Fri | Jan 19, 2018

Dr Tony Vendryes | Mushrooms - food and medicine

Published:Monday | August 8, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Selection of whole, fresh, edible mushrooms, including shiitake, enoki, agaric, and oyster mushrooms.

A mushroom is the fleshy part of certain fungi. Over 14,000 different kinds of mushrooms are known, but only 3,000 are edible. Some are poisonous. While the nutritional value of fruits and vegetables is widely known, the less spectacular mushroom is rarely promoted. Oriental cultures have long used mushrooms for their health and nutritional benefits, and modern experts are now in full agreement.


The most popular commercially available varieties include the white button, portobello, oyster, maitake, and shiitake mushrooms.

Mushrooms provide many of the nutritional components of the colourful vegetables combined with other ingredients, like protein that is usually associated with meats, beans and nuts. Mushrooms are low in calories, salt and fat, free of cholesterol, yet they provide important nutrients, including selenium, potassium, magnesium, copper, phosphorus and vitamins B and D.

One mushroom serving - medium-size portobello mushroom supplies over 20 per cent of the recommended daily intake of selenium and more than 30 per cent of your need of copper. Copper is an essential mineral that helps to protect the heart and circulation and build red blood cells.

The mushroom serving also has as much potassium as a medium-size banana. Potassium is an important mineral that helps to maintain normal fluid and mineral balance, and control blood pressure and assists in the normal function of nerves, heart and other muscles.

Other varieties of mushroom are just as rich in minerals, and fortunately, mushrooms retain their nutrients when stir-fried or grilled. Most edible mushrooms are available raw, dried or canned.


For those looking for nutritious weight-loss foods, mushrooms are a good option. Because mushrooms are low in calories, carbohydrates, fat and salt, but have a very high water (over 80 per cent water) and fibre content, that makes them a great weight-loss food.

The human metabolism is stimulated to burn excess fat when provided with optimal quantities of protein, fibre and B vitamins. Mushrooms supply all three of these metabolism-boosting nutrients.


Traditional Chinese medicine has used over 200 species of mushroom for thousands of years as medicine. However, three special mushrooms - shiitake, reishi and maitake - have been most researched for their therapeutic properties.

n Shiitake mushrooms: The shiitake mushroom is one of the most popular medicinal mushrooms that Asians use to boost health, prevent strokes, and improve circulation. Shiitake mushrooms contain a substance called beta-glucans that has been shown to reduce the side effects of anti-cancer treatments. Japanese doctors use a purified form of beta-glucans treat cancer and to reduce the effects of chemotherapy. Occasional side effects associated with shiitake mushrooms include skin irritation,

diarrhoea and blood thinning.

n Reishi mushrooms: Chinese medicine routinely utilises reishi mushrooms for their antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and immune-strengthening abilities. Reishi mushrooms are considered particularly beneficial for heart and prostate health and for fighting cancer.

Western medical research is investigating reishi mushrooms to treat hypertension, heart disease, arthritis, muscular dystrophy and prostate cancer. This mushroom also has a calming effect and promotes restful sleep.

n Maitake mushrooms: Maitake mushrooms are popularly used in the orient as a tonic to strengthen and improve general health and to manage emotional and physical stress. Modern research shows that the maitake mushrooms enhance the immune system, stop tumour growth, and can make some chemotherapy drugs more effective at reduced dosage.

Additionally, maitake mushrooms may help individuals with high blood pressure, prostate cancer, HIV infections and diarrhoea.


Research published in the International Journal of Cancer found that mushrooms have breast cancer-fighting properties. Researchers at the University of Western Australia in Perth discovered that women who ate at least 10 grams of button mushrooms per day were 64 per cent less likely to develop breast cancer. This study also found that women who combined mushrooms with regular green tea consumption further lowered their risk to almost 90 per cent!

Special substances in mushrooms like beta-glucans, germanium, polysaccharides, selenium and linoleic acid may all contribute to their anti-cancer properties.

Beta-glucans has marked immunity-stimulating effects. The beta-glucans contained in oyster, shiitake and split gill mushrooms seem most effective. Germanium boosts the body's oxygen use and helps counteract environmental toxins and increase resistance to disease.

Polysaccharides enable mushrooms to boost the immune system and fight the growth of tumours. The antioxidant, selenium, works to protect cells from the damaging effects of free radicals. Linoleic acid naturally works like the breast cancer drug Arimidex to protect against hormone-related cancers like breast and prostate cancers.



Some mushrooms can affect the mental and emotional states of the individual. Such mushrooms with psychoactive properties have been used in various native medicine traditions in cultures all around the world. They have been used in rituals aimed at mental and physic healing and to facilitate visionary states.

Psilocybin mushrooms possess psychedelic properties and have been reported as facilitating profound and life-changing insights and mystical experiences. Recent scientific work has supported these claims, as well as the long-lasting effects of such induced spiritual experiences.

Psilocybin is being researched for treating people suffering from psychological problems, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, and to stop cluster and migraine headaches.

n You may email Dr. Vendryes at or listen to An Ounce of Prevention on POWER 106 FM on Fridays at 8:15 pm. Visit for details on his books and articles.