There are over 20,000 known species of mushrooms, and at least 50 have health-promoting properties. While most people are familiar with the white button mushrooms, there are other mushroom choices at the grocery store, with potential therapeutic value.
Asian countries use mushrooms as medicinal foods to stimulate the immune system in patients with HIV and cancer. Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center website has interesting information on mushrooms and cancer under “about herbs.” I do not know if oncologists are using this nutritional information in clinical practice.
Shittake mushrooms contain eight amino acids, linoleic acid and have a potent immune stimulating polysaccharide called beta-1,3 glucan.
Maitake mushrooms also contain many nutrients and have similar but slightly different immune boosting properties, beta 1,6 glucan.
Reishi mushrooms also can stimulate the immune system with beta-glucans and polysaccharides.
These mushrooms have demonstrated anti-tumor activities that include reduced metastases by limiting the attachment of cancer cells to endothelial cells. Reishi mushrooms inhibit proliferation, so cancer cells may not reproduce as quickly. They may be useful as nutritional therapy in oncology, especially with fast-growing cancers such as ovarian cancer.
You don’t have to wait until you've been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease or cancer to use foods like mushrooms. They may offer prevention against illness if you just cook with them, so include some with potential medicinal value.
If your grocery store doesn’t carry these mushrooms, try an Asian market, farmer’s market or health food store.