Shiitake Mushroom Benefits: Four Fascinating Fungi Facts
Shiitake mushrooms are infamous for their rich, meaty and buttery flavor and are cultivated and consumed around the globe. While many people may be familiar with these mushrooms’ delicious nature, you may be surprised to learn that shiitake mushrooms have an abundance of medicinal properties and health benefits. The most researched shiitake mushroom benefits include the ability to improve heart health, boost immunity, fight cancer cells and reduce tumors, and provide a high source of vitamin D.
Improve Heart Health
Shiitake mushrooms are naturally low in sodium and free of saturated fats, making them a heart-healthy alternative to processed meats. In fact, these mushrooms have been studied to lower cholesterol and blood pressure—both of which have a direct correlation with cardiovascular health. They contain several compounds that help lower cholesterol including:
- Eritadenine—a compound that inhibits an enzyme involved in producing cholesterol.
- Sterols—molecules that help block cholesterol absorption in the gut.
- Beta glucans—fibers that can lower total cholesterol and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.
The abundance and power of these compounds have been exhibited in various animal studies. For example, one study on hypertensive rats (rats with high blood pressure) found that a diet of 5% shiitake powder with water for nine weeks resulted in significantly lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Furthermore, the sulfuric compounds found in shiitake mushrooms have been found to prevent blood aggregation, or clotting, which further boosts heart health as well as reduces major heart conditions such as stroke, heart attacks, and aneurysms.
Shiitake mushrooms contain various compounds, including polysaccharides and trace minerals, that are capable of enhancing your immune system. These immune-boosting compounds include:
- Lentinan—a polysaccharide that increases the activity of some of the body’s immune cells.
- Beta glucans—fibers that stimulate the immune system by increasing chemicals that prevent infection.
- Copper— a mineral that supports the production of various immune cells, such as T cells, neutrophils, phagocytes, B-lymphocytes, natural killer cells and antibodies.
- Zinc—a mineral that prevents pathogens from entering skin and organ cells, and promotes the function of thymus and bone marrow which are responsible for generating immune cells.
Not only do shiitake mushrooms have a wide profile of immune-boosting properties, but they also contain anti-inflammatory properties—a factor that can directly affect immune health.
One study in 52 adults, aged 21-41 years, found that the consumption of shiitake mushrooms after four weeks led to better functioning gamma delta T-cells and reductions in inflammatory proteins. These immune-boosting compounds are not only beneficial to support everyday health, but they can also have a huge impact on those experiencing more severe autoimmune diseases, such as cancer.
Contain Anticancer Properties
Shiitake mushrooms may contain properties that help to fight off cancer cells and reduce the size of tumors. The main, active compound found in shiitakes, called lentinan, is thought to be responsible for these anticancer properties. In fact, in China and Japan, an injectable form on lentinan is used as a complementary treatment alongside chemotherapy to improve immune function and the quality of life in those who experience cancer. Additionally, studies done by Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center show that this compound can extend the survival rates for patients with colorectal, liver, pancreatic and stomach cancers when administered orally.
Provide Vitamin D
Mushrooms (shiitakes included) are the only natural plant source of vitamin D, a nutrient that is essential for bone health as well as reducing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and some types of cancer. It’s also vital for the absorption of calcium, magnesium, phosphate and other important trace minerals. While vitamin D plays a major role in cellular development in the body, over a billion people worldwide are vitamin D deficient or insufficient. That said, a daily dose of shiitake mushrooms may just keep the vitamin D doctor away!
Although shiitake mushrooms are well known in the culinary world, they are underrated when it comes to their powerful effects on the human body. This mushroom’s ability to improve heart health, boost immunity, fight cancer, and provide important vitamins, like vitamin D, are only some of the more researched health benefits, and many other potential shiitake mushroom benefits remain to be further investigated.
Dai X, Stanilka JM, Rowe CA, Esteves EA, Nieves C Jr, Spaiser SJ, Christman MC, Langkamp-Henken B, Percival SS. Consuming lentinula edodes (Shiitake) mushrooms daily improves human immunity: A randomized dietary intervention in healthy young adults. J Am Coll Nutr. 2015;34(6):478-87. doi: 10.1080/07315724.2014.950391. Epub 2015 Apr 11. PMID: 25866155.
Hollick MF, Chen TC. Vitamin D deficiency a worldwide problem with health consequences. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008;87:10805–68.
Kabir Y, Yamaguchi M, Kimura S. Effect of shiitake (Lentinus edodes) and maitake (Grifola frondosa) mushrooms on blood pressure and plasma lipids of spontaneously hypertensive rats. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 1987 Oct;33(5):341-6. doi: 10.3177/jnsv.33.341. PMID: 3443885.
McDonald, Amanda. August 30, 2020. “This one vegetable is key for boosting your immunity.” Eat This Not That, 29 Aug. 2020, https://www.eatthis.com/shiitake-mushrooms-immune-system/.