Mushrooms are not plants and require different conditions for optimal growth. Unlike plants that develop through photosynthesis; sunlight providing their energy source, mushrooms derive all of their energy and growth materials from the substance they grow on, through biochemical decomposition processes. Instead of seeds, mushrooms reproduce asexually through spores.
The state of Pennsylvania is the top producer of mushrooms in the US with September designated as Mushroom Month. In Canada the largest producers are located in the Fraser Valley near Vancouver, British Columbia.
Mushrooms are one of the world’s oldest natural medicines and have been part of Asian medicine for thousands of years.
In Asia, mushrooms are used to treat ailments such as stomach and intestinal problems. In Japan, Maitake mushrooms are used to lower blood pressure and the Shiitake mushroom also appears to be a potent anti-cancer nutrient. The Reishi mushroom helps with respiratory problems like asthma and the Oyster mushroom is a natural source for a cholesterol medication plus they are a good source of iron. Mushrooms are also low in calories. Six medium white button mushrooms, for example, have just 22 calories.
Here are some more of the many health benefits of mushrooms:
Mushrooms are the only fruit or vegetable source of this critical vitamin. Like humans, mushrooms produce vitamin D when in sunlight. Exposing them to high levels of ultraviolet B just before going to market converts more of the plant sterol ergosterol into the so-called sunshine vitamin. In the U.S., Portobello mushrooms fortified with vitamin D, in a three-ounce (85-gram) serving, provides about 400 IU of vitamin D. Osteoporosis Canada recommends that adults under 50 should take in 400 to 1,000 IU daily.
A study done on mice and published by the American Society for Nutrition found that white button mushrooms may promote immune function by increasing the production of antiviral and other proteins that are released by cells while they are trying to protect and repair the body’s tissues. A later study showed that these mushrooms promoted the maturation of immune system cells – called dendritic cells – from bone marrow, which may help enhance the body’s immunity leading to better defense systems against invading microbes.
Antioxidants help fight free radicals that are the result of oxidation in our bodies. A study at Penn State university showed that the oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC – a measure of a food’s total antioxidants) of Crimini and Portobello mushrooms were about the same as for red peppers.
B vitamins are vital for turning food (carbohydrates) into fuel (glucose), which the body burns to produce energy. They also help the body metabolize fats and protein. Mushrooms contain loads of vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and vitamin B3 (niacin). Three and a half ounces (100 grams) of Crimini have 44 percent and 30 percent of your daily recommended amount, respectively, white button have 36 and 30 percent and oyster mushrooms have 32 and 39 percent.
An analysis of seven studies recently published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, showed that the higher the level of selenium, as measured in blood serum and toenails, the lower the risk of bladder cancer. Selenium had a significant protective effect mainly among women, which the researchers believe may result from gender-specific differences. Several types of mushrooms are rich in this essential trace mineral: 100 grams of raw Crimini have 47 percent of your daily needs, cooked Shiitakes have 45 percent and raw white button have 17 percent.
The Shiitake mushroom appears to be a potent anti-cancer nutrient, low in glucose and sodium but rich in potassium and zinc. A study published in the International Journal of Cancer showed mushrooms contain a compound called aromatase inhibitors which works on body hormones. They lower the hormones that promote prostate cancer. Women who regularly consumed mushrooms (about 10g daily) are 64% less likely to develop breast cancer. The same study showed that women who ate 10g of mushrooms and simultaneously drank green tea were 89% less likely to develop breast cancer.[i]
The Maitake mushroom appears to activate various immune cells that attack cancer and may also help stop cancer from spreading in the body.
Research at City of Hope, Duarte, California have found white button, Portobello and Crimini mushrooms have been shown to control excess estrogen, especially in post menopausal women, which is believed to trigger 60 to 75% of all breast cancer, thus preventing tumors from forming in the first place.[ii]
There are many ways to prepare mushrooms for salads, side dishes, sauces and soups. They are equally good raw or cooked as they retain their antioxidant properties even when cooked.
[i] Dr. Fuhrman: How to Reverse Cancer “Common ailments afflicting Americans, disease and illness….”
[ii] The Doctor’s Book of Food Remedies: Selene Yeager and Editors of Prevention