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Mushrooms as Medicine: Exploring the Medicinal Properties and Potential Health Benefits

Writer: Dilvin Lacin


Mushrooms have been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years across various cultures, in addition to being a delicious addition to meals. Particularly in Asia, there is a deep knowledge of how vital these unique organisms are for health. Some of this ancient wisdom still holds, and modern medicine continues to harness the power of mushrooms. 


Historical Use of Mushrooms


Traditional Chinese Medicine and Reishi Mushroom

Traditional Chinese Medicine, with its millennia-old history, relies on natural resources for medicinal purposes. Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum) holds a significant place within this system. Reishi, also known as the "Lingzhi" or "immortality mushroom," is used to promote balance in the body, boost the immune system, increase energy, and contribute to overall well-being. Modern research supports the antioxidant and immune-supporting properties of the reishi mushroom (Jones, 1998).


Eastern Asia and Shiitake Mushroom

Shiitake mushroom (Lentinula edodes), with a long history in Eastern Asian cuisine, is a commonly consumed mushroom in the region. Shiitake not only stands out with its delicious flavor but also its health benefits. Particularly in countries like Japan, Korea, and China, shiitake is an integral part of meals. Traditionally, shiitake has been used to strengthen the immune system and maintain overall health. Shiitake mushrooms are also rich in beta-glucans, which have immune-boosting effects. (Wasser, 2005; Rahman et al., 2012)


In addition to their historical significance, we observe various benefits of mushrooms today. So, what are the benefits? 


Benefits of Mushrooms


Antifungal, Antiviral, and Antibacterial Properties

Mushrooms inhabit a competitive environment in nature, which necessitates the development of natural defense mechanisms against other microbes and fungi. They also employ protective mechanisms to prevent bacteria and harmful organisms from invading them. These defense mechanisms frequently involve compounds that are non-harmful to humans and can serve as natural antibiotics when consumed. (Waktola et al., 2018; Venturella et al., 2021)


Vitamin and Mineral Content

Mushrooms are a great source of various essential vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins and D vitamins. This makes them an important dietary component for vegetarians and vegans who may not get enough of these nutrients from other food sources. These vitamins and minerals are crucial for proper bodily functions, and a deficiency in any of them can cause various health issues.  (Waktola et al., 2018; Venturella et al., 2021)




Source of Fiber

Mushrooms are high in fiber content, which is crucial for supporting digestive health and reducing the risk of diseases such as intestinal cancer. Additionally, consuming fiber-rich foods extends the feeling of fullness, helps curb hunger, and aids in weight control. (Waktola et al., 2018; Venturella et al., 2021)


High Antioxidant Content

Free radicals are molecular structures with unpaired electrons known to cause damage to the body. Mushrooms contain compounds called antioxidants that combat free radicals, reducing cellular damage and preserving health. Notably, mushrooms are rich in antioxidants like glutathione and ergothioneine. (Waktola et al., 2018; Venturella et al., 2021)


Beta-Glucans

Mushrooms contain significant amounts of beta-glucans, which have positive effects on the immune system. They can also contribute to addressing health issues such as allergies, asthma, and chronic fatigue. ((Waktola et al., 2018; Venturella et al., 2021)


Polysaccharides

Mushrooms are packed with various polysaccharides, which are long, complex molecular chains. Different polysaccharides offer different health benefits, including anti-cancer, anti-obesity, anti-diabetic, and antibiotic properties. (Waktola et al., 2018; Venturella et al., 2021)


In a nutshell, mushrooms are not only a scrumptious addition to our meals, but they are also a valuable natural resource with versatile benefits for our health and nutrition. Incorporating mushrooms into your diet is a delicious way to support your well-being. However, it is crucial to consult a healthcare professional before using mushrooms for the treatment or prevention of any medical condition. Ongoing research and exploration continue to uncover the potential of mushrooms in the realms of health and nutrition.



References

Jones, K. (1998). Reishi mushroom: Ancient medicine in modern times. Alternative and Complementary Therapies, 4(4), 256-266


Waktola, G., & Temesgen, T. (2018). Application of mushroom as food and medicine, Adv. Biotechnol. Microbiol, 11(3), 10-19080


Venturella, G., Ferraro, V., Cirlincione, F., Gargano, ML. (2021) Medicinal Mushrooms: Bioactive Compounds, Use, and Clinical Trials. International Journal of Molecular Sciences,

10;22(2), 634. 


Wasser, S., P. (2005). Shiitake (Lentinus edodes). Encyclopedia of dietary supplements, 653-664


Rahman, T., & Choudhury, M., B., K. (2012). Shiitake Mushroom: A Tool of Medicine


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