The Health Benefits of Shiitake Mushrooms

What Should I Know About It?

shiitake mushrooms
Shiitake mushrooms. Rusty Hill/Photolibrary/Getty Images

In alternative medicine, shiitake is a medicinal mushroom used as a natural remedy for a host of health conditions.

Uses for Shiitake Mushrooms

Long used in traditional Chinese medicine, shiitake is said to boost the immune system and protect against problems ranging from the common cold to cancer. Some alternative medicine proponents claim that shiitake can also help treat infections (such as a hepatitis), lower cholesterol levels, and aid in the prevention of heart disease.

Health Benefits of Shiitake Mushrooms

To date, there is limited scientific support for claims of shiitake's health effects. While findings from animal studies and test-tube research suggest that shiitake may offer certain health benefits, few clinical trials have tested shiitake's effectiveness in treating or preventing any condition. Here's a look at some key study findings:

1) Colon Cancer

Shiitake contains lentinan, a type of beta glucan (an immune-enhancing substance found in other medicinal mushrooms, including maitake). Laboratory research indicates that lentinan may help stimulate the immune system by triggering activity in immune cells (such as natural killer cells and T-cells). In a 2002 study on mice, researchers found that shiitake-extracted lentinan helped hinder the animals' development of colon cancer.

For a study published in 2002, 62 men with prostate cancer took shiitake-containing capsules three times daily for six months. Study results showed that the disease stabilized in only four patients during the treatment period, while 23 patients experienced a progression in their prostate cancer. Given these findings, the study's authors concluded that shiitake extract alone is ineffective as a prostate cancer treatment.

3) Cavities

Preliminary research suggests that shiitake may help stop tooth decay. In a 2000 study on rats, scientists discovered that shiitake-fed animals were less likely to develop cavities (compared to rats that weren't fed shiitake).


Sold fresh or dried in most grocery stores, whole shiitake mushrooms can safely be used in cooking. However, little is known about the health benefits of consuming shiitake as a whole food.

There's some evidence that long-term use of shiitake may lead to dermatitis. It's important to keep in mind that supplements haven't been tested for safety and dietary supplements are largely unregulated. In some cases, the product may deliver doses that differ from the specified amount for each herb. In other cases, the product may be contaminated with other substances such as metals. Also, the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established. You can get further tips on using supplements here.

Using Shiitake Mushrooms for Health

Due to the limited research, it's too soon to recommend shiitake as a treatment for any condition. If you're considering the use of a shiitake supplement in treatment of prevention of a specific health problem, consult your doctor before beginning your supplement regimen. It's also important to note that self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences. 

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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