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Mushrooms: Nature's Ultimate “Super Food”

More and more people – doctors among them – have become aware that when it comes to preventing illness and disease, food plays a major role. This shift toward good nutrition as the key to a long, healthy life isn't just based on anecdotal evidence. A growing body of medical research is backing the old adage that “you are what you eat.” This nutritional research is also finding that not all foods are equal. When it comes to good nutrition some are better than others.  

Researchers and health practitioners are identifying what they call “super foods” – foods shown to have tremendous health benefits, including the ability to help prevent many diseases. The super foods theory has led to increased studies on the health benefits of specific foods, with mushrooms being one food that has received much recent attention. And what researchers are finding is that mushrooms really do provide many of the health benefits that Asian cultures have long claimed. The use of mushrooms for food and medicinal purposes dates back several thousand years, while in recent decades mushrooms have become popular in the Western world for their nutritional and health benefits. Mushrooms are complex biological organisms that contain numerous bioactive nutrients and antioxidants.

High in antioxidants, beta-glucans and polysaccharides, mushrooms are one of nature’s most perfect foods. Not only are they loaded with healthy nutrients, but those nutrients are easily absorbed and used by mammals. Recent research has focused on a unique potent antioxidant in mushrooms – called L-Ergothioneine (ERGO) – as a natural way of nutritionally supporting your body’s immune system to fight off diseases ranging from cancer to HIV AIDS. ERGO appears to be a far more powerful antioxidant than other substances such as beta-carotene and vitamins C and E. One unit of synthetic ERGO antioxidant is equal to 7,000 units of the antioxidant Trolox (water soluble vitamin E.) Antioxidants are the body’s defense system against cellular damage – damage that contributes to aging, injury, cancer and many other diseases.

Research has shown that the ERGO antioxidant found in mushrooms is not only one of the most potent of antioxidants but also the one most efficiently used by the body. Humans and animals, horses included, possess a unique specific “transport” system that moves ERGO into important cells in the body, such as the red and white blood cells. And unlike antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, unused ERGO appears to be stored by the body for quick use rather than flushed as waste.

The awareness that nutrition plays a key role in promoting good health has led to the growth of the multi-million dollar nutritional supplement market. The purpose of all of these nutritional supplements is to provide the body with the nutrients it needs and would have if everyone ate a proper and balanced diet. Since most of us no longer eat properly, we have come to depend on these nutritional supplements, such as vitamin pills, to fill in the gaps. The problem, however, is that most of these supplements on which we rely often contain synthetic or extracted chemicals and nutrients whose absorption, cell penetration and physiologic effects are questionable.

Most nutrition experts today agree that the best nutrition comes from whole foods. The cellular processes of mammals are complex and need a complex food to match. Mushrooms, as it turns out, are one of the most complex foods available, containing more than 3,000 specific chemicals that match the system requirements of most mammals, humans included. The best advice for good nutrition should perhaps not be "Eat your vegetables" but instead, "Eat your mushrooms."

Mushrooms: Many Species, Many Medical Uses
Most consumers are familiar with white button mushrooms, but mycological scientists have identified approximately forty-six thousand mushroom species that are currently categorized. Mushrooms are fungi and the study of fungi is called mycology, the term being derived from the Greek word mykes. They are heterotrophic, requiring organic carbon compounds of varying degrees of complexity for growth and reproduction. Most fungi exist as microscopic filaments or hyphae which form a complex mycelium or network.  In some cases the mycelia form large complicated structures as exemplified in the mushrooms.

In the scientific literature, mushrooms are commonly referred to as the “great decomposer.” These unique, whole biologic organisms have the ability to digest and break down organic material into smaller organic molecules that are nutritionally bioavailable to plants, animals and humans.  Mushrooms are truly “the food that feeds the food.” Some of the greatest physiological chemistry of our time has been produced by these biologic species, examples being antibiotics such as Penicillin and Streptomycin. In the 1960s, when surgical transplants of organs were being developed, the major problem was organ rejection. Compounds were extracted from mushrooms that helped to significantly decrease organ rejection.

Approximately 2,000 mushroom types have been used and/or studied and found to have chemistry with medical potential. Out of the two-thousand species, twenty have been used by different cultures to treat serious illnesses. This class, termed “Medicinal Mushrooms” has been used for the last 4000 years. It is well documented, for example that Chinese emperors organized medical compendiums on the activities of certain mushrooms. Native Americans were also very adept with the use of plants and mushrooms to treat serious disease states. Their medicine was handed down from shaman to shaman. Researchers who interviewed these various cultures and communities have published a number of articles describing many medicinal uses of mushrooms.

With the advent of modern chemistry, analytical equipment has enabled detailed studies of medicinal mushrooms over the last forty years. Universities, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies have published thousands of investigational studies on a wide variety of mushroom species. Research has been performed in Europe and in the U.S., including at research centers at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA), the University of Minnesota and at Pennsylvania State University. The results of this research have even led to applications in the pharmaceutical industry. One good modern example of the use of mushrooms to combat illness and disease is that of the Pleurotus mushroom, also known as King Oyster. This mushroom produces a chemical that reduces cholesterol. The drug class resulting from the Pleurotus mushroom is called Lovastatin and it is sold under the brand names of Mevacor, Advicor, Altocor, Altoprev and Statosan.

Modern Mushroom Production
Consistent production of successful mushroom crops is built upon scientific knowledge and practical experience. To date, about 35 mushroom species have been cultivated commercially with about 20 cultivated on an industrial scale. Most of these species are both edible and possess medicinal properties. Some of the main medicinal mushrooms, both edible and non-edible, include Ganoderma lucidum (Reishi or Ling Zhi), Lentinus (Lentinula) edodes (Shiitake), Phellinus linteus, Porio cocos, Auricularia auricula, Hericium erinaceus, Grifola frondosa (Maitake), Flammulina velutipes, Pleurotus ostreatus (Oyster mushroom), Trametes (Coriolus) versicolor, Tremella fuciformis, Schizophyllum commune and the non-mushroom Cordyceps sinensis (the caterpillar fungus).

Mushroom cultivation involves several different operations, each of which must be performed accurately if the enterprise is to be successful in terms of strain selection and maintenance, spawn production, substrate and crop management for production. Mycelium production by liquid tank fermentation is now increasingly being used for the production of more uniform medicinal products. YS Nutrition uses pure substrates and a controlled growth environment that ensures the final purity of the products.

It is the mission of YS Nutrition to provide both people and animals with easy access to the many health benefits of this "super food" called mushrooms. YS Nutrition’s natural supplements for humans, horses and dogs are all natural, organic blends of the healthiest of medicinal mushroom varieties. With YS Nutrition, it’s easy to get your daily dose of one of nature's most important super foods.