Mushrooms

Mushrooms are a naturally nutritious food, having a high protein content (up to 44.93%) and jam packed full of vitamins (such as vitamin D), fibres (to feed beneficial species of bacteria in the gut), minerals (such as selenium), antioxidants and trace elements, whilst also being low in calories.1 However, the therapeutic value of mushrooms is not just in their nutritional components but also in the special compounds they contain that have a number of therapeutic effects within the body.  In fact, a review in 2011 identified no less than 126 medicinal effects of mushrooms, including antitumor, immune-modulating, antioxidant, cardiovascular, cholesterol lowering, antiviral, antibacterial, anti-parasitic, antifungal, detoxification, liver-protective, and anti-diabetic effects (to name a just a few).2

Mushrooms also have many gut supporting properties. For example, they are rich in prebiotic fibre, which act to stimulate the growth of beneficial gut bacteria.1 Certain species of mushrooms, such as Hericium erinaceus (Lion’s Mane mushroom), have also been shown to protect against gastric mucosal injury, helping to regenerate and repair the gut lining3 (where over 70% of immune cells reside).4



Shiitake and oyster mushrooms both of which support the immune system, are available in many supermarkets and veg shops. Many other types can be purchased from specialist suppliers in either fresh or dried form.

Even the humble button mushroom (the most commonly available in supermarkets) has a number of health benefits. Raw consumption (eg. in salads) is recommended in order to make the most of their enzymes and vitamin content, especially B vitamins and vitamin E. In addition to their richness in minerals such as selenium, button mushrooms are interesting due to their chitin content (a type of insoluble fibre), which helps the digestive process and enriches the gut flora. 

The climate of the UK also means you will often find an abundance of wild mushroom species, especially at certain times of year, creating a forager’s paradise. Shaggy inkcap, wood ear, honey mushroom, maitake, oyster mushrooms, turkey tail and cauliflower fungus are all medicinal varieties found in the UK.  If foraging wild mushrooms, always go with someone trained in mushroom identification and preparation and consult a variety of comprehensive identification resources before consuming. If you have any doubts over identification or edibility, don’t risk it.

In addition, at home mushroom grow kits can now be purchased from suppliers such as Upcycled Mushrooms, so that you can grow your own varieties, such as lion’s mane and king oysters in your own home. Lion’s mane has some fantastic benefits for nerve and gut health. However, it is very rare in the UK and even if you did find it, it is illegal to forage it here. Therefore, growing your own is a great option. It has a delicious flavour, said by many to taste like lobster.


References

1. Jayachandran M, Xiao J, Xu B. A Critical Review on Health Promoting Benefits of Edible Mushrooms through Gut Microbiota. Int J Mol Sci 2017; 18. DOI:10.3390/ijms18091934.

2. Wasser SP. Current findings, future trends, and unsolved problems in studies of medicinal mushrooms. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol 2011; 89: 1323–32.

3. Wong J-Y, Abdulla MA, Raman J, et al. Gastroprotective Effects of Lion’s Mane Mushroom Hericium erinaceus (Bull.:Fr.) Pers. (Aphyllophoromycetideae) Extract against Ethanol-Induced Ulcer in Rats. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med 2013; 2013: 492976.

4. Vighi G, Marcucci F, Sensi L, Di Cara G, Frati F. Allergy and the gastrointestinal system. Clin Exp Immunol 2008; 153 Suppl 1: 3–6.