Mushrooms are ancient medicine
Edible mushrooms offer enormous health benefits. Along with cholesterol-lowering properties, they’re anti-viral, anti-microbial, anti-diabetic, anti-hypertensive, anti-inflammatory, and protective of the liver.
Mushrooms have been used to treat ailments to maintain general health and well-being for several thousands of years, going all the way back to ancient Egypt and China. The Greek physician Hippocrates (of Hippocratic Oath fame) declared the amadou mushroom (Fomes fomentarius) as a potent anti-inflammatory and for cauterizing wounds.
More recently, there’s been a renewed and growing interest in the properties of fungi. Increased access to funding has led to more study and exploration. Scientists are asking, what benefits do mushrooms have on our body, mind, and microbiome?
What’s the difference between fungi and mushrooms?
Mushrooms are classified as fungi, a group of Eukaryotic organisms that includes yeasts and molds. There are over 5 million species. Mushrooms are the reproductive parts of a fungus, they produce spores. So, if you’re out picking mushrooms, carry them in a basket instead of a closed container so that the spores can spread.
Mushrooms make your microbiome bloom
Mushrooms make great “prebiotics.” This means they can stimulate the growth of gut microbiota, increasing the health of the biome and preventing the spread of harmful bacteria in the gut. The word “prebiotic” comes from the Latin “prae,” meaning “before,” and can be translated to mean “before the emergence of life.” In short, prebiotics get the life in your gut going.
Mushrooms make great prebiotics for a number of reasons. One is that they are rich in dietary fiber – beta-glucans especially.
Chanterelle mushrooms are rich in dietary fiber
Beta-glucans stimulate the immune system. For example, by activating white blood cells or by enhancing NK cells, which destroy cancerous cells. Fun fact: NK stands for “natural killer.” Chanterelle mushrooms (Cantharellus) have the highest levels of beta-glucan when combining cap and stalk.
The golden chanterelle mushroom (Cantharellus cibarius), has been proven to be beneficial whether eaten whole (cooked) or even as an extract/dietary supplement.
Good to know: vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning that it can be stored easily in the body. So, it’s important not to take too much of this good thing.
Chanterelle mushrooms and Vitamin D
Vitamin D is essential for life and growth. In particular, it supports the healthy growth and development of your bones. Without it, your body can’t absorb calcium and other minerals. Vitamin D also helps to maintain and regulate the nervous system. You can find it mostly in fortified dairy products, fish, egg yolk, and other fortified foods. And, of course, some mushrooms.
Many commercially grown mushrooms don't contain much vitamin D because they're grown in dark, indoor farms or “fungicultures.” But wild-harvested mushrooms like chanterelle contain high amounts of vitamin D. A half-cup of chanterelles can contain anywhere from 30 to 100 percent of your daily recommended allowance.
You might not be getting enough Vitamin D
It’s estimated that around 35% of adults in the United States are Vitamin D deficient. This jumps to around 50% globally. There are two causes: not getting enough vitamin D in your diet and/or through sunlight. Or, it might be that your body isn’t absorbing or using it properly.
Good to know: anything that blocks UVB rays also blocks vitamin D production by our skin. This includes sunscreen, clothing, make-up, windows, etc.
In many cases, Vitamin D supplements can help you reach your daily allowance alongside a well-balanced diet. However, since our bodies and circumstances are unique, always speak to a medical professional before adding any supplement to your diet.