Uncultivated wild shiitake mushrooms are indigenous to China, Japan and other Asian nations where these naturally breed on broadleaf trees. Today, owing to the medicinal value of the herb, shiitake mushrooms are extensively being farmed all over the world, even in the United States. While people in the East Asian countries have been traditionally consuming shiitake mushrooms as a staple diet, now it has virtually replaced the bland range of mushrooms in the United States and is a common item in the supermarkets. More and more people in the United States prefer these tasty mushrooms to the original verities found there so long. While the mushroom is eaten as a food, the fruit-baring part of shiitake is rich in medicinal properties.
There is a story attached to the use of shiitake mushrooms. Anecdotes related to herbs say that the tasty mushroom was first offered to the Japanese Emperor Chuai by an aboriginal group called the Kyusuyu in the year 200. However, the food and medicinal values of the mushroom was known to the Chinese much before this incident. In China, shiitake was known as hoang-mo.
Shiitake mushrooms are so popular in Japan that the Japanese derive most of their protein supply from this herb. And in China and other counties situated in the Pacific region, shiitake mushrooms are an important diet that is delicious, nutritious, relishing as well as a wholesome health food. While shiitake can be easily used as an alternate for meat, the mushroom has enough characteristics to be served as the main dish during any meal.
Today the shiitake mushroom is cultivated most extensively throughout the world both for its medicinal value as well as for gastronomic pleasure. As it is being used since pre-historic times and there are several folk tales related to shiitake, numerous researches have been conducted to discover as well as ascertain the different properties of this mushroom. Scientific studies have proved that shiitake mushrooms have anti-fungal, anti-tumor as well as anti-viral properties. Shiitake is also a very useful herb as it forms the base of several plant extracts like lentinan. It may be noted that chemically lentinan sugars are coil shaped much similar to the twists of DNA and this is considered to be the source of lentinan's curative features. Derivatives or extracts from shiitake are soluble in water and cannot be trashed by external agents like heat, alkalis or even acids.
Shiitake mushrooms produce interferon and this is considered to be the reason behind its ant-viral results. It also has beneficial on blood vessels as scientific studies have proved that shiitake is able to reduce the intensity of blood cholesterols by a maximum of 45%. In fact, even when high cholesterol food is consumed along with shiitake, it has shown spectacular consequences. For instance, two studies on humans have shown that the blood cholesterol level dropped by 6% - 15% when the subjects consumed 9 grams of shiitake daily. The effect is the same when 10 dehydrated average sized mushrooms are consumed daily.
In 1966 scientists Kaneda and Tokuda first described and wrote on the fact that shiitake can speed up the metabolic system as well as cholesterol emission from the body. While the Donko variety of shiitake resulted to 45% cholesterol reduction in blood vessels, the Koshin range of the mushroom leads to at least 36% reduction of cholesterol. This is possible owing to the presence of an amino acid called eritadenine in shiitake. Eritadenine, which depicts very low poisonous qualities with maximum benefits when consumed orally, is a useful substance as it reduces the lipid constituents of serum lipoproteins in humans as well as animals. So far, scientists have blended as well as examined at least 124 off-shoots of eritadenine and consequently a number of patents of food and medicinal products containing shiitake hypocholesterolemic have been granted. What has actually attracted the common people, who are alert about healthy living, is that they can reduce plasma lipids by consuming simple foods and drinks. Laboratory tests on animals have shown that shiitake mushrooms also have the ability to lessen high blood pressure effectively.
Japan has approved lentinan, a very refined part of polysaccharide taken out from shiitake mushrooms, as an official drug in that country. Normally, polysaccharide is traditionally administered through injection to cancer and AIDS patients with a view to lengthen their survival. Researches have found the extract to be equally beneficial in treating cancer as well as AIDS and hence are available commercially for medical use. The mushroom extracts have become an important prescribed medicine for treating cancer especially in Japan. Scientists say that apart from being a beneficial remedy for cancer treatment, lentinan also helps is averting any damage to the chromosomes that may be initiated by anti-cancer drugs. Lentinan is not known to have serious side affects and tests conducted by Japanese researchers on mice before subjecting them to radiation has shown that it has given absolute shield from the white blood cell count diminishing. However, scientists in the West are still not sure about these results and do not recommend making immuno-potentiators accessible patients undergoing radioactive remedy.
Although there is documentary evidence showing patients that were administered radiation or chemotherapy along with herbal immuno-potentiators where found to have no or negligent side-affects, the Western scientists are yet to accept the findings of their counterparts elsewhere in the world, particularly in Japan. In fact, the noncytotoxic characteristics of polysaccharides provided a unique method whereby it is possible to destroy the unwanted cells with causing slightest harm to the host. The main role of lentinan is that the herbal extract can heal patients by reinstating their homeostasis and by increasing the patients' inherent confrontation power against diseases. It is important to note that as a staple diet, shiitake possess all the eight necessary amino acids in more quantities than they are found in meat, milk, soy beans, eggs and even a combination of vitamins A, B, B12, C, D and B3 (niacin) as well as minerals. Interestingly, shitakes also generate a fat sop up amalgam that helps in reducing obesity or body weight. And most importantly, it is delightful to eat, too.
Researches over the years have brought to the fore numerous properties of shiitake that are of immense medicinal value. While the mushroom is effective in averting high blood pressure and heart ailments, restricting blood cholesterol intensity, enhancing the body's resistance against viruses as well as combating deadly diseases like cancer, lentinan obtained from shiitake is highly beneficial for healing hepatitis. Studies by Japanese researchers as well as case studies have shown that lentinan may also prove to be useful in treating HIV/AIDS patients. As mentioned earlier, lentinan is conventionally used as an injection and is administered to people suffering from cancer with a view to prolong their lifespan.
Cancer: Shiitake mushrooms have numerous medicinal benefits, especially in cases of cancer. For several years physicians in Japan have used lentinan, a refined extract from the mushroom, to treat cancer. Especially lentinan's resistant exciting properties have proved to be effective in healing this deadly disease. It may be noted here that lentinan itself does not strike the cancer cells right away, but the herbal extract triggers the body's protective system's lymphokine-induced killer (LAK) and the natural killer (NK) cells to fight against different kinds of cancers like hepatoma, sarcoma and carcinoma. In addition, lentinan also thwarts the creation of prostaglandins lead to swellings and also prevents the immune system's T cells from growing. Researches by Japanese scientists and case studies by physicians have revealed the lentinan excites the ability of particular blood cells to generate resistant system compounds like interleukin and tumor necrosis factor (TNF) that stops the cancerous cells from growing. When surgery is not practicable, lentinan is very useful.
When people are affected by stomach cancer, it becomes difficult to cure as the initial indications of this disease are usually unclear and the disease is identified mostly in advanced stages, when it is virtually quite late to begin effective treatment. When Japanese physicians find that treatment of advanced stage stomach cancer is possible through surgery, they also use a permutation of chemotherapy and lentinan to treat the disease as well as to add value to the patient's life. There is an instance when physicians detected that the stomach cancer in a patient has spread to his liver as well as lymph lumps, Japanese physicians conducted surgery and used the combination of lentinan and chemotherapy to increase his lifespan. Interestingly, the patient survived for five years after the surgery! Moreover, the cancerous growths in his liver fade away following a treatment with a combination of lentinan and chemotherapy that led to the formation of uracil plus ftorafur (UFT).
Lentinan is also found to be useful in treating breast cancer in women. Japanese physicians use this refined extract from shiitake mushrooms to treat breast cancer in women who have been affected by mastectomies as they did not undertake subsequent ray emission treatment. It has been proved that if the patients are administered lentinan before the commencement of chemotherapy, it helps the immune system from being damaged. In addition, researches conducted by Japanese scientists have proved that lentinan is beneficial in enhancing the success rate of cancer therapy with a particular kind of interleukin-2 (IL-2). It has been found that when chemotherapy as well as lentinan is used collectively, they help to avoid the breast cancer from disseminating to the lungs.
And in the worst cases, when the breast cancer has spread its tentacles to the lungs, lentinan can still be effectively used to increase the patient's lifespan and give him more time to survive. In the course of a study, Japanese medical scientists had precisely administered lentinan injections into the areas affected by malignant tumors and the results were striking. Although most of the patients ultimately died, their survival was increased by 129 days. And this is compared to the 49 days' existence of the patients who did not take the prescription.
Chronic fatigue syndrome and Lyme disease: In addition to being an effective remedy for cancer, physicians in Japan have found lentinan to be beneficial to cure low natural killer cell syndrome – a malady that results to feebleness and immobilization. According to the doctors, the symptoms of LNKS are analogous to unceasing fatigue syndrome that has been diagnosed by physicians in the West. The Japanese physicians claim that using lentinan has helped to converse several warning signs like unrelenting weariness or exhaustion, remittent fever as well as stumpy natural killer (NK) cell actions. Lentinan is also beneficial in healing Lyme disorders as it has the ability to excite natural killer cells in the body.
Common cold & Macular degeneration: Shiitake mushrooms include several composite sugars known as polysaccharides which help to incite the protective system in the body and combat common colds. Polysaccharides present in shiitake also help increase the manufacture of interferon that is very useful in restraining the unnatural development of blood vessels in macular deterioration or degeneration.
High cholesterol: Scientific studies involving animals have proved that eritadenine found in shiitake mushrooms is beneficial in reducing the cholesterol levels in the blood vessels as well as low density lipoproteins or LDL cholesterols that are harmful for the body. These researches have confirmed that eritadenine in shiitake has the ability to reduce the cholesterol levels in the blood vessels by 25% in just one week. And surprisingly, the results after the usage of eritadenine was found to be better in subjects that consumed high protein food compared to those who took low protein food stuff. According researches by Japanese medical scientists, chemicals present in shitake help in building up the harmful low density lipoproteins in the liver, where they are modified into high density lipoproteins or HDL cholesterols that are useful for the human system.
Other medical uses
Side effects and cautions
Shiitake mushrooms can be taken in different forms. While it is a common food in many oriental countries, the mushroom's contents can also be procured in tablet, syrup and colored mixture forms. It is also available as a powder. However, here is a word of caution and that is people suffering from bladder cancer should never consume shiitake in its crude form. This is extremely harmful as an ingredient of the shiitake mushroom is known to cause this disorder. Although, it is known to be safe and without any adverse effects, high doses of shiitake mushrooms may cause momentary swelling of the abdomen and diarrhea. Shiitake is also not known to be allergic, but sometimes when it is applied on the skin in broad daylight it may show symptoms of vortex. It may be noted here that the healing action of lentinan primarily depends on the level of its intake and if it is administered as an injection, one mg of lentinan taken two times a week is sufficient to produce the desired results. This is adequate to smother the resistant organism of the body. However, it is important that the physician or person looking after the health should be cautious about the patient's state and situation.