Shitake mushrooms: Benefits; scientific evidences; contraindications, uses

What are Shiitake mushrooms?

Shiitake, whose scientific name is Lentinula edodes, is an edible mushroom native to East Asia, being the second most consumed edible mushroom in the world. Its name have Japanese origins, the tree similar to oak is called Shii and take means mushroom in Japanese.

It has been cultivated for over 1,000 years, but there are earlier references to its consumption.. They are recognized by their brown hat with gray specks and aroma, being the reason why so much appreciated in culinary uses. At present, the Shiitake is one of the main sources of protein in the diet of people in several Asian countries, especially in Japan, Korea and China.

It is an aerobic fungus, decomposer of wood and found naturally in the Asian forests, where it develops on dead trees.

Health benefits of Shiitake mushrooms and Scientific evidences

The most important health benefits of Shitake are: Heart disease, anemia; tiredness; osteoporosis; cholesterol; protects the liver; strong antioxidant; support immune system (inflammations and bacteria); hypertension; thrombosis; cancer.

Shiitake is credited with stimulating properties of the body's immune defenses, especially against bacterial and viral agents.

Also associated with hepatoprotective properties (liver protection), cholesterol lowering and anti-caries and atherosclerosis.

This group of fungi would be able to help the body act against cancer, inflammation and bacteria. This healthy mushroom would also help control the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease and contribute to the health of the intestinal flora.

1. Reducing Cholesterol and help to lose weight:

With a low level of calories of fresh mushroom, shitake is an excellent food to be part of a diet to lose weight. The mushroom also provides a good amount of fiber, a large percentage of water and few carbohydrates. This means that shitake helps to lose weight because it provides satiety with few calories and can be considered a low glycemic index food, which does not raise blood glucose sharply, contributing for a healthy metabolization of fats.

And for those who are trying to reduce their consumption of animal protein, or being vegetarian or vegan, shitake is one of the best options for making your meatless menu, since it has a good amount of protein and vitamins complex B, good to strengthen nervous system.

The shitake contains eritadenine, a substance can lower LDL (bad cholesterol) levels. Also, a scientific study in Japan found that shitake increased the amount of cholesterol in the stool, which in turn reduced cholesterol levels in the bloodstream. This result was verified in other scientific studies carried out with the fresh mushroom and with the shitake extract in human.

Shiitake have three compounds that may help lower cholesterol:

  • Eritadenine: A compound that inhibits an enzyme involved in producing cholesterol
  • Sterols: Molecules that help block cholesterol absorption in your gut
  • Beta-glucans: A type of fiber that can lower cholesterol
Another study to prove the good results of Shiitake in lowering Cholesterol, being an excellent option food for those who would like to prevent and fight obesity and related metabolic disorders:

A 2011 study published in the Journal of Obesity examined the effects of shiitake mushrooms on plasma lipid profiles, fat dispositions, energy efficiency and body fat index. Rats were fed a high-fat diet for a six-week period. Researchers found significant effects of dietary intervention on body weight gain. Rats on a high dose of shiitake mushroom diet (which involved adding mushroom powder to a high-fat diet) had 35 percent lower body weight gains than rats on low and medium shiitake mushroom diets. Rats on the high dose shiitake mushroom diet also had significantly lower total fat masses and had a trend of lower fat accumulation.

2. Helps fighting Cancer

Another compound that outstands in the properties of the shitake mushroom is lentinana, that strengthens the immune system and prevents and fights cancer.

Lentinana, a type of beta-glucan very common in medicinal mushrooms, stimulates the immune system and helps to activate certain defense cells and proteins responsible for attacking tumors.

Several scientific studies have proven the antitumor action of lentinana, which would be able to reduce and slow the growth of some types of tumors, especially those of gastric origin. In renowned Japanese universities also proved that capacity of lentinana to cause regression and prevent the metastasis of some forms of cancer.

There is a scientific research study published in 2011 in the journal Cancer Science, where researchers noted an interruption in the growth of melanomas in rats after the animals received powdered shitake extract.
Polysaccharides in shiitake mushrooms may also have an anti-cancer effect

For example, the polysaccharide lentinan helps fight tumors by activating the immune system

Lentinan has been shown to inhibit the growth and spread of leukemia cells

In China and Japan, an injectable form of lentinan is used alongside chemotherapy and other major cancer treatments to improve immune function and quality of life in people with gastric cancer.

A 2006 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine investigated the potential roles of an ethyl acetate fraction from shiitake mushrooms. The study involved two human breast carcinoma cell lines, one human nonmalignant breast epithelial cell line and two myeloma cell lines. The results suggest that shiitake mushrooms were able to inhibit growth in tumor cells with their mycochemical value. Shiitake mushroom successfully inducted apoptosis, the process of programmed cell death.

3. Fight Free Radicals

When in excess free radicals can cause a number of complications, ranging from premature aging to cancer. Substances capable of combating this excess of free radicals are called antioxidants and can be found in abundance in foods of plant origin, among them shitake.

There is a substance in Shiitake with a strong antioxidant capacity named L-ergothioneine, a potent compound capable of preventing free radical damage to the body's healthy cells. It has already been proven that the accumulation of free radicals can cause these cells to mutate and end up causing the cancer to appear.

Researchers have found that Shitake contains a greater amount of L-ergotionein than all other mushrooms for human consumption.

4. Strengthens the Immune System

According to researchers, this can be considered as one of the greatest benefits of shitake mushroom for health. Because shitake contains lentinana, a substance that acts on the body's defense mechanism against disease. Recently has been discovered that Shitake can be even more effective than some western medicine drugs in treating infections caused by viruses or bacterias.

A 2015 study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition evaluated 52 healthy males and females, aged 21–41 years, to determine if shiitake mushrooms could improve human immune function. The study involved a 1-month parallel group trial that involved participants consuming either five or 10 grams of mushrooms daily.

The results suggest that consuming mushrooms improved cell effector function and improved gut immunity. There was also a reduction of inflammation due to mushroom consumption.

This immune effect might be due in part to one of the polysaccharides found in shiitake mushrooms

Additionally, your immune system gets weaker with age. However, a mouse study found that a supplement derived from shiitakes helped reverse some of the age-related decline in immune function.

5. Control Blood Pressure

One more benefit of shitake mushroom is to lower blood pressure levels, preventing and even fighting hypertension. This property of shitake is due to the presence of niacin, vitamin B3, which can cause dilatation of blood vessels, decreasing automatically blood pressure.

A study conducted at Tohoku University in Japan found that shiitake mushrooms prevented blood pressure increase in hypertensive rats. Shiitake feeding resulted in a decrease in VLDL (good cholesterol) and HDL (bad cholesterol), whereas maitake mushroom feeding caused a decrease in VLDL cholesterol only.

6. Protects the Cardiovascular System

The benefits of shitake mushroom to the heart come indirectly about by three ways: By controlling the LDL, which when elevated can increase the risk of coronary heart disease; reduces the risk of arteriosclerosis (obstruction of the arteries that can cause myocardial infarction); Controls the high blood pressure levels, which are associated with several cardiovascular diseases.

A study in lab rats fed a high-fat diet found that those given shiitake mushrooms developed less fat in their livers, less plaque on their artery walls and had lower cholesterol levels than those who didn't get any mushroom supplement.

7. Prevent thrombosis

Shitake still contains lanthionine, a natural compound that inhibits platelet aggregation, preventing the formation of clots that block blood circulation.

8. Antimicrobial properties

A 2011 study at the Eastman Dental Institute in London tested shiitake’s antimicrobial effects on gingivitis, a preventable disease that involves inflammation of the gums due to the buildup of a microbial biofilm at the gingival margin.

The study title was: In vitro assessment of shiitake mushroom (Lentinula edodes) extract for its antigingivitis activity.

9. Strengthen the nervous system, improving cognitive functions

Shiitake mushrooms are a great source of B vitamins, which help  to nourish the adrenal function improving the levels of energy of the body. Vitamins of complex B will improve cognitive performance, which is something that millions of people around the world need constantly every day. If people have a deficiency of vitamins complex B may feel tired easily, affecting the blood quality and have poor memory and intellectual performance.

Below there is a scientific review study about B vitamins, cognition, and aging:

10. Improving bone health with Vitamin D

Getting enough vitamin D is extremely important, because its linked with the prevention of many diseases, such us: bone health; heart disease; diabetes; autoimmune diseases; cancer. It’s also crucial for the absorption and metabolism of calcium and phosphorus.

Vitamin D can have positive influence in: immune system; brain function; asthma; rheumatoid arthritis.

Along with shiitake, also wild caught salmon fish and raw dairy eggs are an excellent source of vitamin D. It would be possible to make a good recipe rich in vitamin D with these 3 foods.

Below there is a scientific study about deficiency Vitamin D, showing how it’s considered a worldwide problem and their health consequences.

Nutrition facts of Shiitake mushrooms

Shiitake mushroom is rich in fiber, protein, beta-glucan polysaccharides, minerals and Vitamin D.
Rich source of Vitamin D: Shiitake mushroom contains natural Vitamin D. This Vitamin contributes to the absorption of calcium from the diet. Calcium it’s very important in the correct functioning of the heart, muscles and nerves, in addition to its well-known function for bones.

Contains β-D-glucans: β-D-Glucans are branched polysaccharides from the cellulose family that can be found as a part of cell walls of Shiitake.

Although various types of mushrooms differ in terms of their exact calorie and nutrient count, in general they’re very low in carbohydrates, calories, fat, sodium and sugar. Shiitake provides good quantity of antioxidants, vitamins complex B, copper and selenium.

According to the website from the United States Department of Agriculture
Agricultural Research Service below, one cup of raw mushrooms with 100g has about the following in terms of nutritional value:,%20white,%20raw

Shiitakes are low in calories. They also offer good amounts of fiber, as well as B vitamins and some minerals.
100 grams of shiitake mushrooms contains about:
    • 34 calories
    • 0.5 gram fat
    • 6.8 grams carbohydrates
    • 2.5 grams dietary fiber
    • 2.4 grams sugar
    • 2.2 grams protein
    • 4 milligrams niacin (Vitamin B3(19 percent DV)
    • 1.5 milligrams pantothenic acid (Vitamin B5) (15 percent DV)
    • 0.2 milligrams vitamin B6 (15 percent DV)
    • 0.2 milligrams riboflavin, vitamin B2 (13 percent DV)
    • 18 international units vitamin D (4 percent DV)
    • 0.2 milligrams manganese (12 percent DV)
    • 112 milligrams phosphorus (11 percent DV)
    • 5.7 micrograms selenium (8 percent DV)
    • 0.1 milligrams copper (7 percent DV)
    • 1 milligram zinc (7 percent DV)
    • 304 milligrams potassium (6 percent DV)
    • 20 milligrams magnesium (5 percent DV)
    • 0.4 milligrams iron (2 percent DV)
In addition, shiitakes contain: many of the same amino acids as meat; polysaccharides, terpenoids, sterols and lipids linked to tonify the immune system, cholesterol-lowering and anti-cancer effects.

Learn the side effects of Shiitake mushrooms

For those who suffer from allergy or who have undergone organ transplantation (Immunosuppressants). It is not advisable to tonify the immune system to avoid rejection of the organ.

Recommended maximum daily dosage of shiitake powder as supplement - 2 teaspoons (6 g) (1 dessert spoon = ± 3 grams)
Recently is noted that there is new trends about superfoods in which medicinal mushrooms are included. But not everyone agrees that mushrooms are healthy at all costs. Some yoga traditions, for example, consider that fungi are food of low vital energy, being some species parasites, that could accumulate toxins harmful to our organism.

Fungi are heterotrophic by absorption, that is, they obtain food from other living beings with which they associate, becoming decomposers, parasites or mutualistic. This characteristic is remembered by some professionals who see fungi as real sponges, or filters, and whose consumption should be strictly organic. If the environment has any kind of pollution is likely that the mushroom will absorb it.

Anyway, the general advice and shared by all health professionals is not to overdo the consumption of mushrooms.

How to eat Shiitake mushrooms?

The most common use for shiitake mushrooms is food, as a typical ingredient of Chinese, Japanese and macrobiotic cuisines. They are used in the preparation of soups, stroganoff, risottos, sauces, salads and can also be used as filling in pasta or as seasonings.

Shiitake mushrooms are traditionally added to miso soup. Healthy salted mushrooms with onions and garlic. Serve as a side dish or as a topping for chicken, beef, lamb or venison.

To give your vegetable stock an extra depth, add dried shiitake mushrooms.

As an example of a quick dish: Asian pasta dish, healthy saute shiitake mushrooms with snap peas and tofu. Season to taste and serve over buckwheat soba noodles (or your favorite type of pasta).

Shiitake can be used whole, in pieces or only with the upper part. It can be purchased fresh, yielding more, or dehydrated which has a stronger flavor.

Suggested uses of Shiitake in form of dry powder which is used as superfood: Add one or two dessert spoons of Shiitake powder to sauces, mixed with shakes, water, teas, juices, soups, smoothies. Add it after finishing stews, tortillas and risottos and other recipes. Add it once the dish is tempered.

Where can I find supplements of Shiitake?

Here we share with you some good quality products where you can buy your mushroom extracts that can be used for health:

For Europe, if you are looking for Shiitake as a superfood to add to your breakfasts and meals, we advise you to buy the best quality from a Spanish company called Drasanvi: (Spanish, English) (Portugal)

For Europe, can buy in UK company called Panacea Health Limited:

For USA, can buy in company called Acurea:

Also, always have Amazon:

For Canada:

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Posted by Dr. João Carrilho

Dr. João Carrilho
Doctor in Traditional Chinese Medicine by Southwest Medical University, China.
Licensed Acupuncturist (N.0500096) and Phytotherapist (N.0400028) by the Portuguese Health Ministry.
Post-Graduated in Health Sciences at Oporto University, Portugal

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