Mushrooms Used in Chinese Medicine Can Slow Weight Gain
By Dr. Mercola
Ganoderma lucidum is a medicinal mushroom commonly known as lingzhi in China and reishi in Japan. As written in Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects:1
“In Chinese, the name lingzhi represents a combination of spiritual potency and essence of immortality, and is regarded as the ‘herb of spiritual potency,’ symbolizing success, well-being, divine power, and longevity. Among cultivated mushrooms, G. lucidum is unique in that its pharmaceutical rather than nutritional value is paramount.”
In other words, this mushroom is valued for its medicinal effects above all else. It has been used medicinally in Asia for thousands of years. One of its more useful compounds is ganoderic acid (a triterpenoid), which is being used to treat lung cancer, leukemia, and other cancers.2
New research also suggests the mushroom may be useful in reducing weight gain and may even be a promising natural therapy for obesity.
Medicinal Mushroom Shows Promise for Weight Loss
Mice fed an unhealthy diet reached 42 grams in weight after two months. However, when the mice were also fed a high dose of the mushroom extract, they only reached 35 grams. Levels of inflammation and insulin resistance were also reduced.3
It’s thought the lingzhi mushroom extract reduces obesity in mice by modulating the composition of their gut microbiota. The mushroom acts as a form of prebiotics that encourages the growth of beneficial microbes.
Previous research in humans has shown that lean people tend to have higher amounts of various healthy bacteria compared to obese people. For example, one 2011 study found that daily intake of a specific form of lactic acid bacteria could help prevent obesity and reduce low-level inflammation.4
Similarly, gut bacteria have also been shown to impact weight in human babies. One study found babies with high numbers of bifidobacteria and low numbers of Staphylococcus aureus — which may cause low-grade inflammation in your body, contributing to obesity — appeared to be protected from excess weight gain.5
Two other studies found that obese individuals had about 20 percent more of a family of bacteria known as firmicutes, and almost 90 percent less of a bacteria called bacteroidetes than lean people.
Firmicutes help your body to extract calories from complex sugars and deposit those calories in fat. When these microbes were transplanted into normal-weight mice, those mice started to gain twice as much fat. This is one explanation for how the microflora in your gut may affect your weight.
In fact, the featured study also found that the mushroom extract favorably decreased the firmicutes-to-bacteroidetes ratios in the mice, thus helping to reduce body weight.
The researchers even showed that transplanting feces from the mushroom-fed mice to other mice, a process known as horizontal feces transfer, helped the other mice to lose weight as well.6
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Adding Mushrooms to Meals May Also Help You Eat Less
Another reason mushrooms may be beneficial for weight loss is because they are naturally rich in umami flavor. The flavors come from glutamic acid, which, in your body is often found as glutamate.
Umami is valued for making foods taste better. When an umami-rich food like seaweed is added to soup stock, for instance, it makes the broth heartier, more “meaty,” and more satisfying.
Umami has a bit of a dark side in that it is chemically similar to the synthetic food additive monosodium glutamate (MSG). MSG is added to foods to give them more of that sought-after umami flavor and, indeed, both umami and MSG target the same receptors in your body.
One study found that adding MSG to soup stimulated appetite initially, but then increased post-meal satiety.7 Ultimately, this led the study participants to eat less throughout the day. This is clearly not something I recommend, considering all the health risks of MSG (and, in fact, MSG has been linked to weight gain).
However, there are naturally umami-rich foods that you can add to your diet to increase your satiety while boosting your nutrition as well, and mushrooms are one of them.
Research has shown substituting red meat with white button mushrooms can help enhance weight loss,8 and, as mentioned, mushrooms also provide healthy dietary fiber that acts as prebiotic platforms for the growth of probiotic organisms in your gut, which is very important for digestive health and weight management.
Shiitake mushrooms are particularly rich in umami flavor (this is why they’re often used in place of meat in sandwiches), so try adding them to soups, stews, salads, sandwiches, and practically anything else.
Shiitake Mushrooms: Another Medicinal Mushroom Worth Eating
Shiitake mushrooms (Lentinula edodes) are a popular culinary mushroom used in dishes around the world. They contain a number of health-stimulating agents, including lentinan, the polysaccharide for which it was named.
Lentinan has been isolated and used to treat stomach and other cancers due to its anti-tumor properties, but has also been found to protect your liver,9 relieve other stomach ailments (hyperacidity, gallstones, ulcers), anemia, ascites, and pleural effusion.
One of the more remarkable scientific studies demonstrating shiitake’s antitumor effect was a Japanese animal study,10 in which mice suffering from sarcoma were given shiitake extract. Six of 10 mice had complete tumor regression, and with slightly higher concentrations all 10 mice showed complete tumor regression. Shiitake mushrooms also demonstrate:
Reduced atherosclerosis11 Antiviral (including HIV, hepatitis, and the “common cold”) effects Antibacterial effects Antifungal effects Blood sugar stabilization Reduced platelet aggregation Cholesterol-lowering properties12
The compound lentinan in shiitake mushrooms has been found to increase the survival rate of cancer patients.13 And, in fact, in Japan the top two forms of alternative medicine used by cancer patients are a mushroom called Agaricus subrufescens (aka Agaricus blazei and Agaricus brasiliensis) and shiitake mushroom extract.14
Shiitakes Are Known for Their Immune System Benefits
Shiitake mushrooms have impressive immune system-regulating properties. Long-chain polysaccharides, particularly alpha and beta glucan molecules, are primarily responsible for the mushrooms’ beneficial effect on your immune system.
Research suggests, for instance, adding one or two servings of dried shiitake mushrooms was found to have a beneficial, modulating effect on immune system function.15
A study published in the Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology, found shiitake extracts also stimulate the function and activation of macrophages, which are white blood cells involved in your body’s initial response to infection.
Research has also revealed that a shiitake mushroom extract may help to eliminate infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV) – a finding that makes perfect sense, since a strong immune system is typically all that is needed to clear up an HPV infection. As reported by Prevent Disease:16
“No health benefit is better documented for shiitake mushroom than immune support. In fact, the immune support track record for this mushroom is fascinating. On the one hand, numerous studies have shown the ability of whole shiitake mushrooms to help prevent excessive immune system activity.
On the other hand, an equal number of studies have shown the ability of shiitake mushrooms to help stimulate immune system responses under certain circumstances. In other words, from a dietary perspective, shiitake mushrooms appear able to enhance immune function in both directions, giving it a boost when needed, and cutting back on its activity when needed.”
Mushroom Quality Impacts Their Nutritional Value
Ideally, you’ll want to look for organically grown mushrooms, or those you know were grown in non-polluted forests, because they absorb and concentrate whatever they grow in — good OR bad. This is what gives mushrooms their potency, for better or worse. Mushrooms are known to concentrate heavy metals, as well as air and water pollutants. The medium in which they’re grown in also important.
The US has about 200 commercial growers of shiitake mushrooms, for example, about half of which are grown in a natural forest setting using downed hardwood trees as the cultivation medium, according to The George Mateljan Foundation.17 The rest are grown in sawdust, and this is an important distinction. For starters, mushrooms grown outdoors in the sunlight contain far more vitamin D than mushrooms grown indoors. While indoor-grown shiitakes contained about 110 IUs of vitamin D per 100 grams, those ground outdoors in the sun (with the gills facing up) contained 46,000 IU. 18 Further, according toPrevent Disease:19
“The polysaccharides in log-grown shiitakes are readily available to the body, but sawdust-grown mushrooms may not have sufficient density to be absorbed and used as effectively. The hardwood logs organically and naturally provide all the nutrients that make the shiitake prized as a gourmet mushroom and a health food. Japanese consumers pay less than $4.00 a pound for sawdust-grown shiitakes, but will give $40 a pound and more for log-grown.
Most shiitakes available in the supermarket are grown on sawdust. The log-grown shiitakes go primarily to chefs and pharmaceutical companies. Consumers, who are not aware of the difference, are currently paying the same amount for both types, even though the wholesale price of sawdust-grown shiitakes is about half that of log-grown shiitakes. Log-grown shiitakes have a meatier texture and will vibrate when shaken.
The gills on log-grown shiitakes and on high-quality sawdust-grown mushrooms will be pure white and unbroken. A package of natural shiitakes will usually contain mushrooms of different colors, shapes, and sizes, and the mushrooms will have short stems. The mushrooms from artificial logs may all have the same conical shape, pale color and markings (or no markings). Low-quality sawdust-grown mushrooms with bulbous stems, yellow, broken gills and an ammonia-like smell should be avoided.”
One way to know what you’re getting is to grow your own. You can find a variety of DIY garden kits available online, which will eliminate any questions about what kind of mushroom you’re eating.
More Reasons to Eat Mushrooms…
Mushrooms are not only capable of bolstering immune function and potentially fighting cancer. Aside from being rich in protein, fiber, vitamin C, B vitamins, calcium and minerals, mushrooms are excellent sources of antioxidants. They contain polyphenols and selenium, which are common in the plant world, as well as antioxidants that are unique to mushrooms. One such antioxidant is ergothioneine, which scientists are now beginning to recognize as a “master antioxidant.”
Mushrooms also provide valuable nutrients than many are deficient in, including B vitamins like riboflavin, niacin, and pantothenic acid. One dietary analysis found that mushroom consumption was associated with better diet quality and improved nutrition.20 The beta-glucan in mushrooms even plays a role in fat metabolism and may help support healthy cholesterol levels. Shiitake also contains eritadenine, which has strong cholesterol-lowering properties.21 For more information, check out the infographic below.
Mushrooms Are Not a Silver Bullet for Weight Loss
Although mushrooms do show promise for supporting a healthy weight, they will not act as your “silver bullet” to magically make pounds melt away. Most overweight Americans have some degree of insulin and leptin resistance. Generally, in order for you to significantly gain weight, you must first become leptin resistant. Leptin is a hormone that helps you regulate your appetite.
When your leptin levels rise, it signals your body that you’re full, so you’ll stop eating. However, as you become increasingly resistant to the effects of leptin, you end up eating more. Many people who are overweight also have an impairment in their body’s ability to oxidize fat, which leads to a low-energy state.
Dr. Richard Johnson’s research clearly shows that refined sugar (in particular fructose) is exceptionally effective at causing leptin resistance in animals, and it’s very effective at blocking the burning of fat. If you are insulin or leptin resistant, as long as you keep eating fructose and grains, you’re programming your body to create and store fat…
This is one of the key reasons why, if you are overweight (which means you are also likely insulin or leptin resistant), it would be prudent for you to restrict your fructose consumption to about 15 grams of fructose per day from all sources. Not only will this help you to avoid additional weight gain, it will also help you to avoid further metabolic dysfunction.
You may find this fructose chart helpful in estimating how many grams of fructose you are consuming each day. Dietary sugar, especially fructose, is a significant “tripper of your fat switch,” however, if you are serious about losing weight, you’ll need a comprehensive plan that includes the following. This plan will help most people lose weight but, also, it will help you to gain metabolic health. So even if your weight is normal, you can follow this plan to ensure that you’re metabolically healthy as well.
- Eliminate or strictly limit fructose in your diet, and follow the healthy eating program in my comprehensive nutrition plan.
- You can also use intermittent fasting strategically with this program to greatly boost your body’s fat-burning potential. Intermittent fasting helps reset your body to use fat as its primary fuel, and mounting evidence confirms that when your body becomes adapted to burning FAT instead of sugar as its primary fuel, you dramatically reduce your risk of chronic disease. Exercising in a fasted state (such as first thing in the morning) will bring it up yet another notch. A simple way to get started with intermittent fasting is to simply omit breakfast, making lunch the first meal of your day.
- Engage in high-intensity Peak Fitness exercise to burn fat and increase muscle mass (a natural fat burner). Also, strive to sit less (much less, such as only three hours a day) and walk 7,000 to 10,000 steps a day in addition to your regular exercise program.
- Address the emotional component of eating. For this I highly recommend the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), which helps eliminate your food cravings naturally.