In Asian countries, the popularity of mushrooms is so high, that they are sold by streetcar vendors. In ancient Chinese manuscripts, the use of mushrooms as medicine has been recorded, and the earliest records of humans using psychotropic mushrooms date as far back as the Paleolithic period. There are about 35 different species of mushrooms available, and most are eatable and can be used as medicine. |
At first, the Americans were slow in embracing these meaty fungus, but now they are becoming increasingly commonplace in the kitchen,and in many research laboratories. Scientists are discovering what was known by natural healers for ages. Not only are mushrooms important sources of nutrients, but they also boost your immune system. According to researchers, they possibly can help fight cancer and high cholesterol, and perhaps even AIDS.
Cancer protection At first scientists thought that America's favorite white button mushroom had little medicinal value, but more recent studies showed that these mushrooms contain quite a lot, especially by preventing breast cancer. Researchers at the research and treatment center of City of Hope, California, found that the mushrooms suppress estrogen production, especially in postmenopausal women. After conducting several studies on mice, they found that these animals had a 58% reduction in the growth of breast tumors when they fed them mushroom extract.
The mushrooms contain conjugated linoleicacid, a phytochemical that inhibits aromatase, the body's protein that makes estrogen, says Shiuan Chen, PhD, director of the department of surgical research at City of Hope. About 60% of premenopausal women and 75% of postmenopausal women with breast cancer have a hormone-dependant cancer, which means estrogen promote the growth of tumors. By controlling estrogen levels the growth of tumors can be limited or prevented. Postmenopausal women have smaller amounts of estrogen in their bodies, so the mushrooms provide even more protection for them.
Other types of mushrooms were also found to help in the prevention of breast cancer. White stuffing mushrooms had the strongest protection, but white button, shiitake, portobello, cremini, and baby button mushrooms all showed a significant effect, either eating raw or cooked.
You only have to eat about three and a half ounces of mushrooms a day to prevent breast cancer, says Dr. Chen. He is now researching these compounds and their effects on prostate cancer.
Mushrooms have been in the spotlight for their cancer protection abilities before. In Japan they used shiitake mushrooms to shrink tumors. These large black mushrooms contain a polysacharide, or complex sugar, called lentinan. Polysacharides have a similar structure as bacteria, explains Robert Murphy, ND, a naturopathic doctor in Torrington, Connecticut. When eating shiitake mushrooms, your immune system starts to collect an army of infection fighting cells. "Actually, they fool the immune system into kicking into action", he says. Researchers found that by feeding lentinan in the form of dried mushroom powder to laboratory animals with tumors, they can inhibit tumor growth by 67%.
The maitake mushroom is also under investigation of research. Like shiitakes mushrooms, the maitake mushroom has been known for centuries as a treatment against cancer. The active polysaccharide in this type of mushroom, which is called beta-glucan or D-fraction, has been strongly effective in thrinking tumors in laboratory animals - may be even more effective than lentinan, according to experts.
Lowering Cholesterol During the years 1970 and 1980, studies on humans and animals in Japan showed that one of the compounds in shiitake mushrooms, eritadenine, was effective in lowering cholesterol levels. So if your cholesterol levels are getting near the danger zone, it's wise to consider making mushrooms a regular part of your diet.
A Dose of B-vitamins Mushrooms contain two important B-vitamins: niacin and riboflavin, which are not often found in vegetables. The common white button mushroom may be a key player. Although dried shiitake mushrooms have a higher nutrient concentration, they also have a strong flavor; most people don't like to use too many of them. But white mushrooms having a mild taste, and can be eaten with virtually every meal.
Niacin is important, because it helps your body to form the enzymes which are needed to convert sugars into energy, to use fats, and to keep your tissuea healthy. White button mushrooms are a good source, as they contain 4 mg of niacin or 20% of the Daily Value (DV).
"When you eat a healthy serving of these mushrooms - about 1/2 a cup - you certainly get some of these polysaccharides that activate the immune system," according to DR. Murphy. "I encourage people to buy shiitake and maitake mushrooms and make them part of their diet." You usually will find both types of mushrooms in Asian food stores and some supermarkets.
Immunity boosting and AIDS Because of the proven fact that shiitake and maitake mushrooms are so effective in strengthen the immune system, some scientists have tested their mettle, with some success, against HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. In laboratory studies, an extract of beta-glucan, found in the maiitake mushroom, was able to prevent HIV from killing T cells, which are crucial white blood cells of the immune system. "Eating these mushrooms on a regular basis seems to be an excellent way to keep your immune system up and running," says Dr. Murphy.
Some tips to get the most out of eating mushrooms 1. Cook them. Mushrooms are better cooked than raw. By cooking them you remove the high water content in mushrooms. Also, by doing so, you concentrate the nutrients and get a better flavor.
2. Eat the exotic types To get maximum healing power from mushrooms, choose the Asian types, in particular the shiitake and maitake, according to experts. Other types that may give therapeutic benefits are the enoki, oyster, pine and straw types.
Although you can buy fresh shiitake mushrooms at speciality markets, you most likely find them in their dehydrated form. Use them the following way:
Soften them. To recompose dried mushrooms, place them in a saucepan, cover with water, and bring them to a rolling boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Then drain, slice and add them to your dish. Keep the water, as it contains nutrients and makes your soup or sauces tasteful.
Cut then fine Recomposed mushrooms don't look as good as the fresh ones. Also, they have a slightly pungent flavor, that in large amounts may be unpleasant for some dinners. Chefs usually chop them, using them sparingly for stir-fries, meat and vegetable casseroles, soups, pasta and grain dishes.
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