Scientists have long known that certain types of mushrooms have anti-tumor activity. But what about widely available, common white button mushrooms (WBMs)? Known by the botanical name Agaricus bisporus, they are a tasty addition to everything from salads to pizzas — and, it turns out, they do have powerful health building properties. Agricultural Research Service (ARS) funded studies have shown white button mushrooms enhance the activity of critical cells in the body’s immune system.
Although WBMs make up about 90 percent of the total mushrooms consumed in the United States, little research has been conducted into their nutritional value until the last few years. In groundbreaking animal and lab research conducted at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA) at Tufts University, scientists have now documented how WBMs boost the immune system by increasing the production of proteins that fight disease-causing pathogens. The research team, which included HNRCA director Simin Meydani and his colleague, Dayong Wu, from the HNRCA Nutritional Immunology Laboratory, discovered the mushrooms have a positive impact on immune system cells classified as dendritic cells.
This is important because dendritic cells (DCs) can make white blood cells known as T cells that are crucial to a strong and healthy immune system. Dendritic cells recognize and then deactivate or destroy invading microbes such as bacteria and viruses or antigens (any substances that cause the immune system to respond). What’s more, they may play a role in fighting cancer.
The HNRCA researchers found that the immune system boosting effect of white button mushrooms was related to dosage — the more mushrooms, the more pronounced the immune response. “WBM promote DC maturation and enhance their antigen-presenting function,” the scientists wrote in their research paper, which was published in The Journal of Nutrition. “This effect may have potential in enhancing both innate and T cell-mediated immunity leading to a more efficient surveillance and defense mechanism against microbial invasion and tumor development.”
Another group of scientists at the City of Hope’s Beckman Research Institute in Duarte, California, published a study in Cancer Research that suggests consuming 100 grams of WBMs per day could suppress breast tumor growth in women. The research team concluded: “White button mushrooms may be an important dietary constituent for reducing the incidence of hormone-dependent breast cancer in women. Prevention strategies involving mushrooms are readily available, affordable, and acceptable to the general public…The information gained from our study can aid in the design of more highly developed and effective breast cancer prevention strategies involving dietary constituents such as mushrooms.”