Author: Ravinder Lilly BSc (Diet) MA
Medicinal mushrooms have been used for centuries to boost immunity and to help to keep infections at bay. The infection candida is common and caused by a yeast-like substance that is related to fungi. So, where it comes to candida infections, are mushrooms on the menu or a definite no-no?
Candida albicans is a yeast-like fungus that naturally inhabits your digestive tract. It normally lives in balance with the other bacteria and yeasts in and on the skin and mucous membranes without causing problems. So, you don’t catch candida – it is already there.
A number of factors can cause infection; one of these is when numbers of the beneficial (probiotic) micro-organisms that usually keep numbers of candida tightly controlled can’t control the rising number of pathogenic (disease forming) micro-organisms.
Fungal infection thrives in the warm, damp areas of the body (genitals and the mouth) and symptoms can include:
• yeasty smelling, vaginal discharge/whitish lesions
• redness, itching and swelling in the affected areas
• painful sexual intercourse and/or urination1.
Ways to contain candida
As well as eating a healthy diet that is low in sugar, some experts also recommend a diet free from yeast-containing foods e.g. yeasted breads and yeast-containing spreads and alcohol. While some experts recommend avoiding mushrooms (because mushrooms are closely related to yeasts) there are no universally agreed dietary guidelines, and whether you can eat mushrooms if you have candida or are prone to candida infection is a grey area. But medicinal mushrooms may be a different matter.
Supermarket mushrooms – on the menu or off?
There is a lot of debate about whether mushrooms feed candida overgrowth or not.
Some suggest that mushrooms may encourage growth of candida yeast. Since they are members of the fungi family, it is thought they may cross-react with the candida micro-organisms. In other words, because they are somewhat similar in nature, your body and your immune system may confuse them and think they are candida, according to Dr Amy Myers MD3. The result could therefore be a reaction triggering inflammation as the immune system tries to neutralise the perceived threat, adds Dr Myers. Others suggest another new fungus introduced into to the gut may compete with the candida for food. What we do know, though, is that the kind of mushrooms that you’ll find on your supermarket shelves are different to the kinds that have been used for medicinal purposes (apart from shiitake and oyster varieties)4.
So, mushroom stir-fry or no-mushroom stir-fry? Well, you might want to avoid dietary mushrooms but consider medicinal mushrooms to boost your immune system and fight infection.
More about medicinal mushrooms
Fungi are not exactly plants and or animals. And, they have evolved to protect themselves against bacteria and moulds. These antimicrobial properties are one reason they have been used for centuries especially in traditional Chinese and Japanese medicines. Medicinal mushrooms contain amino acids, calcium, zinc, selenium, magnesium, and B vitamins including folate. They are also low in sugar, provide prebiotics and so support the formation of healthy probiotic bacteria. Some of their active constituents modulate or optimise immune function. Certain mushrooms even have antifungal benefits including anti-yeast activity against candida4.
For example, the medicinal mushroom Ganoderma lucidum (reiishi), has adaptogenic properties (which means that it helps your body to adapt to and cope with stress) and can support the immune system. Grifola frondosa (maitake), Trametes versicolour (turkey tail) and Cordyceps sinensis (caterpillar mushroom) have been used for their immune-supporting properties also. Lentinula edodes (shiitake), Pleurotus ostreatus (oyster) and Flammulina velutipes (enoki) mushrooms have also been used for medicinal purposes – as well as taste!
Cooking converts the complex carbohydrates in mushrooms into simple sugars, and raises their glycaemic load, although it does free up the antioxidant levels. If you are looking for something more specific, there are a number of commercially available mushroom products through health-food stores that are worth exploring. Plus, you might also want to consider incorporating probiotic foods into the diet, such as yoghurt, sauerkraut and kefir, or taking a probiotic to reintroduce beneficial probiotic bacteria into the gut as this may help to balance flora.
Talk to your doctor if you think you may have candida in order to rule out conditions that may result in similar symptoms, or whether prescribed medicines may be affecting candida infection. If you are at all worried and/or symptoms persist, see your healthcare professional.
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1. Mayo Clinic. Yeast infection (vaginal). https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/yeast-infection/symptoms-causes/syc-20378999
2. Muthukumaran Jayachandran,1 Jianbo Xiao,2, and Baojun Xu1, A Critical Review on Health Promoting Benefits of Edible Mushrooms through Gut Microbiota. Int J Mol Sci. 2017 Sep; 18(9): 1934. Published online 2017 Sep 8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5618583/
3. Nine foods to ditch if you have candida. Dr Amy Myers MD. https://www.amymyersmd.com/2016/07/9-foods-to-avoid-if-you-have-candida/
4. Mushroom Biology and Mushroom Products. Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference on Mushroom Biology and Mushroom Products 29th September – 3rd October, 2008 Bonn, Germany. https://www.scribd.com/document/6470300/Antimicrobial-Activities-of-Four-Wild-Mushroom-Species-Collected-From-Turkey