Shiitake mushrooms were originally cultivated on natural oak logs and only grown in Japan but are now available in the United States. These mushrooms are large, black-brown, and have an earthy rich flavor. This fungus is consumed in foods such as stir-fries, soups, and as a meat substitute.
Shiitake contains proteins, fats, carbohydrates, soluble fiber, vitamins (A, B, B12, C, D, niacin), and minerals. Commercial preparations often use the powdered mycelium of the mushroom before the cap and stem grow. This preparation is called Lentinus edodes mycelium extract (LEM). LEM is rich in polysaccharides and lignans.
Shiitake has been taken by mouth for boosting the immune system, decreasing cholesterol levels, and for anti-aging. Lentinan, derived from shiitake (Lentinus edodes), has been injected as an adjunct treatment for cancer and HIV infection, although currently high quality human scientific evidence is lacking for many proposed indications. Purified lentinan is considered a drug in Japan.
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These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.
Cancer (chemotherapy adjunct)
Laboratory, animal, and human studies of lentinan have shown positive results in cancer patients when used in addition to chemotherapy drugs. Further well-designed clinical trials on all types of cancer are required to confirm these results. Shiitake mushroom extract (SME) used alone did not show benefit in prostate cancer patients in one study. Please check with a medical oncologist and pharmacist before taking any therapies.
Genital warts (Condyloma acuminatum)
Based on preliminary study, lentinan could modulate the immune function and reduce the recurrence rate of genital warts. Further well-designed studies are needed to confirm these results. Currently, more proven therapies are recommended.
HIV (adjunct therapy)
Based on preliminary studies, lentinan may increase CD4 counts and may qualify in future multi-drug studies in HIV patients. Further well-designed studies are needed to confirm these results. Side effects have been reported and more proven therapies are recommended at this time.
Currently, there is limited human evidence supporting the role of lentinan and shiitake as an immunomodulator. Additional study is needed in this area.