Edible mushrooms of all kinds are delicious and many, such as the truffle, are highly prized by gourmets and chefs. In the Far East, mushrooms have also been used for centuries for their powerful medicinal properties. Recent research has shown that some kinds of mushrooms contain compounds that can help to control blood sugar levels.
Last year, two detailed scientific reviews were published on the use of mushrooms for the prevention and treatment of diabetes. What these reviews revealed was that mushrooms contain many different chemicals that can aid blood sugar control, through a variety of biological mechanisms in the body.
Some of these natural anti-diabetes compounds inhibit the absorption of glucose, others protect the insulin-producing beta-cells in the pancreas from damage or increase the amount of insulin released, while yet others regulate complex processes called insulin signalling pathways, by which glucose is absorbed from the bloodstream into muscle, fat or brain cells.
Several of these individual compounds have been isolated, extracted and patented by pharmaceutical companies for use as medicines. This in not because they work better in isolation from the whole mushrooms, but because the pharmaceutical companies can make a lot of money out of them that way!
One reason why mushrooms are so effective in helping to control blood sugar is their content of beta-glucans. These are part of a family of chemicals called polysaccharides, which also includes cellulose, the material from which the cell walls of most plants is constructed. The cell walls of mushrooms, on the other hand, are made of beta-glucans and these differ slightly in their chemical structure between different species of mushrooms.
These small differences are important, since not all beta-glucans are equal when it comes to blood sugar control. The most effective ones are found in the mushrooms that have been traditionally used in Chinese medicine, such as shiitake, maitake, reishi, coriolus, cordiceps and agaricus. Beta-glucans extracted from yeast or barley, which are cheaper to produce, do not have such strong effects on human biology.
Beta-glucans reduce the glycaemic index of a meal
In a clinical trial carried out by the Functional Food Centre at Oxford Brookes University, spaghetti that was enriched with beta-glucans was found to have a glycaemic index of less than half that of normal spaghetti, which was used as a control. That is to say, the beta-glucan enriched spaghetti had less than half the impact on blood sugar levels. The scientists used beta-glucans derived from barley in this trial and it is likely that mushroom beta glucans have an even stronger effect in moderating the rise in blood sugar after a meal.
Animal tests have shown just how effective medicinal mushrooms can be in combating high blood sugar levels, although large-scale clinical trials in humans are still needed to verify these results. Medicinal mushrooms contain many other blood sugar-regulating compounds in addition to beta-glucans. Researchers in Korea found that an extract of the mushroom Agaricus blazei, from which the beta-glucans had been removed, reduced blood sugar levels in diabetic rats as effectively as the standard diabetes drug metformin.
Other animal trials have found a range of medicinal mushrooms, particularly Cordyceps militaris, to be very effective in reducing blood sugar levels. One of the best ways to benefit from these amazingly beneficial plants, which have also been shown to support the immune system and protect against heart disease and cancer, is to take a supplement. There are a number of single and combination mushroom products available and I would recommend that you choose one that contains the extracts of at least three of the different mushrooms mentioned.
While mushroom extracts have many beneficial effects in the body and have been extensively studied for their anti-cancer properties, one of the pharmaceutical drugs used to treat diabetes was in the news recently for causing cancer as a side effect. A study published in the British Medical Journal has concluded that the use of pioglitazone is associated with an increased risk of bladder cancer in people with type 2 diabetes.
I shall be bringing you the full story about this and other dangerous side effects of diabetes drugs in my next blog post.
Wishing you the best of health,
PhD DHD Nutritionist
for Real Diabetes Truth
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Bear in mind we are not addressing anyone’s personal situation and you should rely on this for informational purposes only. Please consult with your own physician before acting on any recommendations contained herein.
1. Perera PK, Li Y. Mushrooms as a functional food mediator in preventing and ameliorating diabetes. Functional Foods in Health and Disease 2011; 4:161-171.
2. Lo HC, Wasser SP. Medicinal mushrooms for glycemic control in diabetes mellitus: history, current status, future perspectives, and unsolved problems (review). Int J Med Mushrooms. 2011; 13(5):401-26.
3. Chillo S, Ranawana DV, Pratt M, Henry CJ. Glycemic response and glycemic index of semolina spaghetti enriched with barley β-glucan. Nutrition. 2011; 27(6):653-658.
4. Oh TW, Kim YA, Jang WJ, Byeon JI, Ryu CH, Kim JO, Ha YL. Semipurified fractions from the submerged-culture broth of Agaricus blazei Murill reduce blood glucose levels in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats. J Agric Food Chem. 2010; 58(7):4113-4119.
5. Zhang G, Huang Y, Bian Y, Wong JH, Ng TB, Wang H. Hypoglycemic activity of the fungi Cordyceps militaris, Cordyceps sinensis, Tricholoma mongolicum, and Omphalia lapidescens in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. 2006; 72(6):1152-1156.