Shiitake Mushroom and cancer research

Other common name(s): Japanese mushroom, Black Forest mushroom, golden oak mushroom, oakwood mushroom

Scientific/medical name(s): Lentinus edodes, Lentinula edodes


A shiitake mushroom is an edible fungus native to Asia and grown in forests. Shiitake mushrooms are the second most commonly cultivated edible mushrooms in the world. Extracts from the mushroom, and sometimes the whole dried mushroom, are used in herbal remedies.


Studies in animals have found antitumor, cholesterol-lowering, and virus-inhibiting effects in compounds in shiitake mushrooms. However, clinical studies are needed to determine whether these properties can help people with cancer and other diseases. It is reasonable to include shiitake mushrooms as part of a balanced diet.

How is it promoted for use?

Shiitake mushrooms are promoted to fight the development and progression of cancer and AIDS by boosting the body’s immune system. These mushrooms are also said to help prevent heart disease by lowering cholesterol levels and to help treat infections such as hepatitis by producing interferon, a group of natural proteins that stops viruses from multiplying. Promoters claim that eating both the cap and stem of the mushroom may be helpful, but they do not say how much must be eaten to have an effect. They say the strength and effects of the mushroom depend on how it is prepared and consumed.

Promoters claim that shiitake mushrooms contain several compounds with health benefits. A compound called lentinan is believed to stop or slow tumor growth. Another component, activated hexose-containing compound (also known as 1,3-beta glucan), is also said to reduce tumor activity and lessen the side effects of cancer treatment. The mushrooms also contain the compound eritadenine, which is thought to lower cholesterol by blocking the way cholesterol is absorbed into the bloodstream. These claims are currently being studied.

What does it involve?

The fresh or dried whole mushroom is widely available in grocery stores, while extracts of the mushroom are sold in capsule form in health food stores and on the Internet. Kits for growing shiitake mushrooms indoors at home are available from some Internet sellers.

For medicinal purposes, the extracts of compounds in shiitake mushrooms would usually be recommended, rather than the mushroom itself. For example, some Japanese researchers give lentinan along with chemotherapy to treat patients with lung, nose, throat, and stomach cancer. Extracts of the active compounds, such as lentinan and eritadenine, are mainly sold in Japan. Activated hexose-containing compound is sold as a nutritional supplement in the United States, Europe, and Japan.

What is the history behind it?

Medicinal use of shiitake mushrooms dates at least to 100 AD in China. The mushrooms have been widely consumed as a food for thousands of years in the East and more recently in the West. Today, shiitake mushrooms are very popular in the United States as well. Research into the anticancer properties of shiitake mushrooms has been going on since at least the 1960s.

What is the evidence?

Animal studies have shown some positive results regarding the antitumor, cholesterol-lowering, and virus-inhibiting effects of several active compounds in shiitake mushrooms. There have been some studies in humans. At least one randomized clinical trial of lentinan has shown it to prolong life of patients with advanced and recurrent stomach and colorectal cancer who were also given chemotherapy. Lentinan is a beta glucan (sometimes called beta glycan) that is found in several mushrooms, yeasts, and other foods. Beta glucan is a polysaccharide, a large and complex molecule made up of smaller sugar molecules. The beta glucan polysaccharide is believed to stimulate the immune system and activate certain cells and proteins that attack cancer, including macrophages, T-cells, and natural killer cells. In laboratory studies, beta glucan appears to slow the growth of cancer in some cell cultures.

Several potential cancer-fighting substances have been found in shiitake mushrooms, and purified forms of these compounds are being studied as treatment for stomach and colorectal cancer. It is not known whether any of these results will apply to the mushrooms bought in supermarkets or the extracts that are sold as supplements. One nonrandomized study published in 2002 looked at use of shiitake mushroom extract by men with prostate cancer but did not find any positive effect. Sixty-two men took the extract 3 times a day. After 6 months, they did not have any significant decrease in their level of prostate-specific antigen (PSA), a protein in the body that typically increases as prostate cancer grows, and nearly a quarter of them had increases in their PSA level. More human clinical trials are under way to understand which, if any, compounds in shiitake mushrooms may be effective for which types of cancers.

To reduce cancer risk, the American Cancer Society’s nutrition guidelines recommend eating a balanced diet that includes five or more servings a day of vegetables and fruit, choosing whole grains over processed and refined foods, and limiting red meats and animal fats. Choosing foods from a variety of fruits, vegetables and other plant sources such as nuts, seeds, whole grain cereals, and beans is healthier than consuming large amounts of one particular food.

Are there any possible problems or complications?

This product is sold as a dietary supplement in the United States. Unlike companies that produce drugs (which must provide the FDA with results of detailed testing showing their product is safe and effective before the drug is approved for sale), the companies that make supplements do not have to show evidence of safety or health benefits to the FDA before selling their products. Supplement products without any reliable scientific evidence of health benefits may still be sold as long as the companies selling them do not claim the supplements can prevent, treat, or cure any specific disease. Some such products may not contain the amount of the herb or substance that is written on the label, and some may include other substances (contaminants). Though the FDA has written new rules to improve the quality of manufacturing processes for dietary supplements and the accurate listing of supplement ingredients, these rules do not take full effect until 2010. And, the new rules do not address the safety of supplement ingredients or their effects on health when proper manufacturing techniques are used.

Most such supplements have not been tested to find out if they interact with medicines, foods, or other herbs and supplements. Even though some reports of interactions and harmful effects may be published, full studies of interactions and effects are not often available. Because of these limitations, any information on ill effects and interactions below should be considered incomplete.

Shiitake mushrooms and their extracts are generally considered safe, although there are reports of diarrhea or bloating. In some people, allergic reactions have developed affecting the skin, nose, throat, or lungs. Relying on this type of treatment alone and avoiding or delaying conventional medical care for cancer may have serious health consequences.

 Source: American Cancer Society


One thought on “Shiitake Mushroom and cancer research

  1. Pingback: Mini Shiitake Mushroom and Black Bean Chipotle Hummus Sliders | The Veggie Slaughterhouse

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