Good reasons to go mushrooming

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mushrooms as medicine

Watch out for the quack watchers

There was a time when women that went out hunting for medicinal mushrooms ran the risk of being burnt at the stake. Fortunately those days are over and all they have to suffer now is an attack from the quack watchers.  If the quack watchers thought about it, they'd realise that if it wasn't for the mushroom witches, more than a few modern drugs would not exist. Many a scientist has been led down their strange woodland paths and found gold, by analysing and isolating interesting substances from the mushrooms, which they then chemically manufactured for profit.  The drug cyclosporin that is used to modify the immune system to prevent transplant rejection was originally isolated from the fungus Beauveria nivea.  Statins to control cholesterol also originate from natural sources, such as oyster mushrooms and red yeast rice. More than one anti-cancer drug is derived from a mushroom - polysaccharide K comes from the Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor) and lentinan stems from the well know Shiitake mushroom. Many of the traditional uses of mushrooms come from Korea, China and Japan, and written documentation can be traced back to as early as 950 AD, well before the witch hunts.

Anti inflammatory effects

Four new studies have been published that enlighten us on the anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant benefits of different kinds of mushroom.

An Australian research group investigated the anti-inflammatory properties of five different types of mushroom that are regularly available in shops.  The team assessed the anti-inflammatory effect by measuring the inhibition of NO production and TNF alpha.  All five of the mushrooms - White Button, Honey Brown, Shiitake, Enoki and Oyster showed anti-inflammatory action as reduction of NO when they were raw but only Oyster,  Shiitake, and Enoki showed a reduction in TNF alpha.   All of the mushrooms had lost most of their anti-inflammatory action after being cooked.
Another study carried out by a Malaysian group investigated the anti-inflammatory effects of the Tiger Milk mushroom.  The Tiger Milk mushroom is a traditional medicine for coughs, asthma and hepatitis and its action is believed to be due to a strong anti-inflammatory effect.  The researchers tested the anti-inflammatory action of a powdered form of the mushroom in a cold water extract, hot water extract or methanol extract.  Results showed that most of the anti-inflammatory activity was due to substances present in the cold water extract.
Antioxidants
A study carried out in Taiwan recently investigated the affect of an Enoki mushroom extract on lipid profiles.  Enoki mushrooms are traditionally used for reducing blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar and they are a good source of dietary fibre. The experiment showed that an Enoki mushroom extract added to the diet led to a change in lipid profile, reducing total cholesterol, triglyceride and LDL levels, in both the serum and liver.
A Serbian group has investigated the antioxidant potential of three mushrooms, the Chinese caterpillar mushroom (Cordyceps sinensis), Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) and Shaggy Mane (Coprinus comatus) that are commonly sold as food supplements in Serbia.  The group carried out studies to determine the levels of beneficial elements such as iron, copper and chromium and phenol contents of the samples as well as levels of dangerous elements such as lead, arsenic, and cadmium. Results showed that all three of the mushroom preparations had high antioxidant activity and that levels of the dangerous elements were low enough to be considered safe.

A word of warning if you decide to go out and hunt for your own mushrooms, make sure you know exactly which mushrooms are good for you and which are dangerous.

Gunawardena et al. anti-inflammatory effects of five commercially available mushroom species determined in lipopolysaccharid and interferon gamma murine macrophages. Food chem Apr 2014.
Wasser. Medicinal mushrooms science: Current perspectives, advances, evidences and challenges. Biomed J. Sep 2014.
Lee et al. Anti-inflammatory effect of the sclerotium of Lignosus rhinocerotis (Cooke) Ryvarden, The Tiger milk mushroom. BMC Comp Altern Med. Sep 2014.
Yeh et al. Hypolipidemic and Antioxidant Activity of Enoki Mushrooms (Flammulina velutipes) Biomed Res Int. Aug 2014.
Stilinovic et al.  The level of elements and antioxidant activity of commercial dietary supplement formulations based on edible mushrooms. Food Funct Oct 2014.

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