For hundreds of years, shiitake mushrooms have been a popular food source in Asia. They’re the second most popular and the third most widely cultivated edible mushroom in the world.
Today, shiitakes can be found in most grocery stores because of their meaty and versatile flavor, but did you know that they’re packed with B vitamins and have the power to fight cancer cells, cardiovascular disease and infections? That’s just a few of shiitake mushroom nutrition benefits.
Why are these small fungi so powerful? It’s because shiitake mushrooms have antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal properties. They also help to control blood sugar levels and reduce inflammation within the body. That’s right — all of these health benefits come from eating a mushroom. And there are a ton of easy ways to incorporate shiitake mushrooms into your diet.
Shiitake Mushroom Benefits
Shiitake mushrooms contain many chemical compounds that protect your DNA from oxidative damage, which is partly why they’re so beneficial. Lentinan, for example, heals chromosome damage caused by anticancer treatments. Eritadenine substances help reduce cholesterol levels and support cardiovascular health. Researchers at Shizuoka University in Japan found that eritadenine supplementation significantly decreased plasma cholesterol concentration.
Shiitakes are also unique for a plant because they contain all eight essential amino acids, along with a type of essential fatty acid called linoleic acid. Linoleic acid helps with weight loss and building muscle. It also has bone-building benefits, improves digestion, and reduces food allergies and sensitivities.
1. Fight Obesity
Certain components of the shiitake mushroom have hypolipidaemic (fat-reducing) effects, such as eritadenine and b-glucan, a soluble dietary fiber that’s also found in barley, rye and oats. Studies have reported that b-glucan can increase satiety, reduce food intake, delay nutrition absorption and reduce plasma lipid (fat) levels.
A 2011 study published in the Journal of Obesity examined the effects of shiitake mushrooms on plasma lipid profiles, fat dispositions, energy efficiency and body fat index. Rats were fed a high-fat diet for a six-week period. Researchers found significant effects of dietary intervention on body weight gain. Rats on a high dose of shiitake mushroom diet (which involved adding mushroom powder to a high-fat diet) had 35 percent lower body weight gains than rats on low and medium shiitake mushroom diets. Rats on the high dose shiitake mushroom diet also had significantly lower total fat masses and had a trend of lower fat accumulation.
The researchers concluded by suggesting that shiitake mushrooms can help prevent body weight gain, fat deposition and plasma triacylglycerol when added to a high-fat diet. This encourages an effort to pursue human studies that examine the efficacy of shiitake mushrooms for the prevention and treatment of obesity and related metabolic disorders.
2. Support Immune Function
Mushrooms have the ability to boost the immune system and combat many diseases by way of providing important vitamins, minerals and enzymes. A 2015 study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition evaluated 52 healthy males and females, aged 21–41 years, to determine if shiitake mushrooms could improve human immune function. The study involved a four-week parallel group trial that involved participants consuming either five or 10 grams of mushrooms daily.
The results suggest that consuming mushrooms improved cell effector function and improved gut immunity. There was also a reduction of inflammation due to mushroom consumption.
3. Destroy Cancer Cells
Research suggests that shiitake mushrooms help fight cancer cells and the lentinan in shiitakes help heal chromosome damage caused by anticancer treatments. This suggests shiitakes could be used as a potential natural cancer treatment.
A 2006 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine investigated the potential roles of an ethyl acetate fraction from shiitake mushrooms. The study involved two human breast carcinoma cell lines, one human nonmalignant breast epithelial cell line and two myelomacell lines. The results suggest that shiitake mushrooms were able to inhibit growth in tumor cells with their mycochemical value. Shiitake mushroom successfully inducted apoptosis, the process of programmed cell death.
4. Support Cardiovascular Health
Shiitake mushrooms have sterol compounds that interfere with the production of cholesterol in the liver. They also contain potent phytonutrients that help keep cells from sticking to blood vessel walls and forming plaque buildup, which maintains healthy blood pressure and improves circulation.
A study conducted at Tohoku University in Japan found that shiitake mushrooms prevented blood pressure increase in hypertensive rats. Shiitake feeding resulted in a decrease in VLDL and HDL cholesterol, whereas maitake mushroom feeding caused a decrease in VLDL cholesterol only.
5. Contain Antimicrobial Properties
A 2011 study at the UCL Eastman Dental Institute in London tested shiitake’s antimicrobial effects on gingivitis, a preventable disease that involves inflammation of the gums due to the buildup of a microbial biofilm at the gingival margin. The effectiveness of shiitake mushrooms was compared to that of the active component in the leading gingivitis mouthwash, containing chlorhexidine.
The total bacterial numbers as well as the numbers of eight key organisms in the oral community were investigated after treatment. The results indicated that shiitake mushroom extract lowered the numbers of some pathogenic organisms without affecting the organisms associated with health, unlike chlorhexidine, which had a limited effect on all organisms.
6. Boost Energy and Brain Function
Shiitake mushrooms are a great source of B vitamins, which help support adrenal function and turn nutrients from food into useable energy. They also help balance hormones naturally and break through the brain fog to maintain focus all day long — even improving cognitive performance.
Millions of Americans come up short on one or more of the B vitamins, and that causes energy slumps, unhealthy blood cell and adrenal effects, and foggy thinking. Adding shiitake mushrooms to your diet can give you the extra boost of B vitamins that you need to avoid a deficiency.
7. Provide Vitamin D
Although vitamin D is best obtained from the sun, shiitake mushrooms can also provide a decent source of this essential vitamin. Vitamin D is important for bone health as well as reducing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune diseases and some types of cancer. It’s vital for the absorption and metabolism of calcium and phosphorus, too.
Getting ample supply of vitamin D also helps regulate and support the immune system, maintain healthy body weight, maintain brain function as you age, reduce the severity of asthma symptoms, reduce the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis in women, and reduce the risk of developing multiple sclerosis. Mushrooms, as well as wild-caught salmon, raw dairy and eggs, are the best vitamin D-rich foods.
8. Promote Skin Health
When selenium is taken with vitamins A and E, it can help reduce the severity of acne and the scarring that can occur afterward. A hundred grams of shiitake mushrooms contain 5.7 milligrams of selenium, which is 8 percent of your daily value. That means shiitake mushrooms act as a natural acne treatment.
In an open trial, 29 patients were given 0.2 milligram of selenium and 10 milligrams of tocopheryl succinate for their acne twice daily for six to 12 weeks. After treatment, the patients noticed positive results. The zinc in shiitake mushrooms also promotes immune function and reduces buildup of DHT to improve skin healing.
Shiitake Mushrooms vs. Other Mushrooms
How does the shiitake stack up with other mushrooms? Let’s take a quick snapshot.
- Shiitake: Fights cancer cells and infectious disease, boosts the immune system, promotes brain function, and serves as a source of B vitamins.
- Maitake: Improves the health of AIDS patients and regulates blood sugar levels of diabetics. May reduce hypertension and boosts the immune system.
- Reishi: Fights inflammation, liver disease, fatigue, tumor growth and cancer. Improves skin disorders and soothes digestive problems, stomach ulcers and leaky gut syndrome.