Mushrooms as Prebiotics

Mushrooms are fascinating and add a special flavor to meals, but most people do not know about mushrooms as prebiotics. What makes them prebiotics and what does research show?

Mushrooms are a neat kind of fungi that are surprisingly similar to us in that they are eukaryotic (have nuclei in their cells like we do), non-photosynthetic, heterotrophic (eat other plants or animals for energy and nutrients), and aerobic (need oxygen). Unlike us, mushrooms reproduce by means of spores.

What Kinds of Mushrooms Are There?

Over 14,000 species of mushrooms are recognized. Mushrooms come in a variety of shapes, from typical toadstool or button forms to funky shags and masses resembling brains. They also come in a wide range of colors, from whites, yellows, and browns to neon pinks, purples, reds, blues and oranges. Some are even bioluminescent and glow in the dark.

There are basically four kinds of mushrooms:

  1. culinary
  2. medicinal
  3. culinary-medicinal
  4. poisonous

There are more than 2,000 species of culinary and/or medicinal mushrooms that are known. Culinary ones we can eat. Medicinal ones are too bitter or tough to eat, but they have documented medicinal properties. Culinary-medicinal have the best of both worlds in cuisine and medicine. Poisonous mushrooms are often beautiful and striking in color, but should only be feasts for the eyes.

Culinary mushrooms such as cremini, portobello, and white button mushrooms are approximately 3% protein, 4% carbohydrates, 0.4% fat and mostly water. Mushrooms as prebiotics are also good sources of potassium, magnesium, selenium, and phytosterols. The protein present contains all 9 essential amino acids making them technically complete proteins, but they are low in 5 of the 9 amino acids.

There are at least 700 species of medicinal mushrooms. Some common examples that known for nerve and brain health benefits, among other benefits, are Sarcodon scabrosus (bitter hedgehog), Ganoderma lucidum (reishi), and Grifola frondosa (maitake).

Culinary-medicinal mushrooms are those that are commonly used in some cuisines, but that also have documented health benefits, such as Hericium erinaceus (lion’s mane). Lion's mane is well-known for nerve and brain benefits. Other examples of culinary-medicinal mushrooms are Boletus edulis (porcini) from which an extract was used in a study to treat sarcoma in mice, and Lentinus edodes (shiitake) for diseases involving depressed immune function (including AIDS), cancer, environmental allergies, fungal infection, frequent flu and colds, bronchial inflammation, heart disease, hyperlipidemia (including high blood cholesterol), hypertension, infectious disease, diabetes, hepatitis and regulating urinary inconsistencies.

Mushrooms as Prebiotics

Mushrooms as prebiotics contain several polysaccharide prebiotics such as xylans, galactans, glucans, and chitin. One of the most famous polysaccharide groups, known as beta-glucans, is known for altering lipid and glucose metabolism, reducing cholesterol, modulating immunity, and modulating the gut microbiome. In Japan, two beta-glucan isolates were licensed as drugs as immune-adjuvants during cancer therapy.

Mushrooms are also sources of active phenolic compounds that also qualify mushrooms as prebiotics, and that also have gut and overall health benefits such as antioxidant activities and metal chelating abilities.

Mushrooms can be found in the wild or cultivated. The entire mushroom, consisting of the fruiting body and the mycelium (root-like structures), may be used.

Extracts from mushroom mycelium are usually used in studies since it is easier to cultivate the mycelium than it is to grow the entire fruiting body. Indeed, mushroom extracts have been shown in vitro and in rodent studies to have benefits such as anti-tumor, anti-inflammatory, liver-protective, antibiotic, antiviral, and antiallergic effects. Extracts from mushrooms as prebiotics increase beneficial bacteria such as Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus, Roseburia and others.

Eating Mushrooms as Prebiotics

Extracts are useful, but what about eating mushrooms as food for gut health benefits? Is it useful to use entire mushrooms as prebiotics? Not many studies investigate whole foods like mushrooms as prebiotics.

One study in rats with high cholesterol showed that after 42 days of feeding powdered, dried shiitake mushrooms in addition to a high cholesterol diet, the treated rats had lower triglycerides, slightly lower total cholesterol and LDL, and higher HDL. The treated group also had higher species richness (diversity).

Another study used a mix of reishi, maitake, and oyster mushrooms in predigested, powdered mushroom blends at 0.5, 1.0, and 1.5 g/day. This very recent study modeled the proximal colon using a validated, computer-controlled in vitro model of the colon. The mushroom blend was injected into the model containing a mix of feces from 6 healthy adults.

This study lasted three days, and stool samples were taken every day. Results showed that butyrate-producing bacteria dose-dependently increased, and the short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) butyrate, which is considered to be health-promoting, also increased, and it increased in the 1.5 g/day samples to approximately twice the amount compared to the control.

These two studies show that the fruiting bodies of mushrooms, the part we would normally eat, increased gut diversity and increased the health promoting and protective SCFA butyrate.

Eating mushrooms as prebiotics may help your microbiome bloom in a good way!

If you are not a fan of mushrooms, you may have heard that cereal grains have beta-glucans and think that you can obtain all the benefits of them without eating mushrooms. Although the cereal grains and mushrooms both have one set of the same type of beta-glucan linkage, they each have a different set, also, so that mushrooms provide benefits that cereal grains do not. Additionally, cereal grains are high-carbohydrate sources while mushrooms are not.

Skip the cereals and indulge in some mushrooms as prebiotics for a boom and a bloom in gut health!

If You Don't Like Culinary Mushrooms as Prebiotics, Try These

If you really do not like the taste and/or texture of mushrooms as food, or want additional sources of mushroom power, you can try these supplements available in my Wellevate online supplement dispensary.

Dr. Mercola’s Organic Fermented Mushroom Complex is a super-clean mushroom supplement. It is the closest to eating mushrooms, but in capsule. It contains the fruiting body and/or the mycelium of  antrodia, cordyceps, reishi, himematsutake, maitake, shiitake, and turkey tail mushrooms in a pullulan capsule. The mushrooms are cultivated on organic oats. It has no other ingredients.

Pure Encapsulations M/R/S Mushroom Formula has a nice, clean, gluten-free and non-GMO capsule containing 200 mg each of maitake, reishi, and shiitake extracts in a vegetarian capsule with only ascorbyl palmitate added.

Om Organic Mushroom Master Blend is a powder that you can sneak it in sauces, sautés, shakes, etc. This supplement powder contains lion's mane, reishi, cordyceps, turkey tail, chaga, king trumpet, maitake, antrodia, shiitake, himematsutake cultured on organic whole oats as wells a reishi extract standardized for beta-glucans, ginkgo biloba extract, holy basil extract, and astragalus extract. It should be added right before serving.

Wellevate also stocks many other single- and multiple-mushroom products that may suit your needs.


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