Mushrooms have long been treated much like herbs in China and Japan, and have been used for many health purposes. Nutrition researchers have chemically analyzed some of these mushrooms and determined that they contain unique nutrients and compounds not found in other plants. As research continues, the virtue of mushrooms, such as Shiitake Mushroom and Maitake Mushroom, grows stronger throughout the world.
In 1936, a Dr. Kisaku Mori established the Institute of Mushroom Research in Tokyo. Until his death in 1977, Dr. Mori worked with scientists from around the world to document the medicinal effects of shiitake. Using analytical techniques, Mori found shiitake high in many enzymes and vitamins that were not usually found in plants. His findings, published in Mushrooms as Health Foods, were extensive. Working for years with human subjects, he discovered that shiitake is effective in treating a long list of ailments including high cholesterol, gallstones, hyperacidity, stomach ulcers, diabetes, vitamin deficiency, anemia, and even the common cold.
Since then, many studies have focused on shiitake's ability to rapidly lower serum cholesterol, as well as this mushroom's potent antitumor, antiviral, and antibiotic properties.
Shiitake has been revered in Japan and China as both a food and medicinal herb for thousands of years. Wu Ri, a famous physician from the Chinese Ming Dynasty, wrote extensively about this mushroom, noting its ability to increase energy, cure colds, and eliminate worms.
Shiitake Mushroom grows on the trunks or stumps of trees. In the wild, this light amber fungus is also found on fallen hardwood trees. Wild Shiitake Mushrooms are native to Japan, China, and other Asian countries. Shiitake is widely cultivated throughout the world. The fruiting body is used medicinally.
Primary chemical constituents of Shiitake include Polysaccharide, eritadenine, proteins, fatty acids, and vitamins D, B-2, B-12. The proteins contain all of the essential amino acids, and most commonly occurring non-essential amino acids and amides. The fatty acids are largely unsaturated, and Shiitake's are rich in vitamins and minerals. Key therapeutic substances also present are glucans, a major constituent of the cell walls. Shiitake also yields Lentinan, a beta-1,3-linked glucan polysaccharide with a molecular weight of 1 million.
Scientists now believe that lentinan and virus-like particles found in shiitake trigger the increased production of various serum factors associated with immunity and inflammation. These so-called lymphokines, such as interferon and interleukin, stimulate the defense system through the proliferation of phagocytes, including macrophages and other immune fighters that attack cancer cells, bacteria, and viruses.
In addition to fighting cancer, inhibiting the growth of viruses, and lowering cholesterol, shiitake have potent antibiotic effects against other organisms. A substance called cortinelin, a broad-spectrum antibacterial agent, which has been isolated from shiitake, kills a wide range of pathogenic bacteria. A sulfide compound extracted from shiitake has been found to have an effect against the fungus that causes ringworm and other skin diseases.
Lentinan acts by stimulating the immune system, rather than by direct action on the tumor. Because of its large molecular size, Lentinan is not absorbed efficiently when taken orally, but some is absorbed. Lentinan activates the alternative complement pathway, stimulating the macrophages, thus inhibiting tumor growth. It also may activate interleukin-1 secretion, which helps trigger T-lymphocytes. Shiitake is believed to stimulate interferon production.
A vast amount of research into Shiitake's medicinal properties has been completed and shows that it has the ability to fight tumors and viruses and enhance the immune system.
High levels of cholesterol in the blood has been linked to serious diseases such as arteriosclerosis and strokes, so investigators were excited in 1966 when they isolated a substance from shiitake that dramatically lowered blood cholesterol. This substance, now called eritadenine, has been associated with the water-soluble fiber of shiitake, but its action is even stronger when the whole mushroom is consumed. Studies with humans have shown that only three ounces of shiitake (5-6 mushrooms) a day can lower cholesterol by 12% in a week.
In a 1996 study at Drew University, a protein-bound polysaccharide extracted from shiitake was found to have strong anti-tumor properties. In the study ten cancer patients were treated with the compound and all showed significant improvement. Similar studies have shown that shiitake extract helps prevent transplanted tumors from taking hold, and "excellent results" were obtained by Japanese scientists in a four-year follow-up study of patients with advanced and recurrent stomach and colon cancer. Shiitake extract is even being tested for use with modern chemotherapy drugs to lessen their toxic effects on healthy tissue and the immune system.
The most recent development in shiitake medical research involves the use of shiitake extract to inhibit the reproduction of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in tissue culture. Researchers working at Japan's Yamaguchi University School of Medicine have reported that shiitake extract has a "protective effect" that inhibits the usual cell-destroying effects of the HIV virus.
It is believed that shiitake mushrooms stimulate immune function.
The antitumor and anticancer properties of mushrooms have been studied. Shiitake (Lentinus edodes) and reishi (Ganoderma ludidum) have been found to have general anticancer and immune-stimulating activity [Gan To Kagaku Ryoho 1982;9(8): pp.1474-81]. Maitake (Grifolia frondosa) also contains immune-stimulating polysaccharides. There are some combination mushroom products on the market to help prevent and treat different forms of cancer.
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