Shiitake mushrooms which also go by the name of oakwood mushrooms or black forest mushrooms are native to various parts of Asia, including Korea, China and Japan. In that region, they have been cultivated and prized for thousands of years. They are sold both fresh and dried and can be considered a staple of much Southeast Asian cuisine.
Though not as generally known, these mushrooms are nonetheless highly valued in the West as well – and not just for their robust flavor and unusual texture. More and more research on these tasty delicacies has revealed that shitakes bring with them a whole array of health benefits – including the ability to fight cancer.
Shiitakes and Cancer Research
One of the reasons that shiitakes and other natural therapies are so highly sought-after is that conventional cancer treatments which still basically revolve around surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or some combination of the three all bring with them risks and highly undesirable side effects. In response to this, cancer research institutes all over the world have been hunting for alternative therapies, and paying close attention to treatments which appear to be able to eliminate cancer cells but which leave healthy tissue undamaged.
One such institute in the renowned Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, a world leader in cutting-edge cancer research. Sloan-Kettering has studied the shiitake and managed to isolate one of its active compounds, a substance called lentinan. Lentinan is a form of beta-glucan, a class of molecules with a proven track record of anti-cancer benefits. Lentinan helps to strengthen the body’s natural immunity and that, in turn, helps to stimulate immune cells that can help fight off pathogens, including cancerous and precancerous or mutated cells.
Unsurprisingly, similar research on the anti-carcinogenic properties of shiitakes have also been studied in the East. One study, conducted by the Chinese University of Hong Kong, found that one of the reasons shiitakes may be so effective at treating cancer is that they are incredibly high in selenium. Selenium is a mineral needed by the body in small amounts, but it also has powerful antioxidant properties. Antioxidants are known to reduce oxidative stress to the cells as the body ages and this is significant, since this stress is thought by many to be one of the underlying causes for cancer.
Other Health Benefits
Researchers also believe that shiitakes help prevent cancer by simply promoting and supporting the overall health of the body. Several compounds in shiitakes, for instance, have cardio-protective properties, helping to lower cholesterol and normalize blood pressure levels. It can also help treat obesity, which is a major risk factor for many different forms of cancer. These mushrooms are copper-rich also which helps support good circulation of the blood and oxygenation of the cells. Cancer cells are known to thrive in low-oxygen environments.
In short, shiitake mushrooms are not just delicious delicacies. Their active compounds have been shown to have definite anti-carcinogenic effects and might help to prevent the development of this serious disease.
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