APR 05, 2022 11:00 AM PDT

How Eating Mushrooms Improves Gut Health

WRITTEN BY: Ryan Vingum

Mushrooms have a strange and fascinating history. They’ve always been viewed with significant skepticism, as many types of mushrooms toe the line between poisonous, nutritious, and psychedelic. They’ve been used for medicinal purposes, in religious ceremonies (particularly psychedelic ones), and for nutrition. According to some research, there are a little over 2,000 species of mushrooms that are even edible. 

Among the many health benefits of mushrooms include a richness of several vitamins and minerals. These include vitamin D (which helps support the absorption of calcium to promote bone growth), various antioxidants (which help reduce oxidative stress), and much more.

Many mushrooms also contain polysaccharides, which often serve as a prebiotic in the gut. Prebiotics are beneficial for bacteria in the gut. Certain types of mushrooms, for example, have shown to help promote the growth of certain gut bacteria strains.

That’s why a research team at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, lead by associate professor Zhenhua Liu, has just received a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant to study the health benefits of eating mushrooms.

Specifically, the goal is to study the ways in which mushrooms interact with the gut, focusing on the specific cellular processes in the gut impacted by mushrooms. Because of the benefits to the gut, researchers see their research on mushrooms as a way to counteract western-style diets. 

While there is no specific guideline on what constitutes a “western” diet, it usually comprises foods that are high in unhealthy fats and added sugars (for example, processed foods). While there are a range of health risks associated with this dietary style (such as increased risk of heart disease), some research suggests that western-style diets affect certain cells in the gut and cause inflammation, leading to conditions like inflammatory bowel disease. 

By focusing on the gut, researchers hope to offer ways to ameliorate some of the negative effects of western-style diets. 

Sources: EurekaAlert!; European Journal of Nutrition; Cell Host & Microbe

About the Author
Master's (MA/MS/Other)
Science writer and editor, with a focus on simplifying complex information about health, medicine, technology, and clinical drug development for a general audience.
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