Long a symbol of longevity in Asia because of their health-promoting properties, shiitake mushrooms have been used medicinally by the Chinese for more than 6,000 years. More recently, their rich, smoky flavor has endeared them to American taste buds and these exotic hearty mushrooms can now be found in supermarket shelves across the U.S. throughout the year.
Like other mushrooms, these specialty mushrooms are as mysteriously unique as they are delicious. While often thought of as a vegetable and prepared like one, mushrooms are actually a fungus, a special type of living organism that has no roots, leaves, flowers or seeds.
A symbol of longevity in Asia because of their health-promoting properties, Shiitake mushrooms have been used medicinally by the Chinese for more than 6,000 years. Now that their rich, smoky flavor has endeared them to American tastebuds, these exotic hearty mushrooms can be found in supermarket shelves across the U.S.
Invigorate Your Immune System
Recent studies have traced shiitakes' legendary benefits to an active compound contained in these mushrooms called lentinan. Among lentinan's healing benefits is its ability to power up the immune system, strengthening its ability to fight infection and disease. Against influenza and other viruses, lentinan has been shown to be even more effective than prescription drugs; it even improves the immune status of individuals infected with HIV, the virus that can cause AIDS.
Promote Optimal Health
Lentinan, which is technically classified as a polysaccharide and referred to as a branched beta-glucan, has also been shown to have anti-cancer activity. When lentinan was given for human gastric cancer, reticular fibers developed in tumor sites. Reticular cells, which are spread throughout the body in various tissues, are immune cells that have the ability to ingest (phagocytose) bacteria, particulate matter, and worn out or cancerous cells. When lentinan was administered, not only was there a proliferation of reticular cells in gastric tumor sites, but many T lymphocytes (another type of immune defender) were drawn to these cancer sites with the result that the cancer cell nests were fragmented and destroyed.
A Hearty Mushroom That's Good for Your Heart
A large number of animal studies conducted over the last ten years have shown that another active component in shiitake mushrooms called eritadenine lowers cholesterol levels-and this amazing compound lowers cholesterol no matter what types of dietary fats the lab animals are given. Even when lab animals are given dietary protein rich in methionine (an amino acid researchers have found causes an increase in cholesterol formation), eritadenine still lowers plasma cholesterol levels in a dose-dependent manner. In other words, the more eritadenine given, the more cholesterol levels drop.
Shiitake Mushrooms Found to be Top Food Source of Potent Antioxidant
L-ergothioneine, a powerful antioxidant, has been discovered in mushrooms, thanks to a new analytical method capable of identifying this antioxidant in plant material. In research presented at the 2005 American Chemical Society meeting in Washington, D.C., an American research team revealed that mushrooms contain higher concentrations L-ergothioneine than either of the two dietary sources previously believed to contain the most: chicken liver and wheat germ.
Testing mushrooms consumed in the U.S., the team found that shiitake, oyster, king oyster and maitake mushrooms contain the highest amounts of ergothioneine, with up to 13 mg in a 3-ounce serving. This equals forty times as much as is found in wheat germ.