The wonderful world of medicinal mushrooms
Date: 2017-12-01
Author: Ravinder Lilly
Access: Public

Enjoyed as delicacies around the world, mushrooms have also been used for their medicinal properties for thousands of years - from China and Japan to eastern Europe.

Part of the fungi family, mushrooms are rich in nutrients including vitamins and minerals. They also contain fibre and carbohydrates including polysaccharides.


Polysaccharides (including starches, cellulose and the form of carbohydrates that the body stores, glycogen) comprise a number of sugar molecules bonded together.
Probably the best known type of soluble fibre is alpha-glucans (named because of the chemical structure of the molecule) and is found in grains including oats and barley as well as in kefir. The predominant glucans found in mushrooms however, have a different structure and are known as beta-glucans. It is beta-glucans that are believed to be responsible for the major beneficial effects of mushrooms.

The benefits of beta-glucans

Beta-glucan rich mushrooms have been used traditionally as a tonic and adaptogen, due to their perceived ability to help the body adapt to stress. The fermentability of beta-glucans in the gut is believed to constitute the basis of their health perks, and thus beta-glucans are being increasingly considered worldwide for use as a food ingredient due to the dual benefits of increasing fibre intake while providing health enhancing properties.

Variety of beta-glucans

But not all beta-glucans are created equal. Different beta-glucans have different health benefits because of their different chemical make-up. Data shows that barley beta-glucans, for example, are a rich source of soluble fibre for health. But mushroom beta-glucans found in the cell walls of mushrooms, are a different type of soluble fibre and offer different health benefits. Even though they are not made by the body, beta-glucans can have positive effects on the human body, including the potential to assist weight-loss and have even been shown to help boost immunity.

Where to find beta-glucans

Beta-glucans are found in heathy pantry staples such as oats and barley and can be consumed via shiitake, maitake, reiishi and oyster mushroom varieties. They are also found in smaller quantities in yeast and seaweed. So whatever your preference, adding a bit of these beta-glucan containing foods to your diet can help to boost your health, wellbeing and vitality.

Can it get better than beta? Enjoy!

Key points
• Beta-glucans aren’t found or produced naturally by the body but can be found in mushrooms and yeasts plus also in oats and barley.
• The type of beta-glucans in mushrooms are unique.
• Beta-glucans have numerous benefits in the body apart from increasing nutritional fibre.
• The benefits of beta-glucans vary throughout the body and depend on the chemical make-up of each beta-glucan.

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