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Yet again: eating lots of mushrooms protects against cancer

Not long ago we wrote about a Korean study in which a daily diet containing over 15 g shiitake mushrooms, oyster mushrooms and other edible fungi reduced the chance of developing breast cancer. This may not have just been a one-off. We found another Korean study with more or less the same message. It was published in 2010 in Nutrition & Cancer by researchers at the National Cancer Center in Gyeonggi-do.

The researchers asked 358 women who had been diagnosed as having breast cancer about their intake of edible mushrooms (so not supplements). They asked the same questions of a control group of 360 women who did not have cancer.

The most popular mushrooms were oyster mushrooms, shiitake, button mushrooms and enokitake.

The researchers were not funded by mushroom growers but by the Korean government.

A high mushroom intake reduced the chances of developing breast cancer.

Yet again: eating lots of mushrooms protects against cancer

In Korea it is health-conscious people who eat mushrooms. So the relationship between mushrooms and cancer may be the consequence of lifestyle factors such as a diet containing lots of vegetables or a lifestyle that involves lots of exercise. But when the researchers filtered out the effects of these factors, mushrooms were still found to have a protective effect. Generally speaking, that is.

Among the post-menopausal women the trend of 'more mushrooms less risk of cancer' remained intact, but was no longer statistically significant. However, you might not want to attach too much value to this: in the other Korean study we mentioned above, it was the other way around - mushrooms appeared to have a greater protective effect among post-menopausal women.

Yet again: eating lots of mushrooms protects against cancer

Yet again: eating lots of mushrooms protects against cancer

When the Koreans analysed their data further, they noticed that mushrooms offered protection above all against the types of breast cancer that are stimulated by estradiol and progesterone (ER+/PR+). Click on the figure below for a larger, more legible version.

Yet again: eating lots of mushrooms protects against cancer

Possible mechanism
"The potentially beneficial effects of mushrooms, especially with regard to antitumor activities, have been investigated primarily in terms of their extracts and constituents," the Koreans wrote. "It has been hypothesized that mushrooms block the formation of carcinogens, alter membrane structure, suppress DNA synthesis, enhance cell differentiation, and compete with estrogen for estrogen receptors."

"Most research has entailed isolating pharmaceutically active mushroom compounds (e.g., alpha- and beta-glucans from Agaricus blazei, lentinan from Lentinus edodes, schizophyllan from Schizophyllum commune, grifolan from Grifola frondosa). Such polysaccharides have been hypothesized as plausible biological links to the mechanisms by which mushrooms function on macrophages, natural killer cells, and subsets of T cells."

Yet again: eating lots of mushrooms protects against cancer

"To the best of our knowledge, this study is the first to explore the association between dietary mushroom intake and the risk of breast cancer according to hormone receptor status," the researchers summarise.

"In conclusion, our findings suggest that a high intake of mushrooms is inversely associated with breast cancer risks, especially among premenopausal women, and that dietary mushroom intake may play a role in preventing breast cancer in patients with ER+/PR+ tumors."

"Given the paucity of evidence in support of the association between diet, especially the intake of mushrooms, and breast cancers as defined by hormone receptor status, further studies are needed to underpin more detailed guidelines for breast cancer prevention."

Nutr Cancer. 2010;62(4):476-83.

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