These everyday mushrooms may have remarkable health benefits.

By Robert Sietsema
Updated August 06, 2004
Wendell Webber


Mushrooms have been a part of Asian medicine for thousands of years, and Western doctors are (um...finally?) starting to take notice. "It's a very promising area of study," says Woodson C. Merrell, M.D., executive director of the Beth Israel Medical Center's Continuum Center for Health and Healing, in New York City. "There isn't any doubt that mushrooms help stimulate the immune system and have significant potential to fight infections and diseases."

Why Shiitakes Are Powerful

Shiitake mushrooms, which contain the substance lentinan, have received the most attention. In a 1969 study by Japan's National Cancer Center Research Institute, lentinan was shown to slow the growth of digestive-system cancers in mice. A survey conducted from 1972 to 1986 by the Japanese Ministry of Health and Welfare found that Japanese mushroom workers who ate their crops over a long period had a lower death rate from cancers. Now, that's what you call a magic mushroom.