Shiitake mushrooms aren’t just delicious. They’re also packed with nutrients and medicinal plant compounds that give it a wide range of applications and benefits. Shiitake mushrooms originated from eastern Asian countries, including Japan, Korea and China, where they’re used as medicine and associated with longevity and better circulatory health.
As a fungus, the shiitake mushroom’s job is to decay wood from dead trees. While this doesn’t sound too appealing, the truth is that shiitake mushrooms can enhance your health and be used as a daily nutritional supplement. You can find it in capsule and liquid extract forms in health food stores, or buy it whole from the produce section of an Asian grocery store.
It’s easy to incorporate shiitake mushrooms into your diet, as they have a meaty texture and woodsy, smoky flavor that can be used in Asian dishes or used as meat replacements in other recipes. Or, you could simply take them as a supplement. Shiitake mushroom is proven to bolster your immune system and lower your chances of developing several diseases, from diabetes to osteoporosis. If you want to support your healthy lifestyle by tapping into the power of shiitake mushroom, here are the benefits you can expect:
1. Improves Bone Health
Shiitake mushrooms are perhaps the most concentrated food source of vitamin D. Their vitamin D content varies based on sun exposure, but they can have extremely high concentrations of the sunshine vitamin. Many people are deficient in vitamin D because they have limited exposure to sunlight, which the skin requires to synthesize vitamin D. Vitamin D is rarely found in food in adequate amounts, but shiitake mushrooms provide a decent amount of vitamin D when you don’t have sunlight exposure year-round. Vitamin D is required for the absorption of calcium, which is the mineral most critical for building bone mass.
Shiitake mushrooms also support bone health by providing a great source of copper. Copper has been shown to increase bone density, and lower copper levels are associated with lower bone density and a higher rate of osteoporosis. Together, the copper and vitamin D found in shiitake mushrooms improve bone health and protect the density of your bones as you age.
2. Fights Cancer
Shiitake mushrooms have been shown in test tube studies to have an antitumor effect, which means they slow or stop the growth of tumors. The polysaccharides in shiitake mushrooms also been found to kill multiple types of cancer cells. Plus, they activate your immune system to help kill cancer cells as well. By eating shitake mushrooms, you get a whopping dose of antioxidants, which fight free radicals–the unstable molecules that have been linked to the development of cancer. The linoleic acid in shiitake mushrooms could also help ward off breast cancer by balancing estrogen levels.
Interestingly, in China and Japan, the polysaccharide found in shiitake mushrooms called lentinan is injected as an adjunctive therapy for chemotherapy patients to stimulate their immune systems . This suggests there’s a lot more potential to shiitake mushrooms for Western medicine yet to explore. For now, it’s safe to say that eating shiitake mushrooms could play a significant role in lowering your cancer risk.
3. Boosts Energy Levels and Brain Power
Shiitake mushrooms are rich in B vitamins, which fuel your body’s energy production and metabolism. These nutrients can boost your energy levels, bust brain fog and even boost brain power. While many B-complex vitamins are hard for the body to assimilate, shiitake mushroom serves as an all-natural, whole food source of these critical nutrients that many people don’t get enough of. Research shows that the high concentration of bioavailable folate, vitamin B12 and B6 present in shiitake mushrooms can help improve cognitive performance in older adults .
4. Lowers Inflammation and Fights Free Radicals
The natural chemicals in shiitake mushrooms known as ergothioneine and polysaccharides exhibit anti-inflammatory effects in the body . In a study, subjects were required to partake in strenuous, prolonged exercise, and the inflammatory response in their bodies were examined. The participants took either a shiitake mushroom supplement twice daily or a placebo. The results showed that the shiitake mushroom group lowered inflammation and increased antioxidant activity compared to the placebo group. This indicated that shiitake mushrooms can help protect the body against the wear and tear of daily life and strenuous activity .
Lowering inflammation helps lower your risk for several diseases, including cancer, diabetes, heart disease and arthritis. It can also help reduce headaches, migraines, joint pain and other aches and pains you may have.
5. Helps You Lose Weight
Shiitake mushrooms are very low in calories but packed with metabolism-boosting nutrients. The eritadenine and beta glucans in shiitake mushrooms have fat-reducing effects and increase satiety. In a study on rats fed the same high-fat diet, one group was given shiitake mushroom powder as a supplement. Amazingly, the results showed that the shiitake mushroom group had 35 percent less weight gain compared to the control group. They also had measurably less fat accumulation and triglyceride levels .
As a rich source of fiber, another benefit of shiitake mushrooms is that they can help unclog your digestive tract and remove toxins that have built up. While there’s no “magic pill” to induce weight loss, it could probably be said that shiitake mushrooms could help assist with your weight loss efforts when you take it regularly as a supplement.
6. Improves Your Skin and Fights Aging
Because they’re a rich source of antioxidants, shiitake mushrooms can improve the appearance and health of your skin, and even slow aging. Copper is an essential nutrient for the production of collagen, and it also acts as an antioxidant. By providing a rich source of copper, shiitake mushrooms can help your skin continue to produce collagen, which is the structural protein in skin that declines with age. The vitamin C in shiitake mushrooms also help stimulate collagen production and act as an antioxidant to neutralize the free radicals which have been linked to aging.
7. Promotes Heart Health
The nutrients, enzymes and other constituents found in shiitake mushrooms promote better circulation in the body and protect your heart by lowering cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure. In traditional medicine systems in Russia and east Asia, shiitake mushrooms have been used to increase blood flow and unclog constricted blood vessels. An enzyme in shiitake mushrooms called eritadenine has been shown to lower blood pressure and improve the flow of blood through your blood vessels. It’s also shown to block an enzyme involved in producing cholesterol in the body .
The beta glucans and sterols in shiitake mushrooms also block the absorption of cholesterol in your gut [8, 9]. An animal study confirmed the efficacy of shiitake mushrooms in lowering high cholesterol, in which rats fed a high-fat diet had less arterial plaque and lower cholesterol when supplementing with shiitake mushrooms compared to a control group . Another rat study showed that shiitake mushroom powder lowered blood pressure in rats genetically prone to high blood pressure . All these effects combined can help lower your risk for heart disease, heart attack and stroke. A healthy circulatory system also improves your athletic performance by supplying blood to your muscle more efficiently. Plus, it keeps your brain healthy by supplying a good flow of blood to your brain.
8. Helps Control Blood Sugar Levels
Shiitake mushrooms contain a type of starch that breaks down sugar and converts it to fuel your body can readily use. This helps reduce blood sugar levels, which spike when the body struggles to convert glucose to usable energy. Shiitake mushrooms are also very low in carbohydrates, which makes them very easy to incorporate into a low-glycemic diet .
9. Kill Bacteria and Viral Infections
Shiitake mushrooms have been found to have multiple properties that kill bacteria, viruses and fungi . Studies have demonstrated that the polysaccharide lentinan has antiviral activity against HIV, influenza, polio, bacteria and parasites. In fact, lentinan has been tested on HIV patients in the US and Japan and found to have promising effects on suppressing the virus and bolstering immune system activity .
Incorporating Shiitake Mushrooms Into Your Diet
The possibilities for adding shiitake mushrooms into your diet are endless. They can be used as pizza toppings, thrown into salads, made into mushroom gravy or added to burgers. They taste great in stir-fried rice and other stir fry dishes. You can even make shiitake mushrooms part of your breakfast by adding them to omelets or scrambled eggs. Or, add shiitake mushroom powder to a fruit smoothie.
Because they’re safe and free of side effects, shiitake mushrooms are a great supplement to take on a daily basis. You can find them as capsules and liquid extract, which make them really easy to add to your diet. Doing so can help keep you feel younger and healthier, help you lose weight and lower your chances for diseases like heart disease and cancer.
1. Antitumor polysaccharides from mushrooms: a review on the structural characteristics, antitumor mechanisms and immunomodulating activities
5. Effect of shiitake (Lentinus edodes) extract on antioxidant and inflammatory response to prolonged eccentric exercise
6. Dietary Shiitake Mushroom (Lentinus edodes) Prevents Fat Deposition and Lowers Triglyceride in Rats Fed a High-Fat Diet
7. Edible mushrooms: Role in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases