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High Mushroom Consumption Associated With Lower Cancer Risk

Sorting mushrooms

Key Takeaways

  • Researchers looked at over a dozen studies and found an association between mushroom consumption and lower cancer incidence.
  • The connection seemed to be particularly strong with breast cancer.
  • This may be due to the high level of bioactive compounds in mushrooms, which help to regulate metabolic functions.

 Higher consumption of mushrooms may lower risk of cancer, particularly breast cancer, according to a research review in Advances in Nutrition.

Researchers looked at 17 observational studies that included different levels of mushroom intake along with cancer incidence and found a significant association between lower cancer prevalence and regularly eating mushrooms.

Although they didn't explore the nuances and benefits of specific mushroom types, the researchers did note that mushrooms studied included some of the most commonly eaten varieties, like shiitake, oyster, white button, crimini, and portabellas.

Benefit of Bioactive Compounds

Although the study didn’t cover specific components of mushrooms that might be lowering risk, they did note it is likely because mushrooms are rich in bioactive compounds. These are phytochemicals, which means they’re found in plants, that regulate metabolic functions in beneficial ways.  

Bioactive compounds are also found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and have been shown to reduce inflammation in the body and increase antioxidant activity. In addition to reducing cancer prevalence, eating foods packed with these compounds has been linked to lower rates of:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Alzheimer’s
  • Diabetes
  • Cataracts
  • Age-related functional decline
  • Obesity
  • Immune system dysfunction

Although some degree of inflammation is important for the body to respond to injuries and illness, chronic inflammation can have a breadth of negative effects on both physical and mental health, according to Grant Shields, Ph.D., at the Center for Mind and Brain at the University of California, Davis.

Grant Shields, PhD

Lowering inflammation throughout the body and brain can have a significant outcome on everything from immune system function to mental clarity and overall resilience.

— Grant Shields, PhD

"Lowering inflammation throughout the body and brain can have a significant outcome on everything from immune system function to mental clarity and overall resilience,” he says. “One of the best ways to do this is through your diet, since it can have such a profound effect.”

More Mushroom Benefits

In addition to bioactive compounds, mushrooms are the only plant source that offers vitamin D, although the amount depends on the mushroom type and even how it’s stored.

For example, a study published in the journal Nutrients found vitamin D2 concentration in button mushrooms gradually increased during storage over six days, then began to decline afterward. But mushrooms like oyster and shiitake begin to decline right after harvest and that continues as they’re stored.

Lucina Black, Nutritional Epidemiologist

Mushrooms are unique in terms of vitamin D because unlike plants, they have a high concentration of a substance called ergosterol in their cell walls.

— Lucina Black, Nutritional Epidemiologist

However, that loss is only with non-refrigerated storage. Pop them in the fridge and you’ll slow those losses considerably, according to nutrition researcher Lucinda Black, Ph.D., at the School of Public Health at Curtin University in Australia.

She notes that, "Mushrooms are unique in terms of vitamin D because unlike plants, they have a high concentration of a substance called ergosterol in their cell walls, and this plays a similar role to cholesterol in animals—especially when converting sunlight to vitamin D."

That vitamin, like bioactive compounds, has been associated with lower risk of various cancers, such as colon, breast, and prostate. Other benefits include better bone health, happier mood, and stronger immune system function.

Keeping Them Fresh

Given the importance of storage for maintaining mushroom properties, it’s helpful to have a solid strategy for keeping them in your fridge as long as you can.

Unlike some produce that can be stored in loose plastic bags, mushrooms can get slimy when enclosed that way because they give off moisture, according to dietitian Bonnie Nasar, R.D.N.

Paper bags are the best choice since they’re porous enough to allow for airflow, and they also block light. You can also prolong mushroom life by keeping them in their original packaging, says Nasar, but cover with plastic wrap that has holes poked in it for better air circulation.

One more tip is to keep them near the front of the refrigerator, since they may get too cold in the back, and could even freeze with their high water content.

Having some on hand and stored properly can allow you to throw a handful into soups, stews, wraps, and salads—and get some anti-cancer benefits at the same time.

What This Means For You

Mushrooms have some unique properties that may lower cancer risk, including bioactive compounds and vitamin D. But be sure to store them properly to preserve their benefits.

 

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5 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Djibril M Ba, Paddy Ssentongo, Robert B Beelman, Joshua Muscat, Xiang Gao, John P Richie, Jr, Higher Mushroom Consumption Is Associated with Lower Risk of Cancer: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Observational StudiesAdvances in Nutrition, Published March 16, 2021.

  2. Harvard Health Publishing. Fill up on phytochemicals. February 2019.

  3. Kris-Etherton, P.M., et al. Bioactive compounds in nutrition and health-research methodologies for establishing biological function: the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of flavonoids on atherosclerosis. Annu Rev Nutr. Published July 14, 2004.

  4. Liu RH. Health-promoting components of fruits and vegetables in the dietAdv Nutr. 2013;4(3):384S-92S. doi:10.3945/an.112.003517

  5. Cardwell G, Bornman JF, James AP, Black LJ. A Review of Mushrooms as a Potential Source of Dietary Vitamin DNutrients. 2018;10(10):1498. Published October 13, 2018.