It’s that time of year again when many of us come down with the cold or flu. And as often as we pass around disease-causing germs, we also pass around advice on how to prevent and/or treat the cold or flu. Most of the advice I hear, beyond the usual getting enough rest, drinking plenty of fluids and hot soup are worthless. There are so many different foods and herbs that are said to boost the immune system, but in this post I thought we would look at a commonly eaten mushroom to see if it is helpful.
According to the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, Boston, MA, in Dietary supplementation with white button mushroom enhances natural killer cell activity in C57BL/6 mice:
These results suggest that increased intake of white button mushrooms may promote innate immunity against tumors and viruses through the enhancement of a key component, NK(natural killer) activity. This effect might be mediated through increased IFNgamma and TNFalpha production.
Natural killer cells are important components of the immune system. They help fight both tumors and virus; low levels of NK cells may make you more susceptible to catching a cold or other illnesses. Since white button mushrooms(Agaricus bisporus) appear to enhance NK cell activity, it is tempting to extrapolate that it may help prevent or treat the cold or flu. At this point, this kind of conclusion would be preliminary, but since I already love mushrooms I think I will eat just a little more than usual these days.
If you want to include more mushrooms in your diet, make sure you cook them first, since they tend to contain natural carcinogens(like agaritine) that are fortunately broken down by heat. Shiitake mushrooms are probably a better choice than white button mushrooms since they seem to have more medicinal properties and fewer carcinogens.