Shiitake Happens

February 12, 2016

We may not think of shiitake mushrooms when we think heart health, but we should. I often joke that a true lover would present his or her beloved with a sack of shiitakes before that heart-shaped box of chocolates.

The shiitake mushroom has one of the most unusual naturally occurring nutrients called d-Eritadenine, lentinacin, or lentsine, known as DEA, inhibitors of S-adenosylhomocysteine (AdoHcy) hydrolase. Yes, I am going all Bill Nye the Science Guy on you but this is very cool stuff. This means that consuming shiitake mushrooms are key to reducing the risk factors for coronary heart disease. 

As if that’s not enough, the beta-glucans in shiitakes help with the cholesterol-lowering effect of this mushroom. Beta-glucan is a soluble fiber, which dissolves in the digestive track and creates a thick gel like paste, this binds with excess cholesterol to keep it from being absorbed.

Shiitake protect against atherosclerosis by reducing production of immune cell adhesion molecules, which make cells sticky and cause plaques on the arteries. But the most popular immune supporting components in shitake mushrooms are its polysaccharides. These have been shown to lower cholesterol levels, lessen problems associated with exercise stress and reduce damage by inflammation-producing toxins and radiation exposure.

Oxidative stress which is an ongoing process causes damage to the blood vessel lining and culminates in the development of atherosclerosis. Clogged arteries are one of the increasingly common occurrences (worldwide) and the way to reduce our risk of chronic oxidative stress is a diet containing antioxidants.

Shiitake mushrooms are an excellent source of antioxidant minerals such as manganese, selenium, and zinc along with some unusual phytonutrient antioxidants, like ergothioneine (ET). The special benefits of ET are for the cell’s mitochondria. The mitochondria use oxygen to produce energy for the cell and heart cells have the highest concentration of mitochondria – this is a key factor to a heart health.

But enough science. It’s making my head hurt and I understand this! Shiitake mushrooms have been prized in ancient healing modalities like Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries for their value in keeping our hearts healthy…and now science bears out this ancient wisdom.

Shiitake are also great additions to our diets to prevent heart disease, not just help reverse it. They are key to dissolving accumulated, hardened fats in the body; they help relax muscle tension; they ease kidney function.

I should mention that shiitake mushrooms have an earthy flavor and meaty texture that makes them a delicious addition to just about any dish, from soups to stir-fry to salads.

Is there anything these little babies can’t do for our health and wellness?