Plus, it shields your brain from dementia
It’s been centuries since Hippocrates said to “let food be thy medicine”—but his advice is as good today as it ever was. And not just because of modern supplements and so-called superfoods, either.
The truth is, some of the most powerful medicine out there is hiding in plain sight… in ordinary foods you can find in any nearby grocery store. I’ve talked about a few in these pages before—from avocados to fatty fish, saffron, and more.
And now, new research reveals yet another magic bullet in your refrigerator’s arsenal: Mushrooms.
Cut your cancer risk nearly in half
Researchers from Penn State reviewed 17 different studies—published between 1966 and 2020, featuring nearly 20,000 subjects. Each investigated the link between mushroom consumption and cancer risk.
Ultimately, they found that people who hate 18 grams of mushrooms every day—around 1/8 to 1/4 of a cup—had a 45 percent lower risk of cancer than people who didn’t eat mushrooms at all.1
In plain English: Eating mushrooms every day—yes, plain old mushrooms from the produce aisle—cut cancer risk nearly in half.
When the researchers looked at specific cancers, they found the strongest and most significant links between regular mushroom consumption and breast cancer risk. But that could be because many of the studies reviewed didn’t look at other forms of cancer.
This finding was published this past spring in the journal Advances in Nutrition—and it’s the first of many that I’d like to share with you here.
In fact, according to another recent study, men have a significant amount of protection to gain from eating mushrooms, too…
Slash prostate cancer risk by 17 percent
In this new study, Japanese researchers monitored two cohorts of nearly 36,500 men, aged 40 to 79 years, for anywhere from 13 to 25 years.
The men reported on a range of factors, from diet choices (including mushroom consumption) and physical activity, to smoking and drinking habits, to education level and family medical history.
Results showed that regular mushroom consumption slashed prostate cancer risk—especially in men over the age of 50 years. And this benefit held true regardless of other dietary choices (like how much fruit, vegetables, meat, or dairy the men ate).
More specifically, out of the participants in the study, just over three percent developed prostate cancer during the follow-up period. But results showed that the men who ate mushrooms once or twice weekly had an eight percent lower risk of developing the disease, versus men who ate mushrooms less than once weekly.
And men who ate mushrooms three or more times per week had a 17 percent lower risk of prostate cancer than their counterparts who didn’t eat any mushrooms at all.2
But the news gets even better. After all, cancer isn’t the only health threat that escalates with age… Alzheimer’s and dementia are growing problems, too. And it just so happens that mushrooms may serve a protective role in that fight, as well.
Powerful plate-to-brain protection
The Diet and Healthy Aging (DaHA) study, as the name suggests, was designed to pinpoint dietary factors that boost longevity and cut the risk of age-related chronic diseases, like dementia.
And, once again, this research focused on regular varieties of mushrooms you can find in any grocery store:
- Golden • Oyster
- Shiitake • White button
- Dried • Canned and drained button mushrooms
Researchers looked at dietary data from more than 600 Chinese adults over 60 years of age—90 of whom suffered from mild cognitive impairment (MCI), the precursor for dementia. And they found that just half a cup of mushrooms weekly was enough to slash MCI risk significantly.
Plus, subjects who ate about 1.5 cups per week had their risk of MCI drop by a whopping 50 percent—even after accounting for other dietary factors.3
How mushrooms work their magic
Of course, mushrooms aren’t usually considered a superfood, like blueberries or kale. But the research I shared above—and research into their bioactive components—clearly shows that it’s high time we started thinking of them as such.
Mushrooms contain the amino acid ergothioneine, which has particularly powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. And since mushrooms are the single most abundant food source of ergothioneine, it makes sense how consuming them may play a direct role in slowing cognitive decline and warding off cancer.
(Shiitake, oyster, maitake, and king oyster mushrooms have the highest ergothioneine content. But common varieties like white button, cremini, or portabello are just as powerful to add as part of your healthy, daily diet.)
That’s because they contain other compounds—like hericenones, erinacines, scabronines, and dictyophorines—that may increase the generation of nerve growth factors, and block the production of Alzheimer’s-related substances like amyloid beta, tau, and acetylcholinesterase. Along with many other key nutrients, like selenium, B vitamins, and disease-fighting vitamin D. And speaking of vitamin D…
A natural source of vitamin D
As part of a 2013 study, Boston University researchers gave 30 healthy adults daily capsules filled with either vitamin D2, vitamin D3, or a powdered serving of sun-exposed mushrooms. All of the capsules delivered 50 mcg (2,000 IU) of vitamin D.
After 12 weeks, results showed that all of the subjects enjoyed the same improvements in vitamin D status. Even the ones who took the powdered mushrooms!4
Of course, I simply can’t imagine anyone eating enough mushrooms to do away with sunshine and D supplements altogether. (That’s why I still recommend at least 50 mcg [2,000] to 125 mcg [5,000 IU]—and up to 250 mcg [10,000 IU] of D3 per day.) But there’s still a very valuable takeaway here…
The next time you bring home fresh mushrooms, don’t just store them away in the fridge. Take them outside, unwrap them, and lay them in the sun for at least 30 minutes first.
It might sound silly to set your mushrooms out to “tan”—but the science speaks for itself, and you have many potential health benefits to gain.
And if you’re not sure how to incorporate mushrooms into your balanced diet, you can start slowly. Add them to your breakfast omelets, as part of a healthy salad, or as a topping to your grilled steak or tuna melt.
I also have plenty of healthy recipes included in my A-List Diet book—and I’ll be sure to cook with mushrooms in an upcoming Cooking With Dr. Fred show. (Be sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel, “The Dr. Fred Show”, and follow me on Instagram, @DrFredNYC, so you never miss a cooking demo!)
Or I hope you’ll try one of my favorite recipes! (See below.)
Portobello Mushroom Topped with Scrambled Eggs (serves 2)
- 1/3 cup sour cream
- 1 tablespoon macadamia nut oil, plus more for brushing
- 1 teaspoon minced chipotles in adobo
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2 large portobello mushroom caps
- coarse sea salt
- 8 eggs
- freshly ground black pepper
- macadamia nut oil spray
- 1 cup arugula
- Preheat the broiler.
- In a bowl, whisk together the sour cream, oil, chipotle, and garlic and set aside.
- Place the portobello caps, cap-side up, on a baking sheet. Brush the tops lightly with oil and season with salt. Broil until tender, about 5 minutes.
- In another bowl, whisk the eggs and season with salt and pepper. Coat a large skillet with macadamia nut oil spray and pour in the eggs. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until creamy curds form, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat while the eggs are still runny.
- Place the portobellos, cap-side up, on serving plates and top each with eggs, sour cream sauce, and arugula. Serve.
- Ba DM, et al. Higher Mushroom Consumption Is Associated with Lower Risk of Cancer: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies,Advances in Nutrition, 2021;, nmab015, doi.org/10.1093/advances/nmab015
- ZhangS, et al. Mushroom consumption and incident risk of prostate cancer in Japan: A pooled analysis of the Miyagi Cohort Study and the Ohsaki Cohort Study. International Journal of Cancer, 2019; DOI: 10.1002/ijc.32591
- 3.“Mushrooms May Cut Cognitive Impairment Risk.” Medscape Medical News, 03/20/2019. (medscape.com/viewarticle/910668)
- “Mushrooms Can Provide as Much Vitamin D as Supplements,” ScienceDaily (www.sciencedaily.com), 4/22/13