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Get familiar with fungi to feed your family a natural immune-booster

May 2019 Print
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Get familiar with fungi to feed your family a natural immune-booster

Next time you top your Friday night pizza with mushroom or indulge in a stroganoff, you may be supporting your immune health. Certain mushrooms exert their immune modulating properties in many ways, most notably via the increased expression of cytokines[1], which regulate inflammation and your body’s immune response to disease[2].

A variety of mushrooms have long been in use for medicinal purposes. Hippocrates identified the amadou mushroom as helpful for reducing inflammation and cauterising wounds,[3] while early Chinese medical texts describe reishi as a tonic against ageing[4] and modern research finds it provides benefits to fibromyalgia patients.[5] Species of penicillium are used in antibiotics, contraceptive pills and even in cheese production[6], while more than 100 varieties are used in adjunctive cancer treatments throughout Asia[7]. Reishi in particular is often referred to as the ‘mushroom of immortality’ because of its beneficial effects on immune health and overall life expectancy.[8]

Yes, the humble mushroom is more than just a versatile ingredient. In fact, mushrooms contribute to many aspects of modern life, from cleaning up the environment through bio-remediation to critical drugs used to lower blood cholesterol.[9]

And it’s easy to help boost your immunity simply by visiting your supermarket or grocer

Mainstream store-bought edible varieties are powerful for your health too. Edible mushrooms are low in calories, rich in protein and fibre, and a good source of B vitamins, potassium, copper and selenium. One of their best magic tricks is the ability to convert the sun’s UV light into vitamin D, making mushrooms one of the few good dietary sources of this important vitamin.[10]

Mushrooms also contain valuable antioxidants and are in the top five for highest antioxidant capacity when compared to other vegetables.[11] In fact, research shows that eating 100 grams of mushrooms (around three of the button variety) a day improves your antioxidant status.[12] Shiitake especially is both strengthening and restorative, and is recognised for supporting health in multiple ways due to its ability to enhance both humoral and cellular immune responses in the adaptive immune system.[13]

Shiitake in particular makes for a good excuse for ordering in your favourite Asian cuisine, but mushrooms are a great value ingredient for all meals. With a deliciously rich ‘umami’ flavour, add them to eggs for breakfast, stir into pastas, risottos or stir-fries for dinner, use for some substance in soups or toss through a salad. They can make for a great alternative to toast – and they’re gluten free – or as a substitute in meat-based dishes. Remember, mushrooms contain a powerhouse package of protein, carbohydrates and fibre too and are low in fat, sodium and calories.[14]

How to make more of your mushrooms

Around one third of Australians have insufficient levels of Vitamin D[15] but putting mushrooms in the sunshine for a 30-60 minutes will get them to start producing vitamin D[16]. In fact, getting out to the great outdoors and foraging for wild mushrooms is a great Autumn pastime – but never consume mushrooms picked without verifying its species as some are toxic. There are plenty of guided tours available, which often conclude with a magnificent meal.

You could also consider adding a spoonful of reishi powder in soups or tea to relish in its nutritive and restorative properties[17] or turkey tail – one of the most-studied types of medicinal mushrooms – to support a healthy immune system.[18] But always talk to your healthcare practitioner first, especially if you're pregnant, breastfeeding or taking other medication. Some medicinal mushrooms can also cause side effects such as stomach upsets or allergies and may interact with certain medications.

Remember, mushrooms are a great natural food that is easy to cook and bulks up plenty of dishes to feed the whole family and support their immune systems – especially in the colder months.

References

[1] Ayeka, P.A., Potential of Mushroom Compounds as Immunomodulators in Cancer Immunotherapy: A Review. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med, 2018. p. 7271509. Cited in Herbal Immune Support: A focus on chronic suboptimal immunity, associated fatigue and stress, Eagle Natural Health, accessed 6 May 2019

[2] Arango Duque, G. and A. Descoteaux, Macrophage cytokines: involvement in immunity and infectious diseases. Front Immunol, 2014. 5: p. 491. Cited in Herbal Immune Support: A focus on chronic suboptimal immunity, associated fatigue and stress, Cited in Eagle Natural Health, ibid.

[3] Cor, D., Z. Knez, and M. Knez Hrncic, Antitumour, Antimicrobial, Antioxidant and Antiacetylcholinesterase Effect of Ganoderma Lucidum Terpenoids and Polysaccharides: A Review. Molecules, 2018. 23(3):649. Cited in Eagle Natural Health, ibid.

[4] T Carr, Mushroom magic: why the latest health fad might be on to something, The Guardian, 17 January 2019, accessed 6 May 2019

[5] Pazzi, F. and R. Fraile-Fabero, Effects of Ganoderma Lucidum on Pain in Women with Fibromyalgia. Fibrom Open Access, 2017. 2(1): p. 1000115. Cited in Eagle Natural Health, ibid.

[6] Willis, ibid.

[7] Carr, ibid.

[8] Cor, D., Z. Knez, and M. Knez Hrncic, Antitumour, Antimicrobial, Antioxidant and Antiacetylcholinesterase Effect of Ganoderma Lucidum Terpenoids and Polysaccharides: A Review. Molecules, 2018. 23(3):649. Cited in Eagle Natural Health, ibid.

[9] Professor KJ. Willis, State of the World’s Fungi 2018, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, London, accessed 6 May 2019

[10] Carr, ibid.

[11] Study of 30 vegetables. Pellegrini N, et al. Total antioxidant capacity of plant foods, beverages and oils consumed in Italy assessed by three different in vitro assays. J Nutrition 2003; 133: 2812-2819, cited in Australian Mushrooms, On the inside: health, accessed 6 May 2019

[12] Calvo MS et al. A Retrospective Study in Adults with Metabolic Syndrome: Diabetic Risk Factor Response to Daily Consumption of Agaricus bisporus (White Button Mushrooms). Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 2016 Sep;71(3):245-51. doi: 10.1007/s11130-016-0552-7, cited in Australian Mushrooms, ibid.

[13] Bisen, P.S., et al., Lentinus edodes: a macrofungus with pharmacological activities. Curr Med Chem, 2010. 17(22): p. 2419-30. Cited Eagle Natural Health, ibid.

[14] Australian Mushrooms, ibid.

[15] Daly RM, et al. Prevalence of vitamin D deficiency and its determinants in Australian adults aged 25 years and older: a national, population-based study. Clinical Endocrinology 2012; 77 (1): 26-35, cited in Australian Mushrooms, ibid.

[16] Australian Mushrooms, ibid.

[17] N Olsen, 6 Mushrooms That Act as Turbo-Shots for Your Immune System, Healthline, 5 April 2018, accessed 6 May 2019

[18] N Olsen, 6 Mushrooms That Act as Turbo-Shots for Your Immune System, Healthline, 5 April 2018, accessed 6 May 2019

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