Anti-Cancer Benefits of Medicinal Mushrooms
When you think of mushrooms you may think of them as a common stir fry ingredient or something that grows in your yard in the fall, but mushrooms are far more than just a food or novelty. Mushrooms have been used for centuries in traditional medicine throughout the world. Mushrooms have many health promoting compounds that work to help fight disease and have been shown to have cancer fighting properties as well. Many of the ways mushrooms promote health are also how they work in the fight against cancer.
Health Benefits of Mushrooms
Let’s dive into the details. Mushrooms are a great source of nutrients from macro-nutrients like carbohydrates, protein and important fatty acids to micronutrients, think vitamins like B12, C and D; and minerals such as potassium and calcium.
Additionally, much of the benefits from mushrooms are from “bioactives” which are essentially non-nutritive substances that have a biological effect on the body. One of the most researched is beta-glucans. Beta glucans work to stimulate the immune system which helps protect against microbes, toxins and carcinogens (cancer causing agents). This immune stimulation can help to inhibit cancer cells and to improve treatment outcomes from radiation or chemotherapy.
While the medicinal benefits of mushrooms have been known in traditional cultures for thousands of years, recently scientists have been working to isolate specific compounds that have identifiable benefits. This has led to an increase in mushroom products available that tout many amazing benefits. The truth is that many of the benefits are complex and that perhaps the best way to reap the benefits of mushrooms is to cook with and eat them.
There are many different species of mushrooms that all have different benefits, so if you are interested in using mushrooms it is helpful to discuss a plan with a dietitian to figure out how to proceed. It may be that adding in some dietary mushrooms would be helpful, or that there is a certain supplement that may be appropriate in your specific case.
The Cancer Fighting Effects of Mushrooms
Mushrooms have been used for thousands of years in traditional cuisine and medicine and have many health promoting compounds that work to help fight disease and have been shown to have cancer fighting properties as well.
Mushrooms have antioxidants which can help protect healthy tissues and prevent cell damage, which is a hallmark of cancer and how it progresses. These work to calm inflammation caused by both cancer cells and treatment alike. Your natural immune system is SO critical so your body is fighting along with any treatment you may be receiving. Mushrooms also have immune boosting properties which can help improve the body’s response to stress, infection and other damage.
Mushrooms contain special types of fiber, minerals, protein and vitamins to support your health during a cancer journey. All these factors make mushrooms very exciting in the world of cancer prevention, as well as in combination with cancer treatments such as surgery, chemotherapies, and radiation as a way to help protect healthy cells and reduce side effects from treatment. I've got three top favorite anti-cancer mushrooms I want to tell you about but remember, please discuss these ideas with your medical team before considering adding them in for your benefit. Everyone's case is different and I want you to stay safe!
My Top 3 Favorite Anticancer Mushrooms
Maitake, sometimes also called “hen of the woods” is a commonly eaten edible mushroom known for its savory flavor. These mushrooms are rich in beta glucans that can help boost the immune system as mentioned above. They also contain proteins that have been shown to have anti-cancer properties. Studies have shown that maitake mushrooms fight cancer both directly and indirectly by protecting healthy tissues, preventing metastasis (spread of cancer), and inhibiting tumor growth.
Reishi mushrooms are a well-known and well-studied medicinal mushroom often used in cancer treatment. Two compounds of interest; GLP, a type of carbohydrate, and GLT, an antioxidant, have been studied in cancer treatment specifically. GLP has been shown in studies to protect healthy tissues, especially the small intestine, from radiation and chemotherapy damage. GLT has been shown to increase sensitivity to chemotherapy making treatments more effective with less side effects. You may see Reishi mushrooms on a menu at your local restaurant because they’re gaining in popularity - be sure to try them! They come in powder form or in different drink products or in tea as well.
Shiitake mushrooms are the second most cultivated and most popular edible mushroom in the world because of their medicinal qualities and savory flavor. Once again shiitake mushrooms contain beta-glucans which have been shown to have anti-cancer benefits and also to support the immune system. A strong immune system allows the body to naturally fight off abnormal cells; it is your baseline protection against cancer. For a delicious way to incorporate shiitake mushrooms, you can lightly saute them in garlic and add them to eggs, stir-frys, soups, or serve them as a simple side dish.
Tell me in the comments, are you using mushrooms in your cancer journey yet?