Mushrooms, Immunity and Cancer

Mushroom’s phytochemicals, such as beta-glucan, selenium,  zinc, Vitamin D and others, enhance the activity of several different types of immune cells including, but not limited to natural killer cells. Natural killer cells are part of the innate immune system, thanks to which they can quickly destroy virus-infected and cancerous cells.

The immune-enhancing actions of mushrooms are have been shown to help the body to more effectively remove microbial invaders and developing tumors.1-3According to a study on healthy volunteers who ate mushrooms daily, mushrooms may also help to prevent respiratory infections by improving the production of protective immune substances by mucosal surfaces (like the mouth, nose and throat).4

Mushrooms, aromatase and Cancer

The evidence has been consistently demonstrating that frequent consumption of mushrooms (approximately one button mushroom per day) has been linked a significantly decrease in cancer. For example, in a study on breast cancer, the decrease was 64 percent.5

Mushrooms are thought to protect against breast cancer particularly because they inhibit an enzyme called aromatase, which produces estrogen. Several varieties of mushrooms, especially the commonly eaten white button and portobello mushrooms, have strong anti-aromatase activity.6

Consumption of mushrooms does not only protect against breast cancer. Mushrooms contain specialized lectins (ABL) that recognize cancer cells, and prevent the cells from growing and dividing.7-8

In addition, white, cremini, portobello, oyster, maitake, and reishi mushrooms each contain a number of bioactive compounds with the potential for anti-cancer activity. These mushroom phytochemicals have anti-angiogenic, anti-proliferative, and other anti-cancer effects, which have been studied in relation to stomach, colorectal, breast, and prostate cancers.9-18

Note of warning: Not all, but a few mushroom species are poisonous and can even be potentially carcinogenic (via agaritine). . 19-20 They also capture radioactivty from polluted areas. So it’s important to eat clean and organic mushrooms.

Once properly selected, combining mushrooms with the cruciferous and onion families, for starts, helps a lot with the restoration of the immune system.

To learn more about the Institute’s holistic approach to the therapeutic & culinary use of mushrooms, consider scheduling a coaching session.


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  1. Borchers AT, Krishnamurthy A, Keen CL, et al: The Immunobiology of Mushrooms. Exp Biol Med 2008;233:259-276.
  2.  Vannucci L, Krizan J, Sima P, et al: Immunostimulatory properties and antitumor activities of glucans (Review). Int J Oncol2013;43:357-364.
  3. Akramiene D, Kondrotas A, Didziapetriene J, et al: Effects of beta-glucans on the immune system. Medicina (Kaunas)2007;43:597-606.
  4. Jeong SC, Koyyalamudi SR, Pang G: Dietary intake of Agaricus bisporus white button mushroom accelerates salivary immunoglobulin A secretion in healthy volunteers. Nutrition 2012;28:527-531.
  5. Zhang M, Huang J, Xie X, et al: Dietary intakes of mushrooms and green tea combine to reduce the risk of breast cancer in Chinese women. Int J Cancer 2009;124:1404-1408.
  6. Grube BJ, Eng ET, Kao YC, et al: White button mushroom phytochemicals inhibit aromatase activity and breast cancer cell proliferation. The Journal of nutrition 2001;131:3288-3293.
  7. Yu L, Fernig DG, Smith JA, et al: Reversible inhibition of proliferation of epithelial cell lines by Agaricus bisporus (edible mushroom) lectin. Cancer Res 1993;53:4627-4632.
  8. Carrizo ME, Capaldi S, Perduca M, et al: The antineoplastic lectin of the common edible mushroom (Agaricus bisporus) has two binding sites, each specific for a different configuration at a single epimeric hydroxyl. The Journal of biological chemistry2005;280:10614-10623.
  9. Hara M, Hanaoka T, Kobayashi M, et al: Cruciferous vegetables, mushrooms, and gastrointestinal cancer risks in a multicenter, hospital-based case-control study in Japan. Nutr Cancer 2003;46:138-147.
  10.  Zhang CX, Ho SC, Chen YM, et al: Greater vegetable and fruit intake is associated with a lower risk of breast cancer among Chinese women. Int J Cancer 2009;125:181-188.
  11. Martin KR, Brophy SK: Commonly consumed and specialty dietary mushrooms reduce cellular proliferation in MCF-7 human breast cancer cells. Exp Biol Med 2010;235:1306-1314.
  12. Fang N, Li Q, Yu S, et al: Inhibition of growth and induction of apoptosis in human cancer cell lines by an ethyl acetate fraction from shiitake mushrooms. J Altern Complement Med 2006;12:125-132.
  13. Ng ML, Yap AT: Inhibition of human colon carcinoma development by lentinan from shiitake mushrooms (Lentinus edodes). J Altern Complement Med 2002;8:581-589.
  14. Adams LS, Phung S, Wu X, et al: White button mushroom (Agaricus bisporus) exhibits antiproliferative and proapoptotic properties and inhibits prostate tumor growth in athymic mice. Nutr Cancer 2008;60:744-756.
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  16.  Cao QZ, Lin ZB: Antitumor and anti-angiogenic activity of Ganoderma lucidum polysaccharides peptide. Acta pharmacologica Sinica 2004;25:833-838.
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  18. Patel S, Goyal A: Recent developments in mushrooms as anti-cancer therapeutics: a review. 3 Biotech 2012;2:1-15.
  19. Toth B, Erickson J: Cancer induction in mice by feeding of the uncooked cultivated mushroom of commerce Agaricus bisporus. Cancer Res 1986;46:4007-4011.
  20. Schulzova V, Hajslova J, Peroutka R, et al: Influence of storage and household processing on the agaritine content of the cultivated Agaricus mushroom. Food Addit Contam 2002;19:853-862.

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