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The Health Benefits of Japanese Mushrooms

By Maura Banar

Japanese mushrooms come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors and flavors and are used in traditional cooking as well as for medicinal purposes. Mushrooms, according to dietician Leslie K. Kay of Today's Dietician are also rich in vitamin D and fiber. Each type of mushroom is used for its specific health benefits, or combined with herbs or other foods for specific conditions. Most Japanese mushrooms are available fresh at your local grocery store or in their dehydrated form at your local health food store. Speak with your doctor before making significant dietary changes.

Shiitake Mushrooms

Shiitake mushrooms are widely used in many Asian cultures and used in cooking in both fresh and dried forms. According to the American Cancer Society, research has shown shiitake mushrooms to be effective in treating tumors in animals. Additionally, shiitake mushrooms appear to have antiviral properties and can reduce cholesterol. Shiitake mushrooms contain substances, lentinan and 1,3-beta glucan, which are the active ingredients believed to have the health-promoting benefit.

Maitake Mushrooms

Maitake is a native Japanese mushroom that is available fresh or in extract form. The extract, according to the American Cancer Society, has been found to have an effect on immunity and proponents claim it can help prevent the development of some types of cancer. Maitake is also used by some practitioners as a treatment for the side effects of chemotherapy, and to enhance the cancer-killing effects of it. Any research results thus far have been found in studies on laboratory animals however maitake mushrooms are considered safe for human consumption. Beta glucans, naturally occurring substances found in maitake mushrooms may cause a drop in blood glucose and blood pressure, so these mushrooms should be used under the guidance of your physician.

Reishi Mushrooms

The Reishi mushroom, also known as the "mushroom of immortality" is used in traditional medicine as an immune system booster for individuals living with cancer or immune-suppressive diseases like AIDS. The extract of Reishi mushrooms is also used, according to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, to treat symptoms of urinary tract infections in men. Additionally, Reishi extract can stimulate the effectiveness of white blood cells and can decrease nausea caused by chemotherapy. Although the consumption of Reishi mushrooms in their raw form is considered safe, the extract may interact with medical conditions or medications such as anticoagulants.

Enoki Mushrooms

The enoki or golden needle mushroom, is a small, thin but powerful mushroom that can help improve your immune system, according to Dr. Ching Chen, DO. Additionally, Professor Chua Kaw Yanthe of the National University of Singapore explains that enoki mushrooms can also help you fight off viruses, decrease allergies and help your immune system fight off cancer. It appears that a protein found in the stalk of the enoki mushroom works with the cells of your immune system to increase the production of cytokines, which help regulate immune response. Enoki mushrooms are available fresh or in extract form from your local health food store.

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