Until recently fungi used to be considered plants. Today, due to their unique qualities, fungi have now been categorized as a separate kingdom, in addition to animals and plants. Among the fungi are numerous species of mushrooms, including some that exist at microscopic levels which can cause illnesses, while others are used in medicine. Some of the larger species, like parasol mushrooms, can be consumed as food, but one must recognize which ones are edible, for some are fatal if ingested.
The hectic life style that many of us lead today causes stress which is likely to result in diseases of the heart or nervous system. The fast food culture has become a part of our lives due to our busy work schedules; this sort of a diet obviously causes an excess intake of fat. Office hours spent sitting on a chair without effective physical activity result in the storage of unused energy in the body. Thus, cardiovascular diseases have become one of the most common life-threatening risks for people living in developed countries. In the last five decades, much research has been devoted to investigating and preventing the risk factors that lead to coronary artery diseases.
The mushroom is a food with a rich nutritious content. Some species are known for having characteristics that are helpful in regulating the immunity system, preventing tumor formation, and reducing blood pressure without producing any known side effects. 88–91% of the physical make-up of a mushroom is water, thus fresh mushrooms are rich in proteins which can be more easily digested than many other vegetables. In addition to such proteins that are necessary for general health, mushrooms consist of B-complex vitamins and mineral materials.
Some species of mushrooms act as sources of healing in many ways. Polysaccharide-protein complexes obtained from species like Pleurotus spp., Ganoderma lucidum (Reishi), Grifola frondosa (Maitake), Lentinula edodes (Shiitake) have been found to prevent the spread of tumor cells and AIDS. It has also been discovered after research that mushrooms have antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal effects; they are useful in the treatment of illnesses like cold, stomach and head aches, and hepatitis B; they can help reduce fatigue and sleeping problems as well as blood cholesterol levels. Mushrooms can also have a positive effect in diseases like arteriosclerosis, kidney failure and high blood pressure, as well as helping in strengthening the immunity system, thus delaying unfavorable conditions of aging.
Research has shown that mushrooms, with their B-complex vitamins, have a positive influence on the nervous system. The mushroom offers a good alternative for anemia, a disease that arises from a deficiency in folic acid and it also helps to regulate the blood sugar level. Mushrooms are often recommended for patients with liver and kidney diseases, as well as being a good source of protein for patients suffering from gout, for it causes the formation of only a small amount of uric acid at the end of the digestion metabolism. Here we provide more specific information about certain species of mushrooms:
Shiitake (lentinula edodes)
This species is cultivated and sold in Japan and China, where it is known as “the elixir of life” or “the secret of long life.” It is traditionally used in wedding meals. This mushroom is effective primarily in the prevention of apoplexy and arteriosclerosis. It is also used in many cancer research programs, due to its antitumor activity. A polysaccharide known as lentinan that is found in this species can suppress sarcoma 180, a solid type tumor, a feature that adds to the value of this mushroom. Patients are advised to consume shiitake mushrooms during chemotherapy.
In Japan, around fifty different types of enzymes have been derived from the shiitake mushroom. These enzymes include pepsin and tripsin, which are used in the treatment of some gastric diseases, as well as asparaginase, which makes up a part of leukemia treatment for children. This species is rich in proteins, vitamins, and minerals. The consumption of 100 grams of fresh mushroom generates only 28 calories, thus making it a good alternative as a food that has limited energy intake. Mushrooms have only a small amount of A and E vitamins, but a large quantity of ergosterol (provitamin D2); this can change to D2 vitamin under sunlight or artificial light. D2 vitamin can adjust the phosphor and calcium balance, thereby contributing to bone and muscle development and preventing rickets. It has been found that the eritadenine compound that is contained in this mushroom reduces blood cholesterol at a rate of 25–45%. This species is known to be useful for all the health problems listed above (regulating blood circulation, apoplexy, arteriosclerosis, kidney failure, and high blood pressure; destroying bacteria, virus, pathogenic fungi).
This species is rich in proteins, only being surpassed by legumes. Mineral salts, like calcium, phosphor, and iron are contained in this species, in amounts that are proportionally twice as much as those found in beef or fowl. Among mushrooms, pleurotus has the highest levels of B1 vitamin (tiamin) and B2 vitamin (riboflavin).
Hemagglutinin, a substance that causes the agglutination of red blood cells, is contained in pleurotus ostreatus and pleurotus spodoleucus species. Eight of the eighteen amino acids found in pleurotus ostreatus are essential for human life. Extracts obtained from pleurotus spores trigger the formation of interferon, which is the first defense mechanism against viral infections. These spores have been found to help prevent flu and paralyses in laboratory animals.
Some mushroom species have been shown to be effective in strengthening the immune system. Chemotherapy applications used primarily in cancer and some other diseases are known to have many side effects, some of which are severe and can lead to other diseases. The toxic effects of some medications might pave the way for other infections, damaging the kidneys and liver. It is thanks to God, the Healer, that the mushroom is one among millions of other sources of healing that can be found in nature, waiting for us to discover them.
Basic nutrients for Agaricus bisporus %
Vitamins dissolved in water (mg/100g)
B1 (Tiamin) 0.094
B2 (Riboflavin) 0.396
Folic acid 0.078
C (Ascorbic acid) 2.29