Higher mushroom consumption may lower cancer risk

Good news on the ‘shroom front. Researchers at Penn State College of Medicine and Penn State University suggest individuals who consume higher amounts of mushrooms may have a lower risk of cancer.

Judie Bizzozero, Content Director

May 5, 2021

4 Min Read
functional mushrooms

A systematic review and meta-analysis published in Advances in Nutrition examined 17 cancer studies published between 1966 to 2020 that analyzed data from more than 19,500 cancer patients, researchers explored the relationship between mushroom consumption and cancer risk.

Mushrooms are rich in vitamins, nutrients and antioxidants. The findings show these super foods may also help guard against cancer. Even though shiitake, oyster, maitake and king oyster mushrooms have higher amounts of the amino acid ergothioneine than white button, cremini and portabello mushrooms, the researchers found people who incorporated any variety of mushrooms into their daily diets had a lower risk of cancer. According to the findings, individuals who ate 18 g of mushrooms—about 1/8 to 1/4 cup—daily had a 45% lower risk of cancer compared to those who did not eat mushrooms.

“Mushrooms are the highest dietary source of ergothioneine, which is a unique and potent antioxidant and cellular protector,” said Djibril M. Ba, a graduate student in epidemiology at Penn State College of Medicine. “Replenishing antioxidants in the body may help protect against oxidative stress and lower the risk of cancer.”

When specific cancers were examined, the researchers noted the strongest associations for breast cancer as individuals who regularly ate mushrooms had a significantly lower risk of breast cancer. Ba explained this could be because most of the studies did not include other forms of cancer. Moving forward, this research could be helpful in further exploring the protective effects that mushrooms have and helping to establish healthier diets that prevent cancer.

“Overall, these findings provide important evidence for the protective effects of mushrooms against cancer,” said co-author John Richie, a Penn State Cancer Institute researcher and professor of public health sciences and pharmacology. “Future studies are needed to better pinpoint the mechanisms involved and specific cancers that may be impacted.”

Food & Beverage Insider insights

Mushrooms are rich in bioactive compounds and they appeal to the growing shift toward plant-based eating. The potential health benefits associated with mushroom intake have gained recent attention from both researchers and consumers.  What’s more, mushrooms that support immune health have benefited since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, with increased interest and product launches from food, beverage and nutritional supplement manufacturers.

According to Mordor Intelligence, the global functional mushroom market is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8.04% between 2020 and 2025. The demand for medicinal mushrooms is expected to increase significantly, as these mushrooms are being incorporated in various functional food and beverages. For instance, reishi, chaga, and Turkey tails are added with coffee and cocoa. Turkey tails are mild enough to be added to soups and broths as well. Maitake and Shiitake are delicious, simply sautéed with garlic.

Brands are incorporating functional mushrooms in the product offerings. Four Sigmatic incorporated medicinal mushrooms in its coffee, tea, and supplement categories. Similarly, Lifehouse Tonics introduced beverages that include mushrooms as a key ingredient.

Chaga, reishi and cordyceps are the next “it” ingredients from the mushroom family, with an extra emphasis on chaga. They’re adaptogens, rich in antioxidants, and are associated with stimulating the immune system. Chaga is also suggested to support GI health and improve cholesterol levels. These superfoods are typically found in coffee or tea products like REBBL Elixirs and Four Sigmatic Mushroom Coffee Mix but expect them to be used in other beverage categories down the line.

Mycelium (the vegetative part of fungus) is another ingredient that is versatile, nutritionally dense and can be sustainably cultivated. MycoTechnology, which plays in this space, has received a great deal of media attention utilizing a fermentation process with shiitake mushrooms to improve pea and rice protein both functionally and nutritionally. They also produce ClearTaste from mushroom extract, which is, as they put it, “the world’s first organic bitter blocker.” MycoTechnology’s innovations illustrate a key concept: Not only are these new ingredients amazing in and of themselves, but they open a world of possibility through their ability to improve and build upon existing ingredients.


About the Author(s)

Judie Bizzozero

Content Director, Informa Markets Health & Nutrition

Judie Bizzozero oversees food and beverage content strategy and development for the Health & Nutrition group at Informa Markets (which acquired VIRGO in 2014), including the Food & Beverage Insider, Natural Products Insider and SupplySide/Food ingredients North America brands. She reports on market trends, science-based ingredients, and challenges and solutions in the development of healthy foods and beverages. Bizzozero graduated from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University in 1987 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism.

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