Magic Health Benefits of Mushrooms

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Mother Nature has presented man with attractive variety of mushrooms to be used as food as well as medicine. They were highly appreciated in the history and culture of ancient people in various civilizations. Mushrooms being low in calories, fat content with no cholesterol and being rich in various minerals are the ideal choice of food for health conscious people. These days researches are looking up to mushroom in search of novel drugs to cure diabetes, heart ailments and even cancer of various types.

About Mushroom

Mushrooms are macroscopic fruiting bodies produced by microscopic fungi of certain fungal groups. They are often classified as a vegetable or herb. There are more than 14,000 types of mushrooms of which only about 3,000 are edible, more than 700 have known medicinal properties. There are many species of mushrooms which are poisonous. The world over, only about 20 mushrooms is commercially cultivated. For rest of the mushrooms, either appropriate technologies for cultivation have not been developed yet or they have not been tried to cultivate

Mushroom Farming and Indian Scenario

The mushroom farming for food is thought to have begun as early as 600 A.D. in China. In Europe it appears to have begun first in France in the 1650s. From there it spread to other European countries and probably entered the United States from England by the 1870s.

Mushrooms are cultivated in at least 60 countries with China, the United States, Netherlands, France and Poland being the top producers. Though the conditions for mushroom cultivation between India and China were similar, China topped in mushroom production, while India did not even find a place among the 100 mushroom producing countries in the world. The Indian production scenario was negligible at 50,000 tonnes per annum as against the world’s production of 55 lakh tonnes.

Nutritional Advantage of Mushroom

The health conscious people prefer food containing low energy (low calorie) and low fat. For them mushrooms are precious health food as they are low in calories, high in vegetable proteins, chitin, iron, zinc, fiber (8-10% of dry weight), essential amino acids, vitamins and minerals.

They have very little sodium and fat and no cholesterol. Mushrooms help our body strengthen itself and fight off illness by restoring our bodies balance and natural resistance to disease. In a study with six mushroom varieties viz. white button, crimini and portabella (Agaricus bisporus, harvested at different maturity levels), and maitake (Grifola frondosa), shiitake (Lentinus edodes) and enoki (Flammulina velutipes) they were found to be rich in total dietary fibers, including chitin and beta-glucan. Chitin present in the cell wall of the mushroom lowers cholesterol and beta-glucan keeps our heart healthy. It was already known that mushrooms offer high-quality protein, vitamins and unsaturated fatty acids. Raw, mature portabellas also had the highest level of beta-glucan (0.2 percent), while most of the other mushrooms had 0.1 percent.

The inexpensive white button mushrooms (Agaricus bisporus), commonly found in grocery shops in dried form, although not held with high regard in relation to exotic, expensive varieties like maitake and matsutake mushrooms (preferred in Japan), provide as much or even more anti-oxidant activity as the costly ones. This was the finding of the research done at the Institute National de la Recherche Agrinomique in France. This antioxidant activity prevents cell damage and ageing in our body. We rarely think of mushrooms when we need to add fibre to our diet.

But they are a very good source of fibre. Fresh harvested mushrooms are comprised mostly of water (about 90%), but about 10% is natural fibre, and this helps keep the digestive system running smooth. Eating four to five medium size mushrooms each day fulfils our fibre requirement.

Mushroom is a vital source of minerals and vitamins

Mushroom being a brilliant source of potassium, selenium (11.9 mg per 100g), copper, zinc and B complex vitamins. One medium portabella mushroom has even more potassium than a banana or a glass of orange juice which helps lower elevated blood pressure and reduces the risk of stroke. Selenium is powerful antioxidants that in association with vitamin E protect cells from the damaging effects of free radicals and reduces the risk of cancers, arthritis, asthma and heart disease etc. Selenium is also involved in repairing of damaged DNA (occur at low frequency during DNA replication in our cells). Copper, along with manganese (a trace mineral for which crimini mushrooms is a very good source), helps in disarming free radicals.

Copper is also necessary for providing the flexibility in blood vessels, bones and joints. Copper keeps cardiovascular system in check. Iron is a part of hemoglobin, the molecule responsible for transporting and releasing oxygen throughout the body. But hemoglobin synthesis also requires copper. Fortunately, both the minerals are present in mushrooms. Crimini mushrooms are a very good source of zinc and a variety of B complex vitamins (riboflavin, pantothenic acid, niacin, thiamin, vitamin B6, and folate). Zinc is critical to immune function, wound healing and normal cell division. Zinc also helps to stabilize blood sugar levels and the body’s metabolic rate. A strong immune system depends on adequate zinc levels. Zinc prevents even some of the serious infections seen in patients with advanced or long-standing diabetes. Riboflavin been shown to be able to reduce the frequency of migraine headaches in people who suffer from them. The B vitamin, pantothenic acid also plays an important role in the prevention of fatigue since it supports the function of the adrenal glands, particularly in times of stress. Niacin (vitamin B3), is helpful in reducing cholesterol levels and in preventing osteoarthritis. The production of estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone rely on niacin. Mushrooms, which contain niacin, also help the body produce energy from blood sugar, and they help give the skin a healthy texture and brilliant glow. Vitamin B6 is involved in decreasing risk for heart attack and stroke.

L-ergothioneine, a powerful antioxidant, has been discovered in mushrooms. We know the health benefits of antioxidants which inactive the free radicals produced in our body during energy making process. An American research team revealed that mushrooms contain higher concentrations of L-ergothioneine than either of the two dietary sources previously believed to contain the most: chicken liver and wheat germ. The team found that shiitake, oyster, king oyster and maitake mushrooms contain the highest amounts of ergothioneine, about forty times as much as is found in wheat germ. Of the most commonly consumed mushrooms, portabellas and criminis have the most L-ergothioneine, followed by white buttons. The good news is that L-ergothioneine is not destroyed when mushrooms are cooked.

Medicinal Benefits

Mushrooms are the magic store of medicinal benefits. In ancient Egypt and Asia, mushrooms were a holy longevity tonic; in Europe, the mummified 5,000-year- old “Ice Man” was found with a medicine kit of dried mushrooms.

Cancer Fighting Properties

Many of the foods provided by nature contain cancer fighting ingredients, and mushrooms are no exception. According to recent studies, consuming just 31/2 ounces of the white button variety each day, can decrease the risk of developing prostate cancer and breast cancer. In Japan, Russia, China, and the U.S.A., several different antitumor agents have been developed from various medicinal mushrooms (Lentinus edodes, Ganoderma lucidum, Schizophyllum commune, Trametes versicolor, Inonotus obliquus, and Flammulina velutipes).

Protection against Alzheimer’s Disease and Age-related Cognitive Decline

Some research suggests that regular consumption of niacin-rich foods like crimini mushrooms also provides safety against Alzheimer’s disease and age-related cognitive decline. The “king of medicinal mushrooms”, now being researched extensively is the maitake, a large fan shaped tree fungus. It is said to give super immunity. “Maitake is one of nature’s richest sources of beta-glucans, which are among, or even may be, the most potent natural immune forces ever discovered”. Recently, the Food and Drug Administration (USA) approved testing a compound called maitake D-fraction in treating complex breast and prostate cancers. A black, rubbery Chinese mushroom called moer, or tree ear, is a potent blood thinner. Tests at George Washington University identified the mushroom’s blood-thinning chemical as a adenosine, described as “similar to aspirin.” Adenosine also accounts for blood-thinning properties of onions and garlic.

Ganoderma lucidum (Reishi mushroom)

Reishi mushroom grows in densely wooded mountain of high humidity and weak lighting. Reishi has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for at least two millennia, and archaeological evidence indicates people may have been eating it for almost 7000 years. It is known as ‘elixir of life” to Chinese due to its tremendous reputation for increasing longevity and it helps to avoid problems of senility. It stimulates immune system, promotes good blood circulation, protects liver from toxic chemicals, and helps against insomnia by having calming effect to the muscle. Reishi is effective in the treatment of high blood pressure.

Cordyceps sinensis

It helps in strengthening our immune system’s ability to fight against bacterial and viral disease. Human clinical studies indicate that Cordyceps can be helpful for treatment of high cholesterol, poor libido/impotence, arrhythmia, lung cancer, and chronic kidney failure. It is also reported that Cordyceps causes smooth muscle relaxation. This can make it especially helpful for treating chronic coughs, asthma, and other bronchial conditions.

Agaricus blaxei-the miraculous mushroom

A Japanese living in Brazil visited Piedade in Brazil about 44 years ago, and found that the people there ate a special kind of mushroom not found anywhere in Brazil or the rest of the world. These people enjoy long lives and great health and rarely suffer from the common illnesses and degenerative diseases such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, allergies, asthma, eczema, ulcers, etc. Coincidentally, two American scientists had also visited Piedade at about this time. The mushroom was identified to be Agaricus blazei. Ronald Reagan, ex-President of the USA, was publicized to be taking these mushrooms in his successful fight against skin cancer. And then the special mushroom caught the attention of the world. It is the best cancer fighter among known medicinal mushrooms with a cancer cure rate of 90% and inhibition rate of 99.4%. Today, everyone in the world can enjoy the wonderful health benefits of the Agaricus blazei Murill as it is now available in capsule form in medical stores.


Health is wealth. But these days health troubles are several due to unhinged nutrition. From the ongoing discussion it is obvious that mushrooms can help to keep us healthy and free from many life-threatening diseases. India, having dissimilar climatic conditions suitable for farming of several types of mushrooms holds the potential of several-fold increase in production. Though present production is low, popularizing mushroom as food will continue a greater challenge. In the context of prevalence of malnutrition and several health troubles in India, mushroom can help in a great way. Now it is high time to make and reserve some room (space) in your dish for mushroom.

Author: Vishal K. Singh and Prof Ramendra K. Singh, Bioorganic Research Laboratory, Department of Chemistry, University of Allahabad, Allahabad.

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