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Study: Eating More Mushrooms Could Lower Your Cancer Risk by 45%

Close up of a white person's hands slicing a white mushroom.

Aleksandr Zubkov/Getty

Key Takeaways

  • Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the United States.
  • In addition to evidence that eating vegetables may reduce cancer risk in some cases, a new study highlights that mushrooms, in particular, reduce cancer risk by 45%.
  • Mushrooms are one of the few foods that naturally contain vitamin D—a factor that could influence its anti-cancer benefits.

Approximately 39.5% of people will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lifetimes. Some risk factors, like genetics, are not in a person's control, but diet and lifestyle choices are considered modifiable risk factors.

For example, research has shown that a very low intake of vegetables is linked to an increased risk of developing certain cancers. According to a new study, you might be able to reduce your risk of getting some cancers by eating more of one particularly powerful veggie. 

The Study

Past research has shown that mushrooms have anti-cholesterol and anti-allergic benefits. In a new study published in Advances in Nutrition, researchers looked at whether eating mushrooms is linked to reduced cancer risk. 

After evaluating the results of 17 studies through a meta-analysis and systematic review of over 19,000 adults, the researchers found that:

  • Higher mushroom consumption was associated with a lower risk of total cancer.
  • When evaluating specific cancers, the strongest relationship between mushroom intake and cancer risk reduction was with breast cancer

The benefit was seen regardless of the variety of mushrooms people ate, but the amount that people consumed seemed to make a difference. People who ate 18 grams of mushrooms (about 1/8 to 1/4 cup) every day had a 45% lower risk of developing cancer compared to people who did not eat mushrooms.

Lisa R. Young PhD, RDN, a registered dietitian, adjunct professor, and the author of Finally Full, Finally Thin, tells Verywell that she was not surprised by the study's results because “there has been emerging research and discussion about the association between a higher mushroom consumption and a lower risk of cancer.”

A meta-analysis published in 2020 showed similar findings. The researchers looked at 18 studies with over 20,000 subjects and found that along with a reduced risk of developing cancer, a 10-gram-per-day increase in mushroom intake was associated with a 17% lower risk of cancer.

Study Limitations

The new meta-analysis did have some limitations, including the inclusion of many case-controlled (retrospective) studies, which depend on people being able to recall the details of their mushroom consumption. Leaning on self-dietary recalls can, at times, be unreliable.

Nutritional Benefits of Mushrooms

Most people would picture Instagram-worthy produce picks and trendy powders when they hear "superfood," but the humble mushroom offers many hard-to-beat health benefits.

“Mushrooms are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants,” Young says. "They are also very high in the amino acid ergothioneine, which is a potent antioxidant and can help fight free radicals and reduce inflammation.”

Selenium

Mushrooms are also a natural source of the mineral selenium. Nichole Andrews, Oncology Dietitian, and the owner of Nutrition with Nichole, LLC tells Verywell that selenium is an “antioxidant that has been researched to possibly play a role in reducing [the] risk of cancer and other chronic diseases."

B Vitamins

Andrews says that “mushrooms are rich in the B vitamins riboflavin, niacin, and pantothenic acid—a combination that helps protect heart health." Riboflavin also supports red blood cell health and that niacin is good for the digestive system and for maintaining healthy skin. 

Potassium

The potassium that mushrooms contain is extremely important for heart, muscle, and nerve function. There’s about as much potassium in 2/3 cup of cooked Portobello mushroom as there is in a medium-sized banana. 

Vitamin D

Research has linked vitamin D deficiency to many health conditions, like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and some cancers. Adding more vitamin D-rich foods to your diet can give low levels a boost.

Similar to humans, mushrooms naturally produce vitamin D after they are exposed to sunlight or a sunlamp. Mushrooms’ plant sterol, ergosterol, converts to vitamin D when it's exposed to light. Even though mushrooms already contain some vitamin D, growers can expose the plants to ultraviolet light to increase their levels of the key nutrient.

How to Add More Mushrooms to Your Diet

As long as the mushroom you choose is safe for human consumption, the sky is the limit when it comes to the many ways to enjoy them. That said, research has shown that certain preparation methods might affect the veggie's nutritional benefits.

A 2016 study found that the phenolic (antioxidant) content of a mushroom did not change when it was fried or microwaved, but that drying the veggie resulted in a significant increase in its phenolic contents.

Mushrooms are a tasty and easy addition to salads, soups, and sandwiches. One clever food hack to use when you are preparing a meat-based meal is to make a blended burger or sauce with ½ ground beef and ½ chopped mushrooms.

Supplements

If you're exploring mushroom supplements and powders, know that these items are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) like mushrooms in food-form are. While they may offer some benefit, these items should be only be used under your health care provider’s guidance.

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