Mushroom and cancer prevention link

Mushroom and cancer prevention link

Information: Dr Martmari van Greuning, SAMFA Council member


BlendabilityMushrooms is a source of polysaccaharides, particularly beta-glucans that are reported to stimulate the immune system via its stimulating effect on natural killer (NK) cell activity. NK cells are specialized white blood cells that spontaneously kill pathogen infected and tumor cells making then a key component of the immune system.

Cancer is the uncontrolled growth and spread of cells and can affect almost any part of the body.  Although cancer arises from a single cell, the transformation of a normal cell into a tumour cell is a multistage process which involves the interaction of a person’s genetic factors, social and environmental factors including diet. The role of nutrition in cancer is extensive.
Research suggests a diet high in plant based food stuffs (fruits & veggies) is protective and here we include MUSHROOMS.

Mushrooms  are rich in anti-oxidants; good for immune system; contain selenium  in quantities much higher than any other plant food (selenium is found to have an anti-cancer affect particularly on prostate cancer).  All of these protect the body against cancer by getting rid of free radicals and defending the body against invading organisms.

It is also important to point out that mushrooms are a low energy dense food that can help lower calorie intake to help prevent obesity which is a risk for breast cancer.

But more significantantly, mushrooms contain phytochemicals that are found to specifically supress breast and prostate cancer.

Mushrooms contain a fatty acid, conjugated linoleic acid that has the ability to inhibit two enzymes called Aromatase & 5-Alpha-Reductase, both involved in these cancers.

Many mammary tumors are hormone sensitive. That is why Estrogen is a major factor in the development of Breast Cancer, especially in postmenopausal women where the ovaries stop producing estrogen but other cells (fat & breast cancer cells) unfortunately continue to do so.

The enzyme Aromatase has been linked to breast and also to ovarian, uterine and prostate cancers. It is responsible for the production of estrogen and converts androgen to estrogen, which in turn promotes the development of breast cancer in postmenopausal women.

Conjugated linoleic acid inhibits aromatase and consequently inhibits cancer. [The same applies to the enzyme 5-alpha-reductase which converts testosterone that plays a role in the development of prostate cancer.  As in the case of aromatase, conjugated linoleic acid is inhibiting this enzyme thus preventing or controlling prostate cancer. ]

Tamoxifen is a widely used drug that is prescribed and competes with the estrogen on the same receptor on the tumor cell in interferes with the working of the estrogen. It is effective but has unpleasant side effects and especially in remission it cannot be taken forever. It’s here where mushrooms can act as a natural substitute for controlling the production of estrogen.

Mushroom research linked to cancer:
It was found that in China the occurrence of breast cancer is 5 times lower than in developed Western Countries and although there could be other factors that contribute to this, we have to bear in mind that China is a world authority when it comes to mushroom consumption. These two facts, the low incidence of breast cancer in China and the huge consumption of mushrooms, sparked the research of the cancer fighting potential of mushrooms.

The two leading groups in the field is the Beckman Institute at the City of Hope Cancer Centre in California under leadership of Prof Chen and a group at the University of Australia in Sydney in collaboration with the medical faculty at the Zhejiang University in China.
This research in particular and the clinical trials are ongoing but one clear fact has emerged to date: It has been proven that women who eat an average of 1 mushroom per day (approx. 10gm) has half the risk of breast cancer.

Short bio on Dr Martmari van Greuning
Dr Martmari van Greuning serves on the council of SAMFA (South African Mushroom Farmers Association) with a specific responsibility to supervise local mushroom research contracted  to the University of Pretoria. Her mushroom expertise is recognised globally and as such she serves on the executive committee of the ISMS (International Society for Mushroom Science).

Martmari is closely involved with the South African mushroom industry and also has strong ties and working relationships with international associations and growers. Her biggest contribution to the local industry lies in visiting farms where she consults and provides technical expertise on all aspects of the mushroom farming process.

Martmari van Greuning is also the General Manager of Sylvan Africa which is part of Sylvan International, the biggest international company producing and supplying mushroom spawn (the equivalent of ‘seed’ or inoculum to grow mushrooms) to the mushroom industry. Her post graduate studies were on various aspects of the commercially grown mushroom and her doctorate on fungal diseases of mushrooms.

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