Shiitake Mushrooms – Enhance your Immune System

Shiitake Mushrooms – Enhance your Immune System

In the last few years, the shiitake mushroom has become a very demanded product due to its properties to combat cancer cells. Moreover, it is an element that helps us fight against infections and cardiovascular diseases. Some of its nutritional properties are having a great vitamin B content, as well as a pleasant flavor. This is one of the reasons why it has been traditionally used for cooking.

What are Shiitake Fungi?

Shiitake or Lentinus edodes, also known as the mushroom of life, grows in tree trunks from oak, beech, eucalyptus and holm oak. It is mainly found in areas with warm and humid climates. It has been traditionally cultivated in countries like China or Japan where it has been used in traditional medicine due to its extraordinary nutritional properties.

Lentinus edodes is classified as highly effective prebiotics that is capable of preserving the balance of the microbiota and supporting the immune response.

It is widely known for being able to combat cancer cells, cardiovascular diseases and infections. That is why it became a popular product in Asia for centuries.

Lentinus edodes is the second most popular edible mushrooms in that part of the world. Moreover, it is also the third most cultivated mushroom in the world, since everyone wants to benefit from its beneficial properties.

Its anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties have become quite popular in Europe, like that of other similar mushrooms such as reishi. The shiitake mushroom helps to keep the blood sugar levels under control and to reduce the inflammation in the body.

Shiitake is rich in proteins with a high biological value that can provide up to nine essential amino acids:

  • Thiamine
  • Riboflavin
  • Niacin
  • Dietary fiber
  • Enzymes
  • Ergosterol
  • Linoelic acid

A heteropolysaccharide obtained from the mushroom hat can invert the altered composition of the intestinal flora and improve our immune response.

Lentinus edodes is considered a unique mushroom due to the fact that it has so many nutrients. As we said before, it has a great amino acids content and types; one of them is linoleic acid, which supports weight loss processes and muscle growth. Without any doubt, it is an element that will benefit athletes who want to adjust their diet to the requirements of their discipline. It will also provide energy for the muscles during highly demanding workouts and competitions.

Linoleic acid also supports the formation of bones, improves the digestion and reduces the allergies in the body, especially food-allergies. These are some of the reasons why it is an excellent product that should be added in our recipes.

Origin of the shiitake mushroom

The cultivation of this species in western countries like China or Japan goes back more than 2000 years. However, it has only recently arrived at eastern Europe and it is being cultivated mainly in Holland.

Ingredient Shiitake Mushrooms

It is a renowned ingredient in the United States as well, which is why it has become the second most produced mushroom in the world after common mushrooms. It has been cultivated in Asian countries since 1000 A.D during the Song Dynasty.

Doctors from ancient China knew the power of the shiitake mushroom and they prescribed it to feed our vital energy. This meant that their recipes provided longevity, protected the immune system and prevented gastrointestinal, hepatic and circulatory problems, as well as colds and the flu.

It is a unique species due to its characteristics. Neolentinus adhaerens is a rare mountain mushroom species, it can cause some confusion, even though its meat is spicy and lacks the plain scales from the hat. Shiitake is an edible mushroom that has a peculiar but pleasant taste with medicinal properties.

This mushroom is also used to obtain an anti-cancer polysaccharide and it is being studied if it can be effective against viruses or to treat diseases like arthritis.

Its cultivation can be traditional, on tree trunks, or in artificial substrates with wood bits and organic matter. The latter format has gained popularity in the last years in order to cultivate them at home.

Physically, it has a ‘hat’ that can grow between five and ten centimeters of diameter. It has a convex shape during most of its growth that it tends to remain flat and even to drop a little in the last stages of its maturity.

This mushroom is a very requested product for many traditional recipes, not only in Asian countries. It has a thick ‘meat’ of a whitish color, a very pleasant smell and a specific flavor that is equally pleasant. This is why it has always been demanded in soups or other recipes.

Properties of shiitake mushrooms

We have already seen how shiitake has been widely used in Asian traditional medicine, as well as being a very valuable food among the population. Nowadays, it has the same features all around the world, as well as being added to different food supplements. Many people are including shiitake in their diet and using this type of products in order to treat several problems in the body.

Some of its main properties are:

  • Strengthening the immune system, which increases its possible uses. It tends to provide support for viral and bacterial problems, since it stimulates the production of interferon, lymphocytes T and macrophages. This means that it can help in cases of herpes, flu or colds
  • Providing support in cases of cancer and tumors, it can produce an antioxidant effect (containing lentinan, beta-glucan, superoxide dismutase enzyme, vitamin A, vitamin C, E and selenium)
  • Treating cardiovascular diseases, since it helps to control the hypertension, lowers the cholesterol and reduces the viscosity of the blood. This is all due to the fact that it contains eritadenine and a type of fiber called chitin
  • Supporting the digestion thanks to its digestive enzymes, especially pepsin and trypsin
  • Anti-aging effect due to its high antioxidant content and because it supports proper levels of the growth hormone
  • Improving the effect of vitamin D when we sunbathe thanks to its ergosterol content. It is a very important nutrient for the bones and phosphorus properly
  • Its linoleic acid supply helps to produce different types of prostaglandins

Nutritional value

When it comes to the nutritional value of shiitake mushrooms, 100 grams of lentinus will approximately contain:

  • 34 calories
  • 0.5g of fat
  • 6.8g of carbohydrates
  • 2.5g of dietary fiber
  • 2.4g of sugar
  • 2.2g of protein
  • 4mg of niacin
  • 1.5mg of pantothenic acid
  • 0.2mg of vitamin B6
  • 0.2mg of riboflavin
  • 18 units of vitamin D
  • 0.2mg of manganese
  • 112mg of phosphorus
  • 5.7mg of selenium
  • 0.1mg of copper
  • 1mg of zinc
  • 304mg of potassium
  • 20mg of magnesium
  • 0.4mg of iron

Fatigue and Shiitake Mushrooms

Benefits of Shiitake Mushrooms

Immune System

Mushrooms have the ability to stimulate the immune system and to combat many diseases with their supply of vitamins, minerals and enzymes.

A study published in 2015 on the Journal of the American College of Nutrition was conducted on 52 healthy men and women between 21 and 41 years of age. They wanted to determine if the shiitake mushrooms could improve the human immune function. The study included an essay with parallel groups that consumed five or ten grams of mushrooms daily for four weeks.

The results suggest that consuming mushrooms improve the cell effectors and improved the intestinal immunity. The consumption of mushrooms also reduced the inflammation due to the changes observed in the cytokine and serum PCR levels.

How does it support cardiovascular health?

The sterol content from shiitake mushrooms inhibits the production of cholesterol in the liver, which supports the cardiovascular health from our body. It also contains powerful phytonutrients that help to prevent the cells from sticking to the wall of the blood vessels. This avoids the accumulation of plaque, which keep a good blood pressure and improves the blood flow at the same time.

Anti-microbial properties

This property has been proven in different studies and research in the last few years. More specifically, in 2011, the UCL Eastman Dental Institute in London proved the anti-microbial effects of shiitake for gingivitis, a preventable disease that involves the inflammation of the gums due to the accumulation of microbes.
This disease can be healed, but it is quite expensive and not everyone can afford it. The efficacy of the mushrooms was compared to the active component from the main mouthwash that is used for gingivitis, which contains chlorhexidine.

The total number of bacteria, as well as the eight key organisms involved in the mouth were studied after the treatment. The results pointed out that the shiitake mushroom extract reduces the number of some of the pathogens without affecting the organisms that support our health. On the other hand, chlorhexidine had a limited effect on all the organisms.

More energy

Mushrooms are an excellent source of B vitamins, which helps to transform the nutrients from food in energy. This is crucial in order to keep the pace of our hectic lifestyle on a daily basis. At the same time, the high vitamin content will help us stay focused throughout the day, even improving the cognitive performance.

Including shiitake mushrooms in or daily diet can be highly beneficial for athletes since it will increase the energy and focus. This will be especially useful after long working days or for the most demanding competitions.

Vitamin D Supply

Fungi provide an important supply of vitamin D, higher than mushrooms. Their importance is directly related with bone health. They also reduce the risk of suffering heart diseases, diabetes, autoimmune diseases and some types of cancer, as we will see later on. It is crucial for the absorption and metabolism of calcium and phosphorus.

Getting a good supply of vitamin D can also help to regulate and support the immune system, keep a healthy weight, preserve the brain function as we grow old, reduce the symptoms of asthma, the risk of suffering rheumatoid arthritis in women and the onset of multiple sclerosis.

According to some research, shiitake fungi as well as wild salmon, raw dairy and eggs are the best sources of vitamin D.

How it fights against obesity

Some components from shiitake have hypolipidemic effects as fat burners: eritadenine and beta-glucan, a dietary soluble fiber that is also found in barley, rye and oats. The studies have reported that beta-glucan can increase the satiety, reduce the intake of food, delay the absorption of nutrients and reduces the plasma lipid levels.

It helps to preserve the health of the skin

Mushrooms have a high content in selenium (100g of said mushrooms provide 5.7mg of selenium to the body). It also provides vitamin A and E which can help to relieve skin diseases like severe acne and the scars that remain.

In a open study, 29 patients with severe acne problems were given 0.2mg of selenium and 10mg of tocopheryl succinate twice a day from six to twelve weeks. After the treatment, the patients experienced positive results. The zinc from the shiitake mushrooms improves the immune function and reduces the accumulation of DHT to improve the healing of wounds in the skin. This prevents any scars or marks from appearing on the skin.

How does it destroy the cancer cells

The research suggests that shiitake mushrooms contain a polysaccharide that helps to combat cancer cells. In addition, the lentinan from shiitake mushrooms helps to heal the damage to the chromosomes caused by anti-cancer treatments.

This suggests that shiitake mushrooms could be used as a powerful natural treatment for cancer.

The lentinan from mushrooms increases the amount of lymphocytes T. KS-25 is effective against certain tumors and LAPI is crucial to remove tumors in the liver from animals.

Cancer cells shiitake

In 2004, two Polish researchers called B. Balasinska and J. Rajewska claimed that: “Edible mushrooms are a valuable source of biologically active compounds. Some of them used to prevent and treat diseases like cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Its anti-tumor effect is complex. The biologically active substances from mushrooms lower the damage of the DNA, reducing the cancer concentrations and their activation. They inhibit the growth of cancer cells by destroying the free radicals, they also stimulate the immune system and lead cancer cells to apoptosis”.

The mushrooms contain an alpha-glucan named AHCC (active hexose correlated compound), which is a blend of amino acids, polysaccharides and minerals. Thus far, this component has only been found in shiitake mushrooms which are renowned for their anti-cancer properties. The studies in humans have proven that AHCC increases the number and the activity of the natural killer cells, dendritic cells and cytokines in the body; they allow the body to respond efficiently against the infections and to inhibit the proliferation of turmors. In short, they strengthen and improve the functioning of the immune system.

Most of the research that has been carried out has used mice, even though there are studies being done in small groups of people that have given positive results. However, they have not gone much further because their results have not been regarded as a hundred per cent reliable.

The first clinical studies with small groups of people, mainly in Japan, suggested that lentinan from shiitake mushrooms is safe. They relate it to the quality of life and the increased chances of survival of those patients with gastric, liver or pancreas cancer. However, the results from most of these studies have not been confirmed in bigger, random and controlled trials.

A non-random study published in 2011 was conducted on 78 patients with metastasis or recurring gastric cancer. It was discovered that those patients that were given lentinan and paclitaxel or chemotherapy with cisplatin experienced a longer survival on average than those who were treated just with chemotherapy. Survival in general on average: 689 days against 565 days).

The same research team reported in 2016 that: three patients with gastric cancer and liver metastasis were given lentinan once or twice a month plus chemotherapy with cisplatin and paclitaxel or trastuzumab. Then, they experienced objective tumoral responses (1 complete and 2 partial responses). But, since the study was done on a very small group and without control, it is not possible to determine the role of lentinan in these results.

Who can benefit from eating shiitake mushrooms?

  • Those who need to strengthen their immune system due to a disorders or disease
  • People who suffer hypertension
  • All those who want to improve their daily digestions
  • Cancer patients who are being treated with chemotherapy
  • Hepatitis patients

Contraindications of shiitake

Despite the amount of help that you can get through the intake of shiitake mushrooms thanks to their properties and nutrients, there are some studies that have proven that an excessive consumption can have some contraindications.

Shiitake barely triggers any type of reactions, even some people may experience mild intestinal problems or skin allergies.

You should consult your doctor before using a supplement if you are pregnant or lactating, or taking anticoagulants. This is due to the fact that there are not enough studies in these cases.

Shiitake mushroom production

The mushrooms have a moderate amount of purines, which are a chemical compound that breaks down into uric acid. A diet rich in purines can increase the levels of uric acid in the body, which sometimes leads to gout. If you experience its symptoms, reduce their consumption.

In HSN, we advise a controlled intake of all food supplements. You should always follow the guidelines of each product. If you choose to eat shiitake mushrooms naturally, you should not eat them more than once a week.

Who should not eat shiitake

  • Pregnant or lactating women
  • Those who have intestinal problems
  • People who experience skin allergies easily
  • All those affected by uric acid

Shiitake mushrooms against other mushrooms

Lately, we are becoming more interested in purchasing mushrooms or fungi, either as natural products or food supplements, but we want to highlight the properties of shiitake for our body when compared to similar superfoods:

  • Shiitake: Combats cancer cells and infectious diseases, stimulates the immune system and the functioning of the brain, as well as being a source of B vitamins.
  • Maitake: It improves the health of AIDS patients and regulates the blood sugar levels of diabetic people. It can lower a high blood pressure and strengthen the immune system.
  • Reishi: Treats the inflammation, liver diseases, fatigue, the growth of tumors and cancer. It improves skin disorders and relieves digestive problems, stomach ulcers and the leaky gut syndrome.
  • Cordyceps: It has anti-aging effects and it strengthens the immune function. It improves the endurance, the athletic and sport performance, works as a natural aphrodisiac element, as well combating the diabetes and improving the functioning of the liver.

How to take shiitake mushrooms

Shiitake mushrooms have been available for years in many supermarkets, due to the recent expansion of its cultivation. They can be eaten fresh, raw or dehydrated like other mushrooms. On the other hand, companies have been developing many food supplements lately that include mushroom extracts, including all the nutrients that can be obtained directly from the fresh product. There are some shiitake powdered products, so that you can include it in any traditional recipe to add a unique touch of flavor.

The dehydrated mushrooms have increased their sales in the last few years. In this way, everyone can have said mushrooms easily available at their kitchen. Moreover, many people say that its flavor is even stronger in this format and it does not need to be stored in the fridge, unlike fresh mushrooms. To use it, you just have to soak it in water for 45 minutes, use twelve parts of liquids per part of product. It is advisable to follow the instructions of the product before using it.

Fresh shiitake mushrooms, which is a more traditional format although not so popular in Europe, are cleaned with a strained or they can be cleaned with a wet cloth if they are really fresh. If the stems are half hard, do not use them or use them to make a soup, which is the most traditional dish in the countries from which this product comes from. Cut the shiitake in slices, like you do with traditional mushrooms, and cook them for a few minutes at high heat or boil them at low heat to cook soups or stews.

Shiitake mushroom soup

When you buy them, make sure that they have no dirt or stains, otherwise you will have to throw them away since they can potentially cause allergic reactions. They are of a creamy white color on the inside. Shiitake mushrooms can be stored in the fridge up to seven days approximately, it would not be advisable to keep the for longer.

If you buy them dry, you just have to soak them in warm water for 15 minutes before using them in any recipe. You can also dry the shiitake mushrooms yourself.

We also want to highlight that these mushrooms have been traditionally used to make infusions and tea. To do so, you just have to cut two shiitake mushrooms in very thin slices, and add them to a cup of boiling water, let it settle for five minutes approximately.

Shiitake has also become a food supplement with great nutritional properties. It is available in capsules and tablets. Usually, the intake of this format is done on a daily basis (according to the advice from an specialist) when you want to achieve a quick therapeutic effect.

The Shiitake Mushrooms in the kitchen

Many specialists defend that we should eat both the hat and the stem, but they do not speak of amounts. The most important advice to avoid loosing its properties is the kitchen is not burning them, cook them for seven minutes and they will be ready to be served (fresh or dry).

Mushrooms are a very versatile food that can be added to many dishes. When you purchase shiitake, look for mushrooms that are firm and thick. Avoid those that look viscous or wrinkly, since they are not fresh. Store the fresh mushrooms in the fridge in a closed bag or in a closed recipient. In this way, they will stay fresh for longer.

Make sure to wash the mushrooms properly before cooking them. You can put them on a recipient with hot liquid for 10 minutes in order to remove any residue, wash and dry them properly, especially the hat. Now, you just have to add them to your breakfast, lunch or dinner, in any dish or form.

How to use them in the Kitchen

Here you have a very appetizing recipe to cook shiitake mushrooms:

We are going to explain how to cook a shiitake work with vegetables, very easy to make in our own kitchen. In this way, we will be able to obtain all the nutrients from these mushrooms and we will start to add them to our diet.


  • A tray of shiitake mushrooms
  • A bag with five cut vegetables (courgette, red pepper, onion, leek and green pepper, although you can choose the ones you like)
  • A glass of whole rice
  • A spoonful of pepper, sweet or spicy, it is up to you
  • Soy sauce
  • Extra virgin olive oil


Put the rice in a pot with liquid at low heat until is is cooked. In the meantime, wash, dry (important), cut and saute the shiitake mushrooms in a work with a little bit of oil.

Add the veggies, pepper and salt to taste, a spoonful of pepper, a little bit of soy sauce and saute everything together with the mushrooms. Put the wok away from the fire when there is barely any liquid left, so that the vegetables will be tastier instead of overcooked.

You would just have to serve the saute and the rice in equal parts, mix them and enjoy! A quick and very nutritious recipe.

Cultivate Shiitake Mushrooms

This trend has encouraged many people to cultivate their own natural product at home, to have them easily available in their kitchen. Although there are some specific requirements in order to grow these mushrooms.

Shiitake mushroom harvest

It is true that you can cultivate shiitake mushrooms in different ways. On the other hand, there are substrates with the seeds of mycelium of shiitake mushrooms available. You will just have to find the perfect place, not cold nor dry, at our home or garden and keep the wet always; or you can either build the perfect space with tree trunks, recreating their natural environment in Asian countries like China or Japan. In the following examples, we are going to use bales of straw as substrate.

The things we are going to need to grow these mushrooms are:

  • Mycelium or seed. You will need 2.5 kilos of bales of straw per 150 grams of mycelium
  • Wheat straw Mycelium
  • A pot
  • Scissors
  • A sac for cultivation
  • Latex gloves

To make it:

Fill a big pot with around four liters of water. Cut the bales in pieces not more than five centimeters long. Boil it for ten minutes and then add the straws. You have to soak all the straw in order to sterilize it. The liquid needs to be at 100ºC for an hour approximately.

After this, strain the straw carefully, taking your time. When it is cold, put it inside the sac. We will have to mix the straw and the seeds, and pulverize some water regularly.

After putting everything inside, leave the sac in a humid, fresh and dark place, with air. It is very important to keep it humid always. The shiitake mushrooms will appear after five or six day, and you will have to wait another four or fie days to cut them and enjoy them in your recipes. This system can be used for these mushrooms or other different mushrooms.

Studies and References

  1. Sugiyama K, Akachi T, Yamakawa A. Hypocholesterolemic action of eritadenine is mediated by a modification of hepatic phospholipid metabolism in rats. 1995 Aug;125(8):2134-44.
  2. Hirasawa M, Shouji N, Neta T, Fukushima K, Takada K. Three kinds of antibacterial substances from Lentinus edodes (Berk.) Sing. (Shiitake, an edible mushroom). Int J Antimicrob Agents. 1999 Feb;11(2):151-7.
  3. Xu X, Yang J, Ning Z, Zhang X. Lentinula edodes-derived polysaccharide rejuvenates mice in terms of immune responses and gut microbiota. Food Funct. 2015 Aug;6(8):2653-63. doi: 10.1039/c5fo00689a. Epub 2015 Jul 2.
  4. Vieira AT, Teixeira MM, Martins FS. The role of probiotics and prebiotics in inducing gut immunity. Front Immunol. 2013 Dec 12;4:445. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2013.00445.
  5. Dai X, Stanilka JM, Rowe CA, Esteves EA, Nieves C Jr, Spaiser SJ, Christman MC, Langkamp-Henken B, Percival SS. Consuming Lentinula edodes (Shiitake) Mushrooms Daily Improves Human Immunity: A Randomized Dietary Intervention in Healthy Young Adults. J Am Coll Nutr. 2015;34(6):478-87. doi: 10.1080/07315724.2014.950391. Epub 2015 Apr 11.
  6. Ciric L, Tymon A, Zaura E, Lingström P, Stauder M, Papetti A, Signoretto C, Pratten J, Wilson M, Spratt D. In vitro assessment of shiitake mushroom (Lentinula edodes) extract for its antigingivitis activity. J Biomed Biotechnol. 2011;2011:507908. doi: 10.1155/2011/507908. Epub 2011 Sep 28.
  7. Calvaresi E, Bryan J. B vitamins, cognition, and aging: a review. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2001 Nov;56(6):P327-39.
  8. Michaëlsson G, Edqvist LE. Erythrocyte glutathione peroxidase activity in acne vulgaris and the effect of selenium and vitamin E treatment. Acta Derm Venereol. 1984;64(1):9-14.
  9. Ng ML1, Yap AT. Inhibition of human colon carcinoma development by lentinan from shiitake mushrooms (Lentinus edodes). J Altern Complement Med. 2002 Oct;8(5):581-9.
  10. Oba K, Kobayashi M, Matsui T, Kodera Y, Sakamoto J. Individual patient based meta-analysis of lentinan for unresectable/recurrent gastric cancer. Anticancer Res. 2009 Jul;29(7):2739-45.

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About Javier Colomer
Javier Colomer
"Knowledge Makes Stronger", Javier Colomer's motto, sets out his clearest statement of intentions expressing his knowledge and fitness experience.
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