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The health benefits of mushrooms have been known for centuries, but it is only relatively recently that they have been used in Western medicine. Today so-called medicinal mushrooms are commonly added to pharmaceutical and dietary supplements for a wide range of uses, from general tonics to treatment of cancer.
In general terms, mushrooms have anti-bacterial as well as anti-viral properties, and they contain powerful antioxidants. Most mushrooms have a greater nutritional value than people realize and many are effective in defending the body against serious diseases including HIV, hepatitis, polio, smallpox, and of course cancer.
A large amount of scientific research has been carried out over the decades that prove the nutritional and medical effects of mushrooms, but there has not been a lot of research to examine how effective they are for weight loss. Nevertheless the research that has been conducted indicates that they can be extremely useful to overweight and obese people wishing to shed unwanted pounds and improve their health.
Different Mushroom Species
There are more than 12,000 species of mushroom that have been scientifically named, at least 35 of which are cultivated commercially, with more than half of these being cultivated on an industrial scale. Interestingly, most of them are not only edible, but also possess some sort of medicinal properties.
In a research paper titled Medicinal Mushrooms: Their therapeutic properties and current medical usage with special emphasis on cancer treatments published by the University of Strathclyde (UK) in 2002, authors Richard Sullivan, John E. Smith and Neil J. Rowan identified the main medicinal mushrooms, not all of which are edible.
Most are cultivated commercially and not gathered from “the wild.”
- Ganoderma lucidum (also known as reishi or lingzhi mushrooms) that help heal tumors, lower cholesterol and blood sugar, and have been shown to help weight loss. They also inhibit the growth of bacteria in the body. Much tougher than most other mushrooms, G. lucidum are often taken as a supplement, in prepared powdered form.
- Lentinus (Lentinula) edodes (shitake) that strengthen the immune system and are believed to slow down the growth of tumors. They also lower cholesterol, promote cardiovascular health and inhibit viruses. See photograph above.
- Phellinus linteus (aoshima) has been used in China, Japan and Korea for centuries for many ailments from diarrhea to cancer and severe bleeding. A 2010 study recommends that extract of this medicinal mushroom in dietary supplements is a good alternative treatment for breast cancer.
- Porio cocos (fu ling) is another medicinal mushroom commonly used in China. It has diuretic and sedative effects and is now used in supplement form for a wide range of disorders from bloating and indigestion, to insomnia and hypertension. It has also been found to be effective for cardiac arrhythmias.
- Auricularia auricular is an unusual looking ear-shaped mushroom that has been shown to reduce oxidative stress in the brains of rats. It is thought that it could be used to treat acute brain injuries.
- Hericium erinaceu is another well known edible mushroom that has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. A study undertaken in China in 2013 showed that it has far-reaching properties including antioxidants and elements that regulate the immune system. It was also found to be useful for treating diabetes, cancer, hypertension, and it has anti-microbial and wound-healing properties.
- Grifola frondosa (maitake) has been studied as an effective medicine for reducing breast cancer and other tumors. It is also regarded as a gourmet food that can help in reducing weight.
- Flammulina velutipes (enoki) was found by a 2009 Japanese study to have exciting potential as an antioxidant. Researchers also found it to be an excellent natural preservative alternative to ascorbic acid sodium salt to maintain the color of fresh tuna fish.
- Pleurotus ostreatus (oyster mushrooms) are delicious, nutritious, and quick and easy to cook. They have been found to contain natural statins that are effective in regulating cholesterol.
- Trametes (Coriolus) versicolor that boosts the immune system and has been shown by researchers to be very effective in fighting types of cancer.
- Tremella fuciformis is recognized as a gourmet food and is used in certain skin-care cosmetics. It has also been identified by researchers as a medicinal agent that could help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
- Cordyceps sinensis, the caterpillar fungus, which actually isn’t a mushroom at all, and which invades a particular type of caterpillar. The Chinese traditionally cooked it in a duck! It is said to optimize cholesterol levels, and to have promise in treating lung diseases. It is used by athletes to increase stamina, so could also be useful as part of a weight reduction program.
Other important medicinal mushrooms include:
- Lactarius salmonicolor (Russulaceae), a rare mushroom with potent antioxidant effects. Another mushroom that boosts the immune system, it has anti-viral properties and is used to fight cancer.
- Morchella esculenta (morel) that is particularly high in vitamin D, vitamin B and iron; boosts the immune system, and is highly nutritional to boot.
- Agaricus bisporus (the common white button mushroom as well as Portobello mushrooms) that many insist have no medicinal effects at all. If nothing else, they have been proven to help with weight loss.