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Fungi 101: Shiitake Mushroom

Fungi 101: Shiitake Mushroom

Mushrooms like Chagas and Reishis have made strides into mainstream wellness due to their ability to help with boosting immunity, improving focus and more. 

But did you know there are powerful mushrooms also in your grocery aisle? We’re looking at you, Shiitake. 

Shiitake mushrooms are nutritious, delicious and readily available. These ultra-popular mushrooms have a few added bonuses, too. Frequently used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, these mushrooms for immune defense store many potential benefits for overall wellness.

In this short guide, we’ll go over the top 5 shiitake mushroom benefits and how to incorporate these potent fungi into your daily life.

#1 Well-Known and Well-Understood

Are shiitake mushrooms good for you? Simply put, yes. 

Shiitakes are native to East Asia, where they grow on the trunks of decaying deciduous trees, like oak, maple and poplar trees). However, they’re easy to cultivate on fallen logs. Harvested since the 11th century in China and Japan, shiitakes are so widely grown that they account for a quarter of commercially-grown fresh mushrooms each year. 

Additionally, shiitake mushrooms are nutritious, low in fat and contain the following vitamins and minerals: 

  • Niacin
  • Vitamin B6
  • Riboflavin
  • Zinc
  • Copper
  • Manganese
  • Selinum

Some may assume that powerful adaptogens exist only in rare superfoods. However, in the case of the shiitake mushroom, popularity doesn’t compromise potency. 

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, shiitakes are used to:

  • Tonify Qi (life force energy) and provide balance
  • Treat colds and flus
  • Improve circulation
  • Reduce headaches
  • Promote skin health
  • Soothe sore joints
  • Support healthy weight
  • Boost energy

Thanks to the long history of cultivation and use, these mushrooms have been well studied. 

Next, we’ll go over the shiitake mushroom benefits with the most scientific evidence.

#2 Improved Immune System Response

Like other popular medicinal mushroom types, shiitakes are rich in polysaccharides. Polysaccharides are carbohydrate chains that have an immunity regulating function. In shiitakes, the active polysaccharide is called Lentinan (1,3 beta-D-glucan).

In in vitro, animal and human trials, shiitake mushrooms suggest a number of potentially beneficial immunological effects.

  • One 2013 study specifically investigated the effect of shiitake-extracted polysaccharide Lintinan on invader cells. Researchers found that Lintinan had a direct effect on HepG2 human hepatocellular carcinoma cells, helping to kill cancerous cells and thereby reduce their proliferation. 
  • Shiitake extract’s potential as a cancer therapeutic is currently the study of clinical investigation. A 2011 study tested its impact on patients undergoing chemotherapy for gastrointestinal cancer. Shiitake mushroom extract seemed to help ameliorate some of the chemotherapy’s adverse effects, suggesting beneficial immune-boosting properties.
  • While clinical studies often focus on shiitake benefits for immunocompromised patients, a 2015 study sought to understand how shiitakes impact healthy young adults. Xiaoshuang Dai and her colleagues studied over 50 people between 21 and 40. Those who ate shiitakes had improved numbers of Natural Killer (NK) cells, a particular kind of white blood cell central to healthy immune function. They also demonstrated fewer signs of inflammation.

These studies indicate that shiitakes can have immune-boosting benefits in healthy people. From fighting systemic inflammation to improving white blood cell count, shiitake mushrooms may improve immune function on several fronts. 

These studies also show that shiitakes provide positive effects whether eaten whole or consumed as an extract, opening up options for fungi fanatics and mushroom skeptics alike.

#3 Support Healthy Digestion

Many medicinal mushroom polysaccharides are also an ideal food for healthy gut bacteria.

Since around 70% of our immune system lives in our gut, healthy gut bacteria are key to overall health. 

But how does it work?

  • Our immune system consists of our lymph nodes. These are white blood cells in our bloodstream, our skin and gut-associated lymphatic tissue (GALT). 
  • Our GI tract not only contains lymph cells, but also interacts with the fungi, viruses, and bacteria that live in our gut. 
  • Healthy bacteria aids proper digestion, helping us synthesize nutrients that are key to our immunological and biological systems. 

Gut bacteria feed on dietary fiber, making the polysaccharides in shiitakes an ideal food.

Shiitakes’ dietary benefits have been the subject of recent scientific inquiry.

  • A 2015 study found that shiitakes improved gut health. More than that, the proliferation of healthy bacteria helped to reverse some signs of aging.
  • The study by Xiaoshaung Dai and her colleagues likewise found that eating shiitakes improved gut immunity in healthy young adults.

Shiitakes may help to promote a healthy gut microbiome, supporting many wellness goals from clear skin to longevity.

#4 Promote Healthy Cholesterol and Blood Sugar Levels

A healthy gut biome helps you efficiently synthesize sugar, fat and other substances that are prevalent in a modern, over-processed diet. 

Perhaps it’s no surprise that shiitakes may help to maintain healthy cholesterol and insulin levels. 

  • A 2001 study found that shiitake helped to raise levels of LDL cholesterol (“good” cholesterol) while lowering levels of HDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol).
  • Another study found that in combination with Ginseng and other adaptogenic herbs, shiitakes helped maintain healthy blood sugar levels and a healthy gut microbiome, even for high-cholesterol diets.

In combination with a healthy diet and regular exercise, shiitakes may help you maintain healthy blood sugar and cholesterol levels, as well as a healthy weight. 

#5 Help Build Strong Bones

It’s never too early to take care of your bones. 

Osteopenia and osteoarthritis affect 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men over 50. When we break bones in our older age, the results can be devastating. 

One of the best lines of prevention is building up bone strength as a younger adult, since bone mass diminishes slowly as we age. 

While eating calcium is still important, supplements like shiitake can help, too.

  • One study showed that Lentinan supplements could improve bone density and reduce signs of osteoporosis.
  • An in vitro study showed that Lentinan helped promote the healthy growth of human osteoblast cells, which play a crucial role in bone formation.

If you’re looking to support your health at its very foundation, a shiitake mushroom supplement is a promising choice.

A Multitude of Mushroom Benefits

These aren’t the only shiitake mushroom health benefits. Other traditional uses are still the subject of scientific research. Nonetheless, potential beneficial effects on the immune system, gut and bones suggest that shiitakes can also:

  • Promote youthful skin – A healthy gut microbiome may help you to avoid blemishes and signs of aging.
  • Help fight colds – Since shiitakes may boost white blood cell count, they could theoretically help you get over minor infections faster. For more tips on building immunity, check out our guide on how to boost your immune system.
  • Boost energy – When your immune system is functioning well, you experience less systemic inflammation. In turn, you’re more likely to feel energized and alert. 

Where to Find Shiitakes

Now that you’ve read about the benefits of shiitake mushrooms, you’re likely eager to incorporate them into your daily routine.

Luckily, these mushrooms are easy to access in a variety of forms. Choose the one that best suits your lifestyle!

Eating Shiitakes

Shiitakes are popular and versatile. Pick up a bag at your local grocer or farmers market. Then, gently wash your fresh shiitake mushrooms, remove the stem, and add them to stir fry and soups. You can even use shiitakes as a meat substitute, adding them to ragus and veggie burgers. 

Check out Chowhound’s list of the best shiitake recipes for a little inspiration.

Make sure your shiitakes are organic. Some shiitake cultivation takes place on synthetic logs. In this case, shiitakes could incorporate artificial, inorganic particles into their stems and caps as they grow.

Digesting Supplements

Like other adaptogens, shiitakes’ beneficial effects appear most strongly with consistent use. And there are only so many ways to incorporate mushrooms for immunity into your diet!

That’s why we created the new Advanced Immune Power capsule. This vegan, 100% organic dietary supplement is easy to take at the start of your day. It combines the power of dried shiitake mushrooms with other potent mushrooms and superfoods, like:

Pairing Traditional Chinese Medicine herbs and mushrooms with the benefits of Vitamin C, these dietary supplement capsules were formulated to fortify your immune system and promote vitality to help you feel better on a daily basis.

Plant People for Everyday Wellness

At Plant People, we’re experts in botanical and mushroom support for everyday issues. Our line of premium, organic hemp and herbal supplements are specially formulated to help you live life healthier, whether it’s through getting better sleep, honing your focus, or mitigating stress.

Advanced Immune Power combines our knowledge of herbal remedies with traditional and contemporary evidence on immune-boosting superfoods. Like all of our products, Advanced Immune Power supplements help you feel your best every day.


Sources: 

 White Rabbit Institute of Healing. “Shitake.” https://www.whiterabbitinstituteofhealing.com/herbs/shiitake/

Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital. “Lentinan.” https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/integrative-medicine/herbs/lentinan

Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention. “Efficacy of orally administered Lentinula edodes mycelia extract for advanced gastrointestinal cancer patients undergoing cancer chemotherapy: a pilot study.” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22126542/

Journal of the American College of Nutrition. “Consuming Lentinula edodes (Shiitake) Mushrooms Daily Improves Human Immunity: A Randomized Dietary Intervention in Healthy Young Adults.” https://duckduckgo.com/?q=j+am+coll+nu&t=newext&atb=v231-7&ia=web

Food & Function. “Lentinula edodes-derived polysaccharide rejuvenates mice in terms of immune responses and gut microbiota.” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26135107/

European Journal of Nutrition. “Dietary calcium and vitamin D2 supplementation with enhanced Lentinula edodes improves osteoporosis-like symptoms and induces duodenal and renal active calcium transport gene expression in mice.” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19093162/

Nutrients. “Combination of Aronia, Red Ginseng, Shiitake Mushroom and Nattokinase Potentiated Insulin Secretion and Reduced Insulin Resistance with Improving Gut Microbiome Dysbiosis in Insulin Deficient Type 2 Diabetic Rats.” https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/10/7/948

Experimental Biology and Medicine. “Cholesterol-Lowering Effects of Maitake (Grifola frondosa) Fiber, Shiitake (Lentinus edodes) Fiber, and Enokitake (Flammulina velutipes) Fiber in Rats.” 

Chowhound. “15 Reasons Why Shiitakes are the King of All Mushrooms.https://www.chowhound.com/food-news/171855/reasons-why-shiitakes-are-the-king-of-all-mushrooms/

European Journal of Rheumatology. “An overview and management of osteoporosis.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5335887/

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