We usually think of brightly colored vegetables as the ones having the most health-promoting properties – since antioxidants are pigments, and deeply colored plant foods like blueberries are extremely rich in these beneficial pigments. Mushrooms may not be so beautifully colored, but they certainly contain plenty of valuable phytochemicals.
Mushrooms support the immune system
Mushrooms contain certain molecules that are thought to fight infections and even cancers by stimulating immune cells.(1, 2)
Mushrooms are unique in their breast cancer preventing (anti-aromatase) effects
Frequent consumption of mushrooms (approximately 1 button mushroom per day) has been shown to decrease the risk of breast cancer by 60-70%.(3) Mushrooms are thought to protect against breast cancer particularly because they inhibit an enzyme called aromatase, which produces estrogen. Mushrooms are one of the very few foods that inhibit aromatase, and several varieties of mushrooms have strong anti-aromatase activity.(4)
Protection against other cancers
Consumption of mushrooms does not only protect against breast cancer. In addition to anti-aromatase activity, white, cremini, portobello, oyster, maitake, and reishi mushrooms have all been shown to have a wide variety of anti-cancer properties. These effects have been studied in relation to stomach, colorectal, breast, and prostate cancers.(5-13)
Mushrooms add unique flavors and textures to vegetable dishes, and are delicious paired with fresh herbs. Combining mushrooms with the onion family, green and cruciferous vegetables, and beans, creates delicious, healthful, and powerfully protective meals.
To read more about the unique health benefits of mushrooms, read Dr. Fuhrman’s most recent book Super Immunity.
1. Yu L, Fernig DG, Smith JA, et al: Reversible inhibition of proliferation of epithelial cell lines by Agaricus bisporus (edible mushroom) lectin. Cancer Res 1993;53:4627-4632.
2. Carrizo ME, Capaldi S, Perduca M, et al: The antineoplastic lectin of the common edible mushroom (Agaricus bisporus) has two binding sites, each specific for a different configuration at a single epimeric hydroxyl. The Journal of biological chemistry 2005;280:10614-10623.
3. Zhang M, Huang J, Xie X, et al: Dietary intakes of mushrooms and green tea combine to reduce the risk of breast cancer in Chinese women. Int J Cancer 2009;124:1404-1408.
4. Grube BJ, Eng ET, Kao YC, et al: White button mushroom phytochemicals inhibit aromatase activity and breast cancer cell proliferation. The Journal of nutrition 2001;131:3288-3293.
5. Hara M, Hanaoka T, Kobayashi M, et al: Cruciferous vegetables, mushrooms, and gastrointestinal cancer risks in a multicenter, hospital-based case-control study in Japan. Nutr Cancer 2003;46:138-147.
6. Zhang CX, Ho SC, Chen YM, et al: Greater vegetable and fruit intake is associated with a lower risk of breast cancer among Chinese women. Int J Cancer 2009;125:181-188.
7. Martin KR, Brophy SK: Commonly consumed and specialty dietary mushrooms reduce cellular proliferation in MCF-7 human breast cancer cells. Exp Biol Med 2010;235:1306-1314.
8. Fang N, Li Q, Yu S, et al: Inhibition of growth and induction of apoptosis in human cancer cell lines by an ethyl acetate fraction from shiitake mushrooms. J Altern Complement Med 2006;12:125-132.
9. Ng ML, Yap AT: Inhibition of human colon carcinoma development by lentinan from shiitake mushrooms (Lentinus edodes). J Altern Complement Med 2002;8:581-589.
10. Adams LS, Phung S, Wu X, et al: White button mushroom (Agaricus bisporus) exhibits antiproliferative and proapoptotic properties and inhibits prostate tumor growth in athymic mice. Nutr Cancer 2008;60:744-756.
11. Lakshmi B, Ajith TA, Sheena N, et al: Antiperoxidative, anti-inflammatory, and antimutagenic activities of ethanol extract of the mycelium of Ganoderma lucidum occurring in South India. Teratog Carcinog Mutagen 2003;Suppl 1:85-97.
12. Cao QZ, Lin ZB: Antitumor and anti-angiogenic activity of Ganoderma lucidum polysaccharides peptide. Acta pharmacologica Sinica 2004;25:833-838.
13. Lin ZB, Zhang HN: Anti-tumor and immunoregulatory activities of Ganoderma lucidum and its possible mechanisms. Acta pharmacologica Sinica 2004;25:1387-1395.
Joel Fuhrman M.D. is a board-certified family physician who specializes in preventing and reversing disease through nutritional and natural methods. He has been practicing for more than 20 years and established the Center for Nutritional Medicine located in Flemington, New Jersey. Dr. Fuhrman is a New York Times best-selling author, nutritional researcher and board certified family physician specializing in nutritional medicine. Twitter: @drfuhrman
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