Mushrooms are potent nutritional powerhouses. They are an excellent source of antioxidants, some being exclusive to the mushroom family, which are important because of their health promoting benefits. Antioxidants protect your DNA from oxidative damage, prevent inflammation in the body, slow cancer cell growth, and even trigger programmed cancer cell death.[i] As such, mushrooms are important to include in an optimal diet.
Mushrooms & Cancer Risk
Regularly consuming mushrooms has been associated with a decreased risk of a variety of cancers, such as breast,[ii] stomach,[iii] and colorectal cancer.[iv] One case-control study showed that Korean women who ate about one-two mushrooms per day (or 0.35 oz) had a 64% decreased risk of breast cancer.[v] Mushrooms are unique in that they contain compounds that can block the production of estrogen, which is thought to be largely responsible for the association between mushroom consumption and decreased breast cancer risk.
Organic or Not?
Mushrooms tend to absorb and concentrate heavy metals, air pollutants, water pollutants, and other chemicals in the environments in which they are grown.[vi] This ability to concentrate is what gives mushrooms their potency – good or bad – and why it is important to eat organically grown mushrooms when possible. Additionally, whole mushrooms (not concentrates or extracts) provide plenty of dietary fiber, serving as a prebiotic for the organisms in your gut that contribute to optimal GI health.
Raw vs. Cooked
One last thing to keep in mind: mushrooms should ideally be eaten cooked rather than raw. This is because raw mushrooms contain a potentially carcinogenic substance called agaritine.[vii] However, various cooking methods – boiling, baking, sautéing, and microwaving – significantly reduce the content of this substance in mushrooms. So, your potential exposure to agaritine is significantly less if you apply a heat source to mushrooms prior to eating them versus consuming them raw.
Bottom line: Regular consumption of mushrooms, such as White Button, Cremini, Shiitake, Reishi, and Portobello, is a good strategy for cancer prevention that can and should be incorporated into your daily cancer-fighting diet.
[i] Paul, B. D., and S. H. Snyder. The Unusual Amino Acid L-ergothioneine Is a Physiologic Cytoprotectant. Cell Death and Differentiation 2009; 17.7: 1134-140. doi:10.1038/cdd.2009.163.
[ii] Shin A, Kim J, Lim SY, et al. Dietary mushroom intake and the risk of breast cancer based on hormone receptor status. Nutr Cancer 2010;62:476-483.
[iii] Hara, M., Tomoyuki H., Minatsu K., et al. Cruciferous Vegetables, Mushrooms, and Gastrointestinal Cancer Risks in a Multicenter, Hospital-Based Case-Control Study in Japan. Nutrition and Cancer 46.2 (2003): 138-47. doi: 10.1207/S15327914NC4602_06.
[iv] Xie, J.T., C.Z. Wang, and S. Wicks. “Ganoderma Lucidum Extract Iinhibits Proliferation of SW 480 Human Colorectal Cancer Cells.” Experimental Oncology 28.1 (2006): 25-29.
[v] Hong SA, Kim K, Nam SJ, et al. A case-control study on the dietary intake of mushrooms and breast cancer risk among Korean women. Int J Cancer 2008;122:919-923.
[vi] Chen S, Oh SR, Phung S, et al. Anti-aromatase activity of phytochemicals in white button mushrooms (Agaricus bisporus). Cancer Res 2006;66:12026-12034.
[vii] 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.