Shiitake happens: Mushrooms to play key role in immunity nutrition and health, concludes report

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

Shiitake happens: Mushrooms to play key role in immunity nutrition and health, concludes report

Related tags mushrooms Immunity fungi

Concerns over immune health and the pandemic has thrust the humble mushroom into the spotlight as experts hail the fungi’s ability to interact with gut microbes that influence healthy immune and inflammatory responses.

The mushroom’s benefits are highlighted in a report​ that outlines ways mushrooms will play a role in protecting immune health that includes as a key ingredient in supplements, nootropics and even as a meat alternative.

“Although mushrooms can be traced back 500 million years, now more than ever, they have a key role to play in helping people live healthier lives and to protect our immunity,” ​says Noel Hegarty, a spokesperson for the report’s authors, The UK and Ireland Mushroom Producers.

Mycelium is Earth’s natural regenerator. We believe a deeper understanding of this natural material has the potential to profoundly impact the future of our health and our planets’.”

Entitled ‘‘Mushrooming’ the future of Mushrooms for Immunity: People and Planet,’ the report focuses on the potential of mushroom-based supplements, particularly fungi-derived probiotics that claim to restore the natural balance of gut bacteria disrupted by illness or antibiotics.

Other products under development include vitamin B12 powder to fight fatigue and enhance energy levels; selenium powder, that improves immune function and mental health; and protein powders, that contain all of the essential amino acids for a balanced diet, muscle building and satiety.

Mushroom to manoeuvre

The health benefits of these products have particular relevance in the sports nutrition sector, where a raft of brands, such as Super Shift​, New Chapter​ and Host Defence​ make available their ranges of physical health and immune boosting supplements.

New Chapter in particular make available its formulated blend​ of herb and mushroom that contain sustainably harvested cordyceps, for athletic health and sports recovery.

In a similar vein, the use of mushrooms as a brain boosting nootropic is an area that is set to soar, according to the report’s authors, citing an increase in home-workers looking to boost their productivity and concentration.

While studies have linked eating mushrooms with improved cognition, longer term their consumption might even reduce the risk of developing dementia possibly due to reduced levels of the antioxidant ergothioneine in those with mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

A 2019 study​ in Singapore found that people who eat 300 grams (g) of ergothioneine-rich mushrooms a week were 50% less likely to develop MCI.

The report cites the likes of Venus Williams, Novak Djokovic (tennis), David Haye (boxer), Patrik Baboumian (strongman) and Hannah Tetter (snowboarder), who all follow plant-based diets, switching animal protein for mycelium alternatives and recognising mushrooms as nutritious powerhouses.

European players in this arena include UK-based The Mighty Mushroom Co, which was created to bring a range of mushrooms infused with vitamins and minerals to boost immunity.

The firm has launched its first range of meat-free Burgers on Amazon Fresh, as well as its Cumberland Style Sausages.

Quorn and Liverpool FC

Other product makers include Quorn, which recently partnered with Liverpool FC to become the club’s official sustainable protein partner.

The multi-year partnership, set up in June 2020, saw the firm will work in collaboration with the club to provide new opportunities for supporters to choose from vegetarian and vegan foods on matchdays.

Meanwhile, Quorn would also work with the club’s nutrition team to extend choice of healthy protein amongst its playing staff.

“Mushrooms contain beta glucan polysaccharides, a type of soluble dietary fibre found in the cell walls of certain fungi that may help to reduce the risk of disease,”​ explains Nutritionist and Author Rob Hobson

“Mushrooms are also a good source of B vitamins, especially riboflavin and niacin which are required for the conversion of food into energy as well as maintaining healthy skin and red blood cells.

“Despite increased consumer awareness of the health properties of mushrooms, the exact mechanisms are unclear,”​ he adds.

“As many of the illnesses reported to be alleviated by mushroom-based products, such as infection, inflammation and cancer, involve dysregulation of our natural immune response, it is likely that mushroom components can modulate our immune system.”

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