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Boost immunity with mushrooms

Chinese medicines suggest mushrooms contribute to increased immunity and promote conversion of cancer cells to normal cells.

india Updated: Jun 27, 2006 14:19 IST

According to Chinese medicines mushrooms contribute to increased immunity and promote conversion of cancer cells to normal cells this because mushrooms contain a compound called betaglucan, which is a proven immune stimulant.

Anyone with impaired immunity can take whole mushrooms. There are thousands of varieties of mushrooms, many of which are toxic and unfit for consumption so it’s wiser to purchase packed ones from the market.

Button mushrooms: These are white or brown in colour and cooling in nature. These help in reducing cholesterol levels and in eliminating excess mucus from the body which makes them particularly beneficial for people prone to cough, cold and general respiratory problems.                                                    

    The healthy shrub

They also contain antibiotic properties, help boost immunity levels by increasing the white blood cells and help the body fight against disease producing microorganisms.

Button mushrooms also assist in reducing “heat” conditions such as nose bleeds and boils on the back brought about by the excessive intake of non-veg food.

Shiitake mushrooms: Ranging form dark brown to tan colour, these meaty textured mushrooms that are rich in phytochemicals and immunity-boosting properties are a popular choice for stir-fries, pastas and soups.

Available in fresh and dried form, these contain the protein interferon known to induce an immune response against viral diseases and cancer.

Lentinan, the phytochemical present in Shiitake mushrooms, is an effective immunity booster that helps curtail the spread of lung, stomach and cervical cancer.

Further, they help reduce cholesterol, enhance blood circulation and eliminate the toxins that accumulate due to excess consumption of non-vegetarian food. Their selenium content helps protect the liver and the presence of the mineral germanium enhances immunity.

Maitake mushrooms: These are the exotic and expensive variety, even exchanged for their weight in silver, in Japan where they are widely used in the production of herbal medicine.

The presence of the phytochemical ‘D-fraction’, known to curtail the growth of tumors, is what enhances the value of Maitake mushrooms.

Furthermore, they bolster the immune system and reduce blood pressure and blood sugar, which makes them particularly beneficial to diabetics. Studies are presently being conducted to verify their possible role in the treatment of the HIV-virus.

Black mushrooms: Also known as the black tree fungus, these are popular in Chinese medicine due to their favorable effects on the blood which includes reducing clumping of the blood-platelets thereby thinning the blood. In turn, this greatly reduces the risk of coronary artery disease.

The anticoagulant properties of this variety, acts like aspirin by impeding the growth of cancerous tumors.

The Chinese usually cook black mushrooms along with garlic, onions and ginger, all of which have potent blood thinning properties, which probably explains the low incidence of heart disease amongst the Chinese.

There are a number of ways to include mushrooms in your cooking. For instance, for pastas, you could sautee mushrooms along with garlic and olives.

For Chinese cooking, they can be stir-fried along with other vegetables such as Chinese cabbage, capsicums, baby corn, zucchini and bamboo shoots.

The popularity of mushrooms has soared in recent times. From gourmet cuisines to home cooked meals, mushrooms are a much revered food group today.

Mushroom is neither a fruit nor a vegetable and is highly valued by Chinese for its medicinal properties. Moreover, they’re healthy, low in calories and high in antioxidants, which help defy aging and disease.

(Dr Anjali Mukerjee is a nutritionist and founder of Health Total, a nutrition counselling centre). She can be contacted on query@health-total.com.