Updated: Jan 26
In an attempt to create balance (homeostasis) in the body it is important to consider the conditions under which we evolved and replicate those conditions in a modern approach. In the case of mushrooms it is apparent that the human body evolved alongside and consumed fungi for a very long period of time. The compounds found in mushrooms evoke biological responses in our body so specific that it could only be considered a symbiotic partner in our evolution. In the modern age our long lasting relationship with fungi has been lost and more recently rekindled with an explosion of modern investigation once again showing the importance of fungi in helping regulate biological function. The addition of mushrooms back into the human diet and lifestyle is a fundamental part of prevention disease and a path to better living.
Mushrooms contain very little calories or fat and are cholesterol-free. They have a modest amount of fiber and over a dozen minerals and vitamins, including copper, potassium, magnesium, zinc and a number of B vitamins such as folate. Amino acids found in mushrooms that influence taste include alanine, glycine, serine, and threonine, which are sweet amino acids, and arginine, leucine, isoleucine, histidine, methionine, phenylalanine, and valine, which are bitter amino acids. Mushrooms also constitute a source of the nine essential amino acids that humans cannot synthesize; histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. Mushroom aroma comes from a series of mushroom alcohols that attract or deter insects. Furthermore, some mushrooms produce secondary metabolites, such as lovastatin, y-aminobutyric acid (GABA), and ergothioneine, and lovastatin. Bioactive compounds found in mushrooms such as beta-glucan, flavonoids, glycoproteins, sesquiterpenes, carotene, and phenols are effective antioxidants that enhance human health.
Polysaccharides in mushrooms play an important role in gut health as a pre-biotic. Supplemental food for the microbial biome within the body. Chitin, hemicellulose, α- and β-glucans, mannans, xylans and galactans are all found in mushroom medicine. the stimulation of beneficial bacteria in the intestines has been shown to contribute to a healthy immune system, healthy body weight, and metabolic health. Polysaccharides have also shown immuno-stimulating, anti-tumor properties, antitumor, immune enhancing effects, antibiotic and antiviral properties.
Beta-Glucans are arguably the most important compound in mushrooms. They are soluble fibers found in the cell walls of bacteria, fungi, yeasts and some plants. Each species varies in its composition lending to the varied effects from one mushroom to the next. They are most
known for preventing the body from absorbing cholesterol from food and may lower the risk for hearty disease. Beyond that beta-glucans play a much wider role in potentiating immune response. This means that they strengthen the immune system and are biological response modifiers. This means that in the presence of these molecules the immune system is more responsive to pathogens and cancer cells by activating macrophages and natural killer cells. They also stimulate the natural immune system to create more antibodies to fight these infections.
Polyphenols are structurally diverse compounds characterized by multiple phenol units. They are abundant in plants and are very diverse in structure. These compounds are included in many supplements but are easily obtained in diets with lots of vegetables, fruits, teas, and spices. There are more than 8,000 types of polyphenols, including popular flavonoids like quercetin and catechins in fruits. Polyphenols are divided into five main groups Phenolic acids, flavonoids, stilbenes and lignans. Polyphenols are reducing agents which are known to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects in the body. They protect the bodies tissues from oxidative stress and the associated pathologies such as cancers, coronary heart disease and inflammation.
Flavonoids are polyphenols that are of great interest in mushrooms. Among these plavanoids are myricetin, chrysin, catechin, hesperetin, naringenin, naringin, formometin, biochanin, pyrogallol, resveratrol, quercetin, rutin, kaempferol. Thse compounds are generally known to have beneficial anti-inflammatory effects. They protect cells from oxidative damage that can lead to disease. These dietary antioxidants can prevent the development of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and cognitive diseases like Alzheimer's and dementia.
Glutathione is another notable compound in mushroom medicine. Glutathione is a substance produced from the
amino acids glycine, cysteine, and glutamic acid. It is produced naturally in the liver and involved in many body processes including tissue building and repair, making chemicals and proteins needed in the body, and in immune system function.
Ergothioneine is an amino acid that is found mainly in mushrooms but also in red and black beans and other
plants. It is being studied for its powerful antioxidant activity in the body, especially protective of DNA. It also may prevent plaque build up Although animals do not produce this compound endogenously (In the body) they have evolved a highly selective transporter for it. Because it is essential for normal growth and nutrition and are required in small quantities in the diet, Erothyioneine can almost be considered a vitamin. It plays a role in the gut as a cytoprotective agent, stimulating mucus production and encouraging blood flow throughout the lining of the gastrointestinal tract.
Selenium is an essential mineral that is found in mushrooms and many other foods. Obtained only through consuming foods and only needed in small amounts, it plays a major role in metabolism and thyroid production. It is a powerful antioxidant and prevent cell damage from excessive free radicals and oxidative stress which is associated with chronic conditions like heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and cancer, as well as premature aging and the risk of stroke.
Lovastatin is common in the fruiting bodies of edible mushrooms. It belongs to a group of compounds, called statins, commonly used as cholesterol-lowering drugs in isolated form. Due to the presence of lovastatin, edible mushrooms can be useful in regulating high cholesterol levels.
Y-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) is naturally produced in the body as the prominent inhibitory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. Its principal role is reducing neuronal excitability throughout the nervous system and produces a calming and anti-anxiety effect. However when the body is out of balance, low GABA activity can lead to anxiety, depression, insomnia, and mood disorders. GABA can be acquired through many foods but mushrooms are particularly high in this compound.
Sesquiterpenes have many uses in traditional, western medicine because they contain so many anticancer, antiplasmodial, and anti-inflammatory properties Sesquiterpenes lactones are able to reduce stomach ulcers in some people and are also present in powerful antimalarial drugs.
Ergosterol is a sterol found in mushrooms that when exposed to ultraviolet light converts to vitamin D2. Mushroom exposed to sunlight in this way can be a good source of vitamin D which plays a large role immunoregulatory functions. Sun-dried mushrooms are therefore more beneficial for consumption and add to the overall benefit.