Health Benefits of Agaricus Blazei

Agaricus subrufescens aka Agaricus blazei (Image from Wikimedia Commons)Agaricus blazei is an edible mushroom with medicinal properties. It is native to Brazil but now cultivated in various countries including China, Japan, Korea, United States, and Taiwan. Agaricus blazei is known in Japan as Himematsutake, Kawarihiratake, or Agarikusutake, in China as Ji Song Rong, in Brazil as Cogumelo do sol (mushroom of the sun), Cogumelo Piedade or medicinel. Japanese scientist Takatoshi Furumoto discovered the mushroom in 1960 and sent it to Japan for investigation. Agaricus blazei was accounted in Byzantine medical treatises as a cure for malignant ulcers of the larynx from the 4th century AD to the 15th century AD.

Agaricus blazei is a relative of the common mushroom, Agaricus bisporus. It has a sweet taste and fragrance of almonds – the reason why it is also called almond mushroom. It has a convex brownish-gold cap (5-18 cm), short and hard stem or stipe (6-15 cm), and chocolate brown basidiospores found underside the cap. It grows in plant litter or rich soil. Japan, China and Brazil are the major countries that cultivate the mushroom as a functional food and  medicine. It is still debated whether the North American Agaricus subrufescens and Agaricus blazei are similar mushrooms or just relatives.

Chemical Composition

Agaricus blazei is made up of water, proteins, amino acids, fats, fibers, and carbohydrates. It contains special class of polysaccharides called beta-glucans, which were found in laboratory studies to stimulate the immune system and fight cancer.

Health Benefits

In Brazil, China, Taiwan, and Korea, Agaricus blazei is believed to stimulate the immune system, fight cancer, reduce blood cholesterol levels, cure digestive and circulatory disorders, prevent peptic ulcer and osteoporosis, improve the quality of life of diabetics, and fight emotional and physical stress. A growing number of scientific researches support these claimed health benefits of the Agaricus blazei, especially on cancer treatment.

Complex polysaccharides isolated from Agaricus blazei like beta-glucans have been found in laboratory studies to inhibit tumor growth and directly kill cancer cells. Other studies also suggest the ability of Agaricus blazei extract to inhibit cancer metastases.

Beta-glucans from Agaricus blazei works on a cellular and molecular level to stimulate the vital components of the immune system such as neutrophils, eosinophils, macrophages, monocytes, and natural killer (NK) cells. These immune system cells do not only help the body fight infection but also fight tumors and cancer cells.

Agaricus blazei has also been found to exhibit antioxidant properties. The antioxidants in the mushroom will prevent the oxidation of cholesterols, which form plaques in the inner linings of blood vessels, hardening blood vessels and obstructing blood flow. Cholesterol plaques in blood vessels are the major culprits in incidents of heart attack and stroke. Antioxidants also benefits the body by neutralizing unstable and harmful free radicals that damages cells and tissues.

In one study, Agaricus blazei extract protected laboratory mice from fatal septicemia (serious bacterial infection). The extract also increased the survival rate of the infected mice.

Agaricus blazei extract showed anti-hyperglycemic, anti-hypertriglyceridemic, anti-arteriosclerosis, , and anti-hypertriglyceridemic activities in laboratory rats with streptozocin induced diabetes.

In Japan, thousands of patients are using Agaricus blazei to improve their quality of life after undergoing chemotherapy. Patients who are taking Agaricus blazei report improvement of the side effects of chemotherapy such as appetite loss, alopecia (hair loss), emotional instability, and general weakness.

Studies on human subjects show that  both systolic and diastolic blood pressures were significantly reduced in subjects that take Agaricus blazei than those who take placebo.

Safety Concern

Agaricus blazei and other mushrooms are able to accumulate toxic heavy metals from the substrate  such as arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury.  Wild mushrooms are more likely to accumulate heavy metals than cultivated ones. They can grow in environments that are greatly polluted by toxic metals. Mushrooms that grow in places near mines, dump sites, chemical factories, and polluted bodies of water should be avoided.

Another concern is the presence of aromatic hydrazines in Agaricus blazei like agaritine and its derivatives. Hydrazines are believed to  be carcinogens. More studies are needed.[ad#afterpost]