The last decade has come with an increase in mushroom consumption due to a good content of protein, minerals and other nutritional substances. More than 2000 species exist in nature but only a number of approximately 22 species are intensely cultivated for commercial purposes. Apart from their well-known role in feeding animals and humans, they are also appreciated for their medical, nutraceutical and pharmaceutical benefits. Their use in the medical department is to be blamed on dietary fibers but mainly on chitin, a polysaccharide from the glucose family found in the exoskeleton of crustaceans and insects and beta glucans. The presence of specific bioactive compounds makes mushrooms therapeutically valuable for the immune system. They can prevent life threatening disease and work as cures for different illnesses. They are also known to exhibit antitumor, antiviral, antibacterial, hypotensive activities.
The carbohydrates in mushrooms are present in the form of monosaccharides, derivates, oligosaccharides, mannitol, trehalose. Trehalose is known for its potential to synthetize stress-responsive factors in human cells. Fungi rich in protein hold all the essential amino acids. They also have unsaturated fatty acids especially linoleic and oleic acids. Linoleic acid is famous for its anti-carcinogenic benefits on almost all stages of tumorigenesis and it reduces tumor growth by altering the 5-hydroxyeicosatetraenoic acid. It also contributes to mushroom flavor. The lipid fraction has antioxidant compounds like tocopherol. Regarding vitamins, they are rich in vitamin B complex and vitamin D. Under UV light, they produce D2 in great amounts. If we were to talk about minerals, mushrooms have proven themselves to be carriers for potassium, calcium, phosphorus and magnesium. Sodium is present in relatively small quantities making mushrooms suitable for hypertensive people’s diets. Mushrooms consumed fresh are known to lower the total cholesterol levels and support heart’s health. The presence of dietary fibers with non-dietary carbohydrates offers a wide range of health benefits.
Moreover, they are excellent functional and nutritional foods that contain selenium, ergothioneine, iron, etc. The bioavailability of any nutrient depends on the type of mushroom. They dry weight of ergothioneine varies between 0.2-2.0 mg/g. (king oyster, shiitake, oyster)
Their richness in dietary selenium contributes to their capability of reducing oxidative stress. Boletus edulis is said to have the highest concentration of selenium, 20 µg/g dry weight. Ergosterol under UV light exposure converts to vitamin D2. A study recorded the fact that UVB exposed mushrooms enhance mineralization and bone growth. Other nutrients like vitamin B12 present in fungi is quite similar to the one found in animal tissues making them perfect for a vegan’s diet. Dried mushroom powder like shiitake and oyster added in the daily diet is responsible for boosting the blood hemoglobin concentration and iron levels.
Mushroom nutraceuticals have been used since the ancient times for their medical benefits. Vitamin B is important for strengthening the nervous system, β-glucans empower the immune system and other minerals have antioxidant capacity. The polysaccharide content has well known antitumor, immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory benefits. The antitumor activity is mediated through the thymus-dependent immune mechanism. A polysaccharide extracted from Agaricus bisporus exhibits a wonderful inhibiting action against human breast cancer. A novel heteropolysaccharide made form glucose units showed a great antitumor activity against HepG-2 cells. Proteins extracted from mushrooms are proved to have physiological activity in the gastrointestinal tract by enhancing nutrient absorption, inhibiting enzymes and modulating the immune system. Lecitins, ribonucleases and laccases have pharmaceutical attributes. Specific compounds also target free radical activity inhibiting the appearance of oxidative stress. Ganoderma lucidum, a mushroom used worldwide in therapy has more than 500 bioactive molecules like flavonoids, terpenoids, peptides and others. They are anti-diabetic, antioxidant, a free radical scavenger.
Researchers state that cooking methods used on mushrooms do not necessarily alter their nutritional benefits.
Due to the variety, availability and many cultivation methods, mushrooms emerge as the next generation’s source of nutritional food. They are considered to be a complete food suitable for the population thanks to their large amount of proteins, dietary fibers, vitamins and mineral contents. Along with their nutritional benefits they stand as strong candidates in the medical field and pharmaceutical industry. So, it’s fair to say that mushrooms should be taken into account by every researcher with the purpose of exploiting their many positive roles.
A report by Malina Puia
- Rathore, S. Prasad, S. Sharma, “Mushroom nutraceuticals for improved nutrition and better humanhealth: A review”, 2017
- Sharif, et al., “Wild Mushrooms: A Potential Source of Nutritional andAntioxidant Attributes with Acceptable Toxicity”, 2017
- Manzi,” Nutritional values of mushrooms widely consumed in Italy”, 2000
- A. Murugkar and G. Subbulakshmi, “Nutritional value of edible wild mushrooms collected from theKhasi hills of Meghalaya”, 2004
- J. Feeney, et al., “MushroomsVBiologically Distinct andNutritionally Unique”, 2014