Shedding Light on Mushrooms
Health Benefits of Mushrooms
Homocysteine and Memory
Ask Dr. J: Vegan Candida diet
In The Health News
Diet and Disease
Stuffed Portabella Mushrooms
Many people make New Year’s Resolutions to improve
their lifestyles but have difficulty following through with
them, sometimes not starting at all, and sometimes starting
with great enthusiasm, only to fail because of waning motivation
and the intrusion of all the life events that led to avoiding
these things in the first place. A new study of children and
young teens sheds some light on the problem.
In a study published in the Archives of Pediatrics &
Adolescent Medicine, researchers report that for kids, fun
and fitness are more likely to provide motivation to exercise
than concerns about weight. What is true for children and
adolescents in this regard is also true for the vast majority
of people. They know they should exercise (and eat better
and reduce their stress), but they do not do so because they
see it as a struggle or a sacrifice (of time, energy, or other
pleasures) rather than a pleasure in itself.
Most people will not maintain a healthy lifestyle simply
because it is healthy; they have to experience real pleasure
from their foods, exercise activities, and relaxation efforts
or they will abandon them. They need to learn that healthy
foods are delicious, and can be prepared in a wide variety
of interesting combinations, without too much work. The foods
that other higher animals eat, and that most people in less
industrialized countries have eaten for millennia, are those
that are not only healthful, but also give them pleasurable
People also need to recognize that many exercises can be
fun rather than a chore. Hiking, bicycling, tennis, basketball,
handball, rollerblading, kayaking, skiing, and dancing are
examples of activities that most people enjoyed when they
were younger but abandoned because of the obligations of work,
family, and other responsibilities, and failure to appreciate
their importance. You do not have to be an endurance athlete
to achieve better health through physical activity, although
nothing is wrong with athletic training if you like to do
that. The important thing is to find an activity that you
enjoy and do it regularly, just as you would brush your teeth.
Even though we all feel that our schedules are tight, it
is surprising how much time we can find when we are committed
to something (for example, you can ride a stationary bike
while watching the news). While change is difficult, it is
easier if you see healthy changes as adding pleasures to your
life. I have a friend who had tried to quit smoking many times.
Then one day he just stopped (without “quitting,”
and the psychological pressures that such artificial goals
engender) and with no process, technique, or plan. His “inner
being” was just ready for the change. I tell patients
not to sacrifice pleasure for health, not only because I know
they won’t do it, but also because I know they don’t
Mushrooms and other fungi have a long history of both culinary
and medicinal use. In China and Japan and other Asian countries,
some mushrooms have been revered for thousands of years for
their health benefits. They are also traditional foods in
other parts of the world. Mushrooms have had a mystique in
many cultures, thought to provide immortality, sexual prowess,
and strength, or to convey spirituality. Perhaps some of this
reputation derives from varieties of psychedelic mushrooms
containing psilocybin (often called “magic” or
Although some toxic species of mushrooms get a lot of attention,
and you do have to be extremely careful if you decide to pick
wild mushrooms, those in the food markets are not a problem.
A wide variety of common and exotic or specialty mushrooms
are now available for cooking and as dietary supplements for
both medicinal purposes and preventive medicine. (If you do
pick your own, you should definitely take them to an expert
for evaluation unless you are very experienced. I have picked
cepes, or porcini, mushrooms while hiking in the Pyrenees
Mountains, but I had a guide who knew mushrooms well.)
In many markets, in addition to the usual white button mushrooms,
you can also find a wider variety of edible mushrooms. These
may include portabella, crimini (baby versions of the portabella),
shiitake, oyster mushrooms, chanterelles, maitake (also called
“hen of the woods”), and morels. In Chinese recipes,
they often use “wood ears” or “tree ears”
which grow right out of the trunks of dead trees and look
Mushrooms are nutritious. For example, 100 grams of raw portabella
mushroom (about 3 ounces) contain only 26 calories, but 2.5
grams of protein, 5 grams of carbohydrate, virtually no fat,
484 mg of potassium, and significant amounts of copper, manganese,
and zinc. Because they are 90 percent water, when mushrooms
are cooked down this would be a small portion, so typical
portions of cooked mushrooms can be significant sources of
nutrients and fiber.
Portabella mushrooms contain 1.5 grams of dietary fiber per
100 grams. Fiber is one of the most neglected nutrients. Although
it is not digested or absorbed, it is quite important for
intestinal health, cholesterol control, and appetite suppression.
Compare mushrooms with meat (which has zero fiber), and you
find that mushrooms have more protein per calorie than typical
cuts of meat (19 grams of protein for 239 calories, to say
nothing of the 153 calories from fat).
Mushrooms have a unique nutty, savory flavor, and can be
combined in many different recipes. I recommend many ways
to prepare mushrooms, including grilled or pan fried, sautéed
with onions and garlic, minced up as part of a mushroom-bean
pâté, stir-fried with oriental vegetables, and
stuffed caps with brown rice and walnuts. They are also great
in soups, such as miso or mushroom-barley, or simply sliced
and added to a salad. Some of these recipes are found in my
earlier newsletters (and this one), and you can find many
on the Internet or recipe books.
While many mushrooms may have the same or similar healthful
properties, some have been specifically studied and reported
in medical literature. Mushrooms can boost immunity, reduce
cardiovascular disease, lower blood pressure, and fight infections,
and they may help to treat cancer. Shiitakes have specific
antibacterial effects, killing some pathogenic bacteria while
not harming the normal intestinal flora that are needed for
Maitake extract (D-fraction, a polysaccharide) activates
macrophages, natural killer cells, and T-cells, and inhibits
tumor growth. In mice with breast cancer, treatment with chemotherapy
was reduced and survival was 100 percent when they were given
maitake extract along with the drug. In a study of 10 cancer
patients, maitake D-fraction reduced metastases, inhibited
tumor growth, lessened the expression of tumor markers, and
enhanced NK cell activity. Reishi mushroom extracts have similar
Polysaccharide immune modulators (beta glucans) found in
mushrooms are probably responsible for many of their healthful
properties. They lower LDL-cholesterol and triglyceride levels,
reducing heart risk. Other components of reishi and others
help to lower blood pressure. Mushrooms may benefit HIV patients
because of their immune support and effect on natural killer
cells and T-cell balance and function.
New research ties high serum homocysteine (Hcy) level with
an increased risk of memory loss. In memory testing on 2189
adults over six years, those who developed memory loss were
found to have higher Hcy levels and lower folate levels than
those without memory loss. In subjects who had a high Hcy
and low folate at the beginning, if these levels had improved
by the end of the study, their memory scores increased.
Homocysteine is a metabolite known to be associated with
vascular disease risk, and may itself be directly toxic to
the blood vessels, rather than just a marker. Dementias are
often associated with vascular disease, so doing what is possible
to reduce the vascular risk may well help to improve brain
function. It may also be that Hcy is toxic to the brain as
well as blood vessels.
Earlier studies have shown a relationship between Hcy levels
and the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other
forms of dementia. In a study of 816 subjects followed for
four years, those with high Hcy had twice the risk of dementia.
Independently of Hcy, low folate levels were associated with
almost double the risk of both dementia and Alzheimer’s
Homocysteine elevation is also associated with an increased
risk of strokes. In a study of 1015 men, those with the highest
Hcy levels had almost triple the risk of strokes compared
with men with the lowest levels. Again, men with the highest
folate levels had a 60-65 percent reduction in stroke risk.
Hcy can be reduced by a high intake of fruits, vegetables
(including mushrooms), whole grains, and supplements. In addition
to folic acid, supplements of vitamins B6 and B12 also lower
Q. I have yeast overgrowth, and want to
follow an anti-Candida diet, but I am vegan. Can a vegan follow
—DH, via Internet
Yes, you can. Yeast overgrowth in the intestinal tract can
cause a variety of symptoms from either allergic reactions
or the toxins that yeasts produce. Symptoms may include digestive
disturbances, anxiety, depression, headaches, skin disorders,
recurrent yeast infections, immune dysfunction, allergies,
and chemical sensitivities. It is usually preceded by excessive
antibiotic use, high sugar diets, or hormone therapies, all
of which increase yeast growth.
Candidiasis diets commonly eliminate refined carbohydrates,
such as sugar and white flour, and are low in natural sweets
such as dried fruits, honey, and maple syrup. Some doctors
restrict all fruits, which is unhealthful and usually unnecessary.
The anti-Candida diet is quite compatible with vegetarianism.
You may have to avoid yeast-related foods, such as bread,
cheese, pickles, vinegar, and soy sauce, among others (not
all Candida patients are sensitive to yeast foods). However,
a vegan diet of whole grains, beans, vegetables, fresh fruits,
seeds, and nuts is quite compatible with Candidiasis treatment.
You might also need some supplements, including grapefruit
seed extract, garlic, and probiotics (acidophilus and bifidobacteria),
as part of your treatment program, or some medications, such
as Nystatin or other anti-fungal drugs.
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Composition: Mushrooms, portabella, raw,
USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release
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substances from Lentinus edodes (Berk.) Sing. (Shiitake, an
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Kodama N, et al., Enhancement of cytotoxicity
of NK cells by D-Fraction, a polysaccharide from Grifola frondosa.
Oncol Rep. 2005 Mar;13(3):497-502.
Kodama N, et al., Maitake D-Fraction enhances
antitumor effects and reduces immunosuppression by mitomycin-C
in tumor-bearing mice. Nutrition. 2005 May;21(5):624-9.
Kodama N, et al., Effect of Maitake (Grifola
frondosa) D-Fraction on the activation of NK cells in cancer
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actions of various compounds isolated from medicinal plants.
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Nurk E, et al., Plasma total homocysteine
and memory in the elderly: The Hordaland Homocysteine study.
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A component of green tea may help reverse or slow the progress
of some leukemias. Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is often
a slow growing leukemia in adults. In a report on four patients
with clear evidence of progression, supplements of EGCG (epigallocatechin
gallate) or large amounts of green tea appeared to reverse
the disease. (Shanafelt TD, Clinical effects of oral green
tea extracts in four patients with low grade B-cell malignancies.
Leuk Res. 2005 Nov 30; [Epub ahead of print].) EGCG, a green
tea polyphenol, can cause programmed cell death in leukemic
B-cells. One patient drank 8 cups of green tea per day, and
others took green tea extract in capsules. Lymph node swelling
reversed in three patients.
Antacids, such as Nexium and Zantac, double or triple the
risk of potentially deadly infectious diarrhea from C. dificile,
a bacterium that is difficult to treat. This was shown in
a study of 1672 cases and matched controls. (Dial S, et al.,
Use of gastric acid–suppressive agents and the risk
of community-acquired Clostridium difficile–associated
disease JAMA. 21 December 2005;294(23):2989-2995.) (Instead,
try licorice extract for heartburn.) Anti-inflammatory drugs
(NSAIDS) also increased the risk, but by a smaller amount.
Researchers followed 4304 young adults for 15 years, and
found that higher consumption of plant foods (grains, fruits,
vegetables, nuts, and beans) reduced the risk of hypertension.
At each increasing level of consumption, blood pressures were
lowered; those in the top fifth had a 36 percent reduced risk.
Increasing meat intake had the reverse effect, raising the
risk of developing high blood pressure. Steffen LM, et al.,
Associations of plant food, dairy product, and meat intakes
with 15-y incidence of elevated blood pressure…Am J
Clin Nutr. 2005 Dec;82(6):1169-77.
Using large portabella mushrooms, carefully take off the
stems by squeezing gently near the base and rocking them back
and forth. Clean all surfaces, reserving the caps, and trim
and dice the stems. Sauté these in olive oil with some
garlic, ginger, and onions. Add some mashed tofu, a small
amount of soy sauce, and freshly ground pepper. Stir and then
add some cooked brown rice or whole wheat bread crumbs (about
half as much as the rest of the mix) and toasted sesame seeds,
and stir until the flavors are mixed. Coat the mushroom caps
with olive oil, and cook them on a grill or griddle; the surfaces
should get sizzling brown on both sides, but don’t cook
them completely. Stuff the caps with a mound of the sautéed
mixture and set them individually in a baking dish. Put the
dish in a preheated oven at 400 degrees, and bake them for
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