The One Food You Need to Eat to Avoid the Flu This Season

Wednesday Nov 19 | BY |
| No Comments


Studies show that shiitake mushrooms have powerful immune-boosting properties.

We’ve officially entered the cold and flu season. You may have already taken steps to avoid it. You may be washing your hands more often, cleaning down surfaces, making sure you get enough sleep, and exercising regularly.

We gave you eight foods and eight herbs that boost your immune system in a previous post. These can all help our body resist nasty viruses and bacteria. We mentioned sweet potatoes, garlic, spinach, and Reishi mushrooms, but there was one food we didn’t list that should be a part of your immune-boosting diet.

The shiitake mushroom.

Here are all the reasons why this little fungus needs to be part of your holiday plans.

Health Benefits of Shiitake Mushrooms

Also called the Japanese mushroom, black forest mushroom, and golden oak mushroom, the shiitake is a fungus native to Asian forests, and according to the American Cancer Society, is the second most commonly cultivated edible mushroom in the world.

Though long used in Asian countries for their medicinal properties, these mushrooms have only fairly recently become prized in the U.S. for their exotic, hearty taste. They’re popular in miso soup, sautéed with onions and garlic for a side dish or meat topping, in pastas, and in sauces and gravies.

These mushrooms have a number of health benefits, including the following:

  • Good source of nutrients: These include copper, pantothenic acid, selenium, vitamin B2, zinc, and manganese.
  • Anticancer agent: The Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center notes several studies that show compounds in shiitake, including polysaccharides, have anticancer effects, particularly against colon cancer and leukemia. The American Cancer Society notes that some studies have also shown shiitake to prolong the life of patients with advanced and recurrent stomach and colorectal cancer who were also given chemotherapy.
  • Reduce cholesterol: The same compounds that have anticancer effects have also been found to help lower total cholesterol levels.
  • Prevent heart disease: The mushrooms also help protect against artery narrowing and acts as an antioxidant, protecting cardiovascular health.

Where the shiitake really shines, though, is in its ability to boost the immune system.

Immune-Boosting Super Food

So powerful is this mushroom on immunity that a 1998 pair of studies found that patients who were HIV-positive had an increase in immune cells and neutrophil activity when administered lentinan (the polysaccharide from the mushroom) intravenously. Patients with cancer, also, experience improved quality of life and survival when given an oral formulation of lentinan, as well as a decrease in the side effects of chemotherapy.

There are several ways the mushroom goes about its job of boosting the immune system. These include:

  1. Boosts vitamin D: The shiitake is a great source of vitamin D—sometimes called the best source of vitamin D on the planet (besides the sun). Studies have found that a diet rich in mushrooms can be as effective at increasing and maintaining vitamin D levels as taking supplements. Vitamin D is critical to an effective immune system.
  2. Activates macrophages: These fighter cells help identify and clear out cancer cells and other toxic invaders that may harm the body. Shiitakes can help stimulate macrophages to be more active when they need to be.
  3. Acts as an antibacterial: Shiitake mushrooms have natural antibacterial properties, helping to cut down on any disease-causing bacteria you may encounter during the cold and flu season.
  4. Acts as an antiviral: These mushrooms also have the ability to destroy viruses, encouraging the immune system to mount an attack against them.
  5. Protects against toxins: A 2006 study found that shiitake extract suppressed the toxic effects of D-galactosamine on the liver. The study suggested that the mushroom may help protect key organs from the dangers of modern toxins.

Taken together, all five of these properties make the shiitake a super hero when it comes to boosting the immune system. In addition to the all the research reviewed so far, the most recent study published in 2014 showed that shiitake mushrooms could even play a role in preventing HPV-related cancers, like cervical cancer, because of its powerful immune-boosting effects.

For the study, ten women with the HPV virus were given an extract of the mushroom once a day for six months. Five of them were “successfully treated,” which meant they no longer had the virus.

With all this research behind it—plus thousands of years of traditional medicine—the shiitake mushroom deserves a place at your holiday table this season. For a number of tasty recipes, try these at, or these at

Do you use shiitake mushrooms in your cooking? Please share any ideas you may have.

* * *

“Shiitake Mushroom,” American Cancer Society,

“Shiitake Mushroom,” Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center,

Gordon M, Bihari B, Goosby E, et al. A placebo-controlled trial of the immune modulator, lentinan, in HIV-positive patients: a phase I/II trial. J Med 1998;29(5-6):305-330.

Ciric L, Tymon A, Zaura E, et al: In vitro assessment of shiitake mushroom (Lentinula edodes) extract for its antigingivitis activity. J Biomed Biotechnol 2011;2011:507908.

Rincao VP, Yamamoto KA, Ricardo NM, et al: Polysaccharide and extracts from Lentinula edodes: structural features and antiviral activity. Virol J 2012;9:37.

Suzuki F, Suzuki C, Shimomura E, et al: Antiviral and interferon-inducing activities of a new peptidomannan, KS-2, extracted from culture mycelia of Lentinus edodes. J Antibiot (Tokyo) 1979;32:1336-1345.

Anna Hodgekiss, “Could Japanese mushrooms kill the HPV virus that causes cervical cancer?” Daily Mail, October 31, 2014,

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story, a northwest-based writer, editor, and ghostwriter, has been creating non-fiction materials for individuals, corporations, and commercial magazines for over 17 years. She specializes in the health and wellness field, where she writes and ghostwrites books, e-books, blogs, magazine articles, and more.

Colleen is the founder of Writing and Wellness. Her fantasy novel, “Rise of the Sidenah,” was released with Jupiter Gardens Press in September 2015. Her literary novel, “Loreena’s Gift,” is forthcoming in spring 2016 from Dzanc Books. She lives in Idaho.

Comments are closed.