Shiitake mushrooms could hold anti-cancer properties

It is well established that certain foods can be either beneficial or detrimental to our health, with some diets even thought to protect against cancer.

Mushrooms are considered among the foods that can promote a more healthy lifestyle, known to be full of nutrients such as vitamin B, antioxidants and potassium.

However, some evidence suggests they could help protect against cancer or improve outcomes for cancer patients.

Cancer Research UK says: “Mushrooms are used in Japan and China to treat lung diseases. They are sometimes given alongside cancer treatment.

“Research is looking at whether mushrooms can help the immune system.

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“It is thought that some of the chemical compounds in mushrooms might strengthen the immune system.

“If they do, researchers wonder if this could help fight cancer cells.”

Although the charity warns “there is currently not enough evidence to say that any type of mushroom can prevent or cure cancer” it shares the types of mushrooms that research suggests could be beneficial.

One such mushroom is the shiitake mushroom, which has become more popular in the UK in recent years particularly as a plant-based alternative to meat.

“Shiitake mushrooms are native to East Asia,” Cancer Research UK says. “They are grown worldwide for their supposed health benefits.

They are valued in some cultures as an anti-cancer agent. The fresh and dried forms of the mushroom are commonly used in east Asian cooking.”

The interest around the potential anti-cancer properties of shiitake mushrooms lies in its extracts.

One extract taken from shiitake mushrooms is called lentinan, which is a beta glucan – a type of complex sugar compound.

“Beta glucan may stimulate the immune system,” Cancer Research UK says.

“It may do this by triggering certain cells and proteins in the body to attack cancer cells. In laboratory studies, it seems to slow the growth of some cancer cells.

“In China a literature review of 12 studies looked at lentinan. They looked at studies where people had it with chemotherapy for lung cancer.

“They found that lentinan worked on the immune system. It also improved quality of life in lung cancer patients.”

But it adds: “We need larger scale studies before we will know how shiitake extracts can help people with cancer.”

The research

The study referenced by Cancer Research UK, was published in the Indian Journal of Cancer in 2015.

It found that lung cancer patients who had an injection of lentinan both responded better to chemotherapy as a treatment and suffered less of the side effects from chemo.

A separate paper from Progress in Molecular Biology and Translational Science journal in 2019 considered 135 existing studies on lentinan and cancer over a 12 year period.

This encompassed 3,469 cases of lung cancer ,3,039 cases gastric cancer, 1,646 cases of bowel cancer, 183 cases of ovarian cancer, 130 cases of cervical cancer, 70 cases of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and 15 cases of pancreatic cancer among others.

It concluded: “Overall clinical data show [a] solid effect of lentinan on improving the quality of life and on promoting the efficacy of chemotherapy and radiation therapy during cancer treatment.”

And a meta-analysis from the Anti-cancer Research journal in 2009 said: “The addition of lentinan to standard chemotherapy offers a significant advantage over chemotherapy alone in terms of survival for patients with advanced gastric cancer.”

Cancer Research UK also lists reishi mushrooms, maitake mushrooms, agaricus sylvaticus mushrooms and phellinus linteus that have been researched over the years for their potential anti-cancer properties.

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