin helps make sure that digestive and nervous systems function as they should.
Pantothenic acid is involved in the production of hormones and also plays an important role in the nervous system.
Vegetarians should be aware that the vitamin content of mushrooms resembles that of meat.
Studies conducted over the past 30 years – mostly in Asia – have provided data suggesting that mushrooms may aid in the treatment of certain types of cancer, boost the immune system and reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.
Recently, U.S. researchers have found that mushrooms may have a role in the treatment and prevention of breast cancer.
In China and Japan, mushrooms have been used to treat conditions such as colds and flu, poor circulation, upset stomachs and even exhaustion.
They are given along with conventional chemotherapy, to shrink cancer tumors and reduce side effects.
Other studies point to a possible therapy for HIV and potential to reduce heart disease risk by reducing blood lipids, cholesterol levels and high blood pressure.
In the United States, researchers are just beginning to take a serious look at the potential of mushrooms in disease control. Some early trials have also been published on mushrooms and prostate cancer risk reduction.
A recent study at New York Medical College showed that maitake destroyed prostate cancer cells in the test-tube. This research is just beginning of what promises to be an exciting journey into a fuller understanding of mushrooms and your health.
The consumption of mushrooms, as well as fruits and vegetables, is much more desirable in achieving the body’s requirements of vitamins and minerals than their synthetic counterparts.
This article was originally published August 5, 2002 in The St. Tammany News.