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7 Amazing Health Benefits Of Shiitake Mushrooms

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Health Benefits Of Shiitake Mushrooms

Used as a health food and medicine in countries like Japan, China for centuries, Shiitake mushrooms (both, raw and dried!) are a powerhouse of rare B vitamins and vitamin D. While a hallmark health benefit of consuming them is improved immune function, Shiitake may also help lower cholesterol, fight obesity, and even inhibit growth of cancerous cells.

Growing abundantly on a wide variety of trees like shii, oak, chestnut, maple and more, the edible mushroom Lentinus edodes gets its popular name Shiitake from the Japanese shii tree on which it grows well. It’s a popular health food and medicine in Far East countries like Japan and China.1

Shiitake mushroom became popular for its medicinal use during the Ming Dynasty where it is considered a tonic that could counteract the aches, pains, and fatigue associated with aging. It was also believed to promote heart health and be effective against lung disease and intestinal worms. It also became associated with the treatment of cancer.2

One of the five most cultivated mushrooms in the world, Shiitake mushrooms come with a light brown hue and a smoky taste and are used a lot in the preparation of Asian dishes like stir fries and miso soup. Shiitake mushrooms are a powerhouse of nutrients and have the ability to treat a host of diseases.

Nutritional And Medicinal Use Of Shiitake

Raw or dried, Shiitake mushrooms are rich in nutrients.

  • It is a good source of B vitamins like B1 and B12 and also provitamin D2.
  • It is 88-92 percent water in its raw form and stocks protein, lipids, carbohydrates as well as vitamins and minerals in it.
  • Dried Shiitake are rich in carbohydrates and protein.
  • They contain 58–60 percent carbohydrates, 20–23 percent protein, 9–10 percent fiber, 3–4 percent lipids, and 4–5 percent ash.3

Shiitake mushrooms help boost immunity and are used medicinally to treat diseases from a depressed immune function like AIDS, various types of cancers and allergies to infections and inflammations, heart disease, hyperlipidemia (including high blood cholesterol), hypertension, diabetes, and hepatitis. It is also found to be very effective in regulating urinary incontinence.

Moreover, Shiitake is loaded with compounds with proven pharmacological properties like polysaccharide lentinan used in several well-studied medicinal preparations. Some of the substances like lentinan, lectins and eritadenine are antibiotic, anticarcinogenic and antiviral in nature and are isolated for medicinal purposes.4

Health Benefits Of Shiitake Mushrooms

Here are some health benefits of Shiitake mushrooms in detail:

1. Lowers Cholesterol

Eritadenine, a compound in Shiitake mushrooms, is found to lower cholesterol levels by about 5-10 percent after the consumption of the mushroom. Another compound chitin which accounts for 80 percent of the fiber in the mushroom, too plays an important role in it.5

Eating Shiitake mushrooms regularly is known to help lower serum cholesterol levels. In a study done to assess the efficacy of Shiitake mushrooms in lowering cholesterol, rats were fed a cholesterol-free diet of cellulose powder, maitake fiber, shiitake fiber, and enokitake fiber for 4 weeks. The fecal cholesterol excretion in the rats fed with maitake, shiitake, and enokitake fibers was more than that of cellulose powder.6

2. Fights Obesity

Shiitake mushroom is considered very effective in fighting excess fat in the body. In a study conducted on rats to examine the effect of Shiitake mushrooms on preventing the effect of plasma lipid profile, fat deposition, energy efficiency and body fat index from a high fat diet, it was found that having Shiitake mushrooms with a high fat and high cholesterol diet can prevent body weight gain and fat deposition.7

3. Supports Immune Function

If you are the kind who falls sick quite often, adding Shiitake mushrooms to your diet will help improve your immunity. A 2015 study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition assessed 52 healthy men and women aged 21–41 years to understand if Shiitake mushrooms could boost the immune system. At the end of the study, it was found that daily consumption of the mushroom enhanced immunity.8

4. Destroys Cancer Cells

Many mushrooms are believed to have the ability to prevent and cure cancer and have been used in many traditional medicines as treatment. Shiitake mushrooms, too are believed to have cancer-fighting properties. This is mainly because of the presence of a complex sugar compound called lentinan which is a beta glucan.9 Beta glucans are capable of stimulating the immune system and trigger certain cells and proteins in the body to attack cancer cells.

Some studies have shown this compound to have the ability to slow the growth of cancer cells and stop leukaemia cells from dividing. Studies on mice have shown that lentinan can stop bowel cancer cells from growing.10

5. Supports Cardiovascular Health

Shiitake mushrooms have been used in Japan for centuries to lower cholesterol levels and keep the heart stronger. Studies have proven the ability of Shiitake mushrooms to lower both VLDL (very low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol (which contains the highest amount of triglycerides) and HDL or bad cholesterol that can positively strengthen heart function.11

6. Antimicrobial In Nature

It has been proven conclusively through many studies that Shiitake mushrooms are antibacterial and antifungal which make them useful in fighting many infections of the body. When aqueous extracts of the mushrooms were tested, the extracts exhibited antimicrobial activity against 85 percent of organisms tested, including 50 percent of the yeast and mold species.12 Mushrooms like Shiitake are extremely useful at a time when antibiotics are being widely used resulting in antibiotic resistance of the human body.

7. Provides Vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency is rampant especially during the winter months when exposure to sunlight is difficult. It is important to supplement our diet with foods that can provide it. Sun-exposed mushrooms are an excellent source of dietary vitamin D2 because they contain high concentrations of the vitamin D precursor, provitamin D2. Continued exposure of mushrooms to UV radiation results in the production of lumisterol and tachysterol, compounds which are part of the vitamin D family.

The advantage of Shiitake mushroom over other mushrooms is that it produces not just vitamin D2 but vitamin D3 (produced from human and animal skin) and vitamin D4 as well.13

Is Shiitake All Good And No Harm?

Not really. Shiitake mushroom is a lesser known allergen and can cause what is termed shiitake dermatitis, a kind of skin allergy, in certain individuals.

  • The allergic reaction on the skin in the form of eruptions was noticed 12 hours to 5 days after the ingestion of uncooked or partially cooked mushrooms.14
  • Cases of asthma too have been noticed among certain individuals on consumption of Shiitake mushrooms.15
  • In a study, daily ingestion of Shiitake mushroom powder in five of 10 healthy persons provoked blood eosinophilia and increased gastrointestinal symptoms.16
  • People have also reported symptoms like headache, nausea, stomach pain, a drop in blood pressure, etc after the consumption of the mushroom.

Can You Eat Raw Shiitake?

Fresh Shiitakes can be consumed raw and there are people across the globe who do that. Unfortunately, there are more chances of you having an allergic reaction from the mushrooms if they are eaten raw. If you are worried about nutrition loss during the cooking process, you must try the dried variety which is equally potent in terms of nutrition.

How Do You Store Shiitake Mushrooms?

Here are some best ways to store your shiitake mushrooms safely:

  • Refrigeration is the best way to store Shiitake mushrooms. They need to be refrigerated within an hour of plucking so the nutrients are not lost during storing. These mushrooms will stay fresh if stored in a cool (41 degree F), dry and dark place.
  • For longevity, mushrooms can be treated by steaming or sauteing. Soak mushrooms in a mixture containing 1 teaspoon lemon juice or 1.5 teaspoons citric acid per pint of water for 5 minutes to reduce darkening. Steam the mushrooms for about 3-5 minutes depending on the size and cut and allow them to cool. After cooling, they can be drained and pat dried for storing in the refrigerator. A loosely closed paper bag is best for storing them.
  • Dried mushrooms can be stored in a firmly sealed container in either the refrigerator or freezer where they will stay fresh for six months.17

How Do You Know If The Mushroom Has Gone Bad?

Is the mushroom more than two weeks old? Is it slimy, smelly and has brown spots all over? Are the gills browner than you first bought it? If the answer to all these questions is yes, then you can be sure the mushroom has gone bad. Do not use it. It can make you sick. Always stick to fresh, firm mushrooms for eating.

References   [ + ]

1, 3. Shiitake. University of Haifa.
2. Money, Nicholas P. “Are mushrooms medicinal?.” Fungal biology 120, no. 4 (2016): 449-453.
4. Bisen, P. S., Rakesh K. Baghel, Bhagwan S. Sanodiya, Gulab S. Thakur, and G. B. K. S. Prasad. “Lentinus edodes: a macrofungus with pharmacological activities.” Current Medicinal Chemistry 17, no. 22 (2010): 2419-2430.
5. Shiitake Mushrooms. The Australian National University.
6. Fukushima, Michihiro, Tetsu Ohashi, Yukiko Fujiwara, Kei Sonoyama, and Masuo Nakano. “Cholesterol-lowering effects of maitake (Grifola frondosa) fiber, shiitake (Lentinus edodes) fiber, and enokitake (Flammulina velutipes) fiber in rats.” Experimental Biology and Medicine 226, no. 8 (2001): 758-765.
7. Handayani, Dian, J. Chen, Barbara J. Meyer, and Xu-Feng Huang. “Dietary Shiitake mushroom (Lentinus edodes) prevents fat deposition and lowers triglyceride in rats fed a high-fat diet.” Journal of obesity 2011 (2011).
8. Dai, Xiaoshuang, Joy M. Stanilka, Cheryl A. Rowe, Elizabethe A. Esteves, Carmelo Nieves Jr, Samuel J. Spaiser, Mary C. Christman, Bobbi Langkamp-Henken, and Susan S. Percival. “Consuming Lentinula edodes (Shiitake) mushrooms daily improves human immunity: A randomized dietary intervention in healthy young adults.” Journal of the American College of Nutrition 34, no. 6 (2015): 478-487.
9. Patel, Seema, and Arun Goyal. “Recent developments in mushrooms as anti-cancer therapeutics: a review.” 3 Biotech 2, no. 1 (2012): 1-15.
10. Mushrooms In Cancer Treatment. Cancer Research UK.
11. KABIR, Yearul, Mami YAMAGUCHI, and Shuichi KIMURA. “Effect of Shiitake (Lentinus edodes) and Maitake (Grjfola frondosa) Mushrooms on Blood Pressure and Plasma Lipids of Spontaneously Hypertensive Rats.” Journal of nutritional science and vitaminology 33, no. 5 (1987): 341-346.
12. Rao, Juluri R., B. Cherie Millar, and John E. Moore. “Antimicrobial properties of shiitake mushrooms (Lentinula edodes).” International journal of antimicrobial agents 33, no. 6 (2009): 591-592.
13. Keegan, Raphael-John H., Zhiren Lu, Jaimee M. Bogusz, Jennifer E. Williams, and Michael F. Holick. “Photobiology of vitamin D in mushrooms and its bioavailability in humans.” Dermato-endocrinology 5, no. 1 (2013): 165-176.
14. Netchiporouk, Elena, Kevin Pehr, Moshe Ben-Shoshan, Robin C. Billick, Denis Sasseville, and Michael Singer. “Pustular flagellate dermatitis after consumption of shiitake mushrooms.” JAAD case reports 1, no. 3 (2015): 117.
15. Pravettoni, Valerio, Laura Primavesi, and Marta Piantanida. “Shiitake mushroom (Lentinus edodes): A poorly known allergen in Western countries responsible for severe work-related asthma.” International journal of occupational medicine and environmental health 27, no. 5 (2014): 871-874.
16. Levy, Aaron M., Hirohito Kita, Sidney F. Phillips, Paul A. Schkade, Phillip D. Dyer, Gerald J. Gleich, and Vincent A. Dubravec. “Eosinophilia and gastrointestinal symptoms after ingestion of shiitake mushrooms.” Journal of allergy and clinical immunology 101, no. 5 (1998): 613-620.
17. Best Management Practices for Log-Based Shiitake Cultivation in the Northeastern United States. Northeast SARE.