Mushrooms have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries but it is only in the last few decades that scientific studies have revealed some of their health benefits. There are over 100 types of mushrooms but some of the most studied for their health benefits are Shiitake, Cordyceps, Maitake, Oyster, Lion's Mane, Enoke, Reishi and Chaga.
Mushrooms contain important vitamins, minerals and enzymes that have been shown in numerous scientific studies to boost the immune system. They also contain bioactive molecules that have anti viral, anti inflammatory and antioxidant abilities.
Due to their immune boosting properties, there has been a lot of research into the effect of mushrooms in Cancer prevention. Some studies have suggested that mushrooms can inhibit tumor formation and stop cell mutation whilst protecting healthy cells and increasing the bodies capacity to detoxify itself from harmful substances. According to the medical journal 3 biotech , "mushrooms anti-cancer compounds play a crucial role as a reactive oxygen species inducer, mitotic kinase inhibitor, anti-mitotic, angiogenesis inhibitor and lead to apoptosis, and eventually checking cancer proliferation."
In 2000, a report published by Cancer Research UK and the University of Strathclyde looked at different types of mushroom and cancer. Pure extracts of exotic mushrooms such as shiitake, enoke, maitake and oyster were shown by researchers in China, Japan and Korea to have anti-tumour properties and be capable of stimulating the immune system to fight disease. In addition, the use of medicinal mushrooms was found to reduce the side effects of both chemotherapy and radiotherapy, including sickness and hair loss.
Another study published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology looked at the effects of chaga mushroom on cancerous human liver cells. The research reveals that chaga extract may be able to prevent liver cancer cell growth, which it has been thought make it a potential treatment for cancer in the liver.
Medicinal mushrooms have also been shown to have special fighting abilities against deadly multi-resistant bacterial strains and microorganisms responsible for gut and skin problems. Interestingly, some substances present in antibiotics such as penicillin and tetracycline are derived from mushroom fungal extracts.
Many types of mushrooms help to lower cholestrol levels naturally, support energy and improve brain function. Mushrooms such as Reishi are also considered to be adaptogens that lower cortisol and help your body to deal with stress and anxiety. Reishi mushrooms have also been shown to improve memory and concentration and because they contain lanostan, an antihistamine, they can also be beneficial for arthritis and soothe muscle aches.
Cordyceps mushrooms can help to increase stamina and endurance due to their ability to help the body produce ATP. These mushrooms are also used as an adaptogen to increase energy and reduce fatigue. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine demonstrated that supplementation with Cs-4 (Cordyceps sinensis) improved exercise performance and contributed to overall markers of wellness in older adults.
The study into medicinal mushrooms is a vast subject and there are many other health benefits and ongoing studies and research in the area. If you would like to learn more about medicinal mushrooms, pop into the shop and ask to speak to our nutritional therapist at Nourishing Insights, 44 St Andrew Street, Aberdeen.
Probiotics seem to be something that everyone is talking about these days, but what exactly are they? What do they do? Where do they come from? How do I know if I need one?
'Probiotic' literally means 'for life'. More often are defined as being "viable microorganisms that have a beneficial effect in the prevention and treatment of specific pathologic conditions when they are ingested". Basically they are the good bacteria that should be found in your gut. Did you know that approximately 85% of your immune system is found in the gut? This is because it is the job of these good bacteria to be the gatekeepers to our body. They are our first defence against foreign bodies, preventing colonization by viral and bacterial pathogens.
Wondering where you got your good bacteria from in the first place? Your mum! During a vaginal delivery the baby is covered in secretions which contain it's mothers bacteria. The mother passes her gut flora on to her baby and this in turn colonizes their gut. From that day forward we are constantly changing our gut flora depending on what we ingest. We are exposed to coughs, colds, travel, different foods, medications and all of these impact our gut ratio between good and bad bacteria.
Sat there thinking well my granny hasn't taken a probiotic and she never gets ill at 96! The truth is that she has probably had her fair share of 'probiotics' but they just didn't call them that then. Traditionally fermented foods like sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, raw yoghurt and even beer were all sources of good bacteria. In the days before fridges and supermarkets, fermentation was a way of preserving produce to survive long winters.
These days everything goes in the fridge, crops are sprayed with pesticides which just like the antibiotics you get from the doctors are not selective about whether the bacteria they are killing is good or bad. Most supermarket products have also been pasteurised to extend shelf life and prevent outbreaks of harmful bacteria. This means that the good bacteria in traditionally fermented foods is killed along with any bad that may have been present.
The good news is that there is now a move back towards traditional probiotics with kefir, kombucha, and sauerkraut gaining in popularity. Thinking about stocking up on those yoghurt drinks from the supermarket? Think again! Did you know that many of them have more sugar per 100g than fizzy pop? One of the easiest ways to up your good bacteria is to take a probiotic supplement many of which also contain prebiotics (food not absorbed by the host that supports the growth of good bacteria).
So do you need a probiotic? The reality is that most of us should take a probiotic supplement even just in the short term. Why? The vast majority of us have at some point done at least one of the following all of which negatively effect your gut flora: taken an antibiotic; suffered from colds and viruses; have IBS or IBD; taken the contraceptive pill; taken steroids; travelled abroad; suffer from or have a family history of auto immune conditions e.g. under-active thyroid, diabetes, lupus, psoriasis, etc; or allergenic conditions e.g. food allergies and excema.
There is a wealth of research out there which clearly demonstrates the huge role that probiotics have in supporting our immune system and preventing disease. A recent study examining the role of probiotics in the reduction of diabetes states that probiotics contribute to a reduction in inflammatory response and oxidative stress. This leads to increased insulin sensitivity and a reduction in the autoimmune response.
Allergenic diseases have increased over the last 40 years in industrialized nations but NOT in the developing world. Put simply we are just too clean, our homes and farms are sprayed to within an inch of their lives, we eat processed foods and we aren't exposed to the diseases we once were. All of this impacts on our gut flora and prevents the normal responses to allergens from developing properly leading to an increase in disease. Children with food allergies have been found to have an imbalance between good bacteria and potentially harmful ones. The same has been observed in a study of children with atopic eczema.
So which one should I take? Well the answer is it really depends on you and what your individual needs are. A good starting point would be something like Bio-Kult or Optibac for everyday. However, there are a variety of ranges designed specifically for different needs: travel abroad, when you're taking antibiotics, pregnancy, breastfed babies, bottlefed babies, managing cholesterol levels, one for women for targeting the intimate flora, the list goes on.
Still not sure, or just want to know more? Pop into the shop and have a chat with us.
R. Rolfe. (2000) The Role of Probiotic Cultures in the Control of Gastrointestinal Health. Journal of Nutrition. 130 p.3965-4025
M.Geuking et al. (2014) The interplay between the gut microbiota and the immune system. Gut Microbes 5(3) p. 411-418
P. Kirjavaninen et al. (2001) Characterizing the composition of intestinal microflora as a prospective treatment target in infant allergic disease. FEMS Immunology & Medical Microbiology. 32 (1) p. 1-7
B. Bjorksten et al. (1999) The intestinal microflora in allergic Estonian and Swedish 2-year-old children. Journal of the British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 29(3) p 342-346.
A.Gomes et al. (2014) Gut microbiota, probiotics and diabetes. Nutrition Journal. 13(60)
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