Why Mushrooms Tune-Up Your Immune System to Stop Colds and Flu
Is there really a way, through diet, to treat and stop a cold or the flu? While chicken soup is routinely believed to be good for a cold, my post “What Kind of Soup Is Best for Colds” shows that lightly cooked vegetable soup is your most potent ally. That post tells why such soup is healing and how best to spice and eat it. The soup is best for a cold day even if you aren’t sick and just want to stay cozy and healthy.
To make your soup even more effective in fighting – and even preventing – colds and flu, add some mushrooms to the pot. Regardless of whether you use inexpensive white button mushrooms or more exotic and expensive kinds, this food revs up your immune system to fight the virus causing your illness.
Numerous studies show that mushrooms are potent for fighting cancer, so when you add mushrooms to your soup you are reducing your risk of malignancy, not just feeling better from your cold or flu.
• A study of over 2,000 women in China showed women who ate mushrooms every day had a 64% reduced risk of breast cancer, compared to women who never ate mushrooms. As little as one white button mushroom a day made a difference. If the women drank green tea every day as well, their risk of breast cancer fell an amazing 89%!
• A lab study of six mushroom types found the blend of these mushrooms suppressed the proliferation and invasiveness of human breast cancer cells.
• Another lab study found an extract of several kinds of mushrooms made by boiling this vegetable inhibited a dangerous process in the breast. The mushroom extract blocks a substance that causes the breast to locally make estrogen, which in turn may fuel breast cancer growth. White button, shiitake, portabello, crimini, and baby button varieties were all effective in this process.
Mushrooms work with your immune system in several ways. Surprisingly, the strongest weapons in the mushroom arsenal include
special long chains of glucose molecules. Glucose is the life-giving sugar that fuels your body and provides most of your energy. You may be wondering how this sugar chain (which is one type of dietary fiber) could be helpful in immune-system functioning.
This mushroom-based fiber, called beta-glucan, has a distinctive structure. This glucose chain in beta-glucan is strongly bound together in a way that’s difficult for you to digest. While different mushrooms have diverse kinds of beta-glucan (or even other types of fiber), all have a common type of structure and helpful immune effects for fighting diseases from colds to cancer.
Scientists are just starting to glimpse why beta-glucan has its well-documented protective power. Here’s what we know so far.
• Beta-glucan is especially abundant in bacteria, yeast, mushrooms, oats, and barley. This glucose chain does not occur in human cells.
• While beta-glucan is not easily digested, some appears to be absorbed intact and more absorbed in broken pieces of the glucose chain. These fragments of the original still keep measurable protective power.
• Once in your body, beta-glucan binds to some immune system cells to help fire up your defenses against viruses, bacteria, and malignant cells.
• The beta-glucan from shiitake mushrooms has been isolated and used to treat cancer.
• Beta-glucans don’t overexcite your immune system, but help it to work more effectively. In fact, this fiber decreases your risk of allergies and intestinal inflammation while increasing immunity needed to fight microbes and cancer cells.
• In addition to its protective immune effect, beta-glucan can also lower cholesterol and may contribute to weight loss.
In addition to beta-glucans, mushrooms are dense with other protective substances. Mushrooms contain phytochemicals, which are
beneficial substances found only in plants. Phytochemicals act as anti-oxidants and can guard your cells in many ways.
Vitamins and minerals in mushrooms are also anti-oxidants and supply critical nutritional needs. Some mushroom proteins may also support your immune system strength. So don’t settle for beta-glucan supplements. Instead, enjoy the whole mushroom added to soups or to other recipes.
Mushrooms do more than boost immunity. For example, a lab study of white button, crimini, shiitake, oyster, and maitake mushrooms found these vegetables protected human cells that line the walls of arteries. Under conditions that would normally favor the development of artery-destroying plaque, mushroom extract significantly reduced the processes that lead to blocked arteries.
The most amazing study of the effect of mushrooms on health actually looked at gingivitis, an inflammatory gum disease caused by microbes. While not gingivitis may seem non threatening – compared to heart disease and cancer – this condition can lead to tooth loss and increases the risk of many kinds of disease.
The researchers compared shiitake mushroom extract to the active ingredient chlorhexidine in a leading mouthwash used to treat gingivitis. The chlorhexidine did decrease the total amount of bacteria in the mouth, both healthy and unhealthy microbes.
But the mushroom extract did way better. The shiitakes killed harmful mouth bacteria but also spared bacteria associated with health. It’s as if the mushrooms acted in an intelligent way, with purposeful effects on health. Imagine a drug with such smart action – and shudder at what it would likely cost. Compare this to the cost of a white button mushroom, or even a more expensive shiitake.
Mushrooms will not, however, rescue you from the effects of a diet based on animal and manufactured foods. As the study of the combined effects of mushrooms and green tea showed, mushrooms will be most powerful when consumed as part of a whole foods, plant-based diet. These wonderful vegetables make for super soup and taste satisfaction in foods ranging from stir fries to pasta sauce to burritos and veggie burgers.
If you enjoyed this post, you might want to read more about how nutrients in a whole foods, plant-based diet work together as a superstar team. You might also want to check out this delicious, must-have recipe for a powerful soup that fights colds.
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Blog posting by Janice Stanger, Ph.D. Janice authored The Perfect Formula Diet: How to Lose Weight and Get Healthy Now With Six Kinds of Whole Foods. This easy-to-follow eating plan is built on a whole foods, plant-based diet that can prevent, and even reverse, most chronic disease as well as get you to your perfect weight. Janice loves plant-based soups, especially if they are made with mushrooms.