Like vitamin C, mushrooms have been spoken about in holistic circles as being a wonderful cancer prevention and cure.
Whether or not this is true, they are said to possess properties that are immensely good for the immune system.
This may have started as early as the year 2000, when Cancer Research UK and the University of Strathclyde published a review of Japanese studies into people taking an extract of a certain type of mushroom, which they say seemed to reduce the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation.
But Cancer Research UK is quite keen to point out that there is no hard evidence to back this up.
On their website, they say: "Some studies seemed to show that these mushrooms could stimulate the immune system to fight disease. There is some evidence from a Japanese study that people who eat a particular type of mushroom all their lives have a lower risk of getting cancer.
"In some people mushrooms did seem to affect their cancer. But we have to be very cautious about the results because most of these early trials were not randomised or controlled. So, there was no proper comparison made between patients having the mushrooms and similar patients not being treated with mushrooms or drugs developed from mushrooms."
However, The Guardian has picked up the baton, writing a feature about how mushrooms may play a key role in cancer prevention. Even more interestingly, about Shiitake mushrooms (glorious, meaty things).
"Not only is it a delicious ingredient," writes Matthew Jenkin, "but it is also famed for its compound lentinan. Several papers have found the polysaccharide could help increase the survival rate of cancer patients, including research carried out by a team of scientists at Harbin University, China, in 2008, which found that lentinan was "beneficial in terms of increasing mean survival duration, tumour necrosis and reducing the recurrence rate"."
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On the subject of Shiitake mushrooms, Cancer Research UK says that clinical research is being conducted to explore the possible health benefits. "Lentinan is a beta glucan. This is a type of complex sugar compound. Beta glucan is believed to stimulate the immune system and trigger certain cells and proteins in the body to attack cancer cells. In laboratory studies, it seems to slow the growth of cancer in some cell cultures.
In mice, lentinan has been shown to stop the growth of bowel cancer cells. In laboratory tests, the protein part of lentinan (lentin) can stop the growth of some fungal cells. It can also stop leukaemic cells dividing."
Another mushroom, which you can't buy widely in the UK except as an extract, is Reishi, also known as ganoderma.
Jenkins writes: "It has been used in Chinese medicine for 2,000 years and numerous studies have investigated its much-vaunted anti-cancer and immune-boosting properties. In a paper published last year in the US's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) journal, a team of scientists linked its use to cancer-cell death."
Another mushroom that Cancer Research UK mentions is the agaricus sylvaticus mushroom. A Brazilian study gave patients these as part of their diet after bowel cancer surgery and found that "patients who had the mushrooms had a better quality of life compared to patients who did not have the mushrooms."
This included: more ability to do physical exercise, better sleep and appetite and fewer aches and pains.
Sadly for UK mushrooms, there seem to be few benefits - when it comes to cancer, anyway.
(H/T: The Guardian)
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