February is Heart Health month bringing awareness to heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States with 900,000 deaths annually. The risk of cardiovascular disease can be greatly reduced by making a few lifestyle adjustments that include relaxation techniques, a wholesome diet and exercise.
Heart disease is the result of restricted blood flow to vital organs and tissues in the body due to damaged artery walls and plaque build-up. Cholesterol plaque can begin forming on the artery walls as early as childhood and progress slowly as we age. A heart attack or stroke usually occurs when a piece of plaque breaks off the artery wall or a blood clot forms on the plaque’s surface resulting in blockage.
Although scientists have not pinpointed the exact cause of plaque build-up, researchers believe that it is primarily the result of smoking, high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels. Other contributing factors exist however including obesity, diabetes, stress, minimal consumption of fruits and vegetables, excessive alcohol intake and lack of physical activity. The good news is that many of these behaviors can be modified to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
One of the easiest modifications to help prevent plaque development is through good nutrition and exercise. Adding Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) to your diet is a great way to start. These gourmet mushrooms are widely cultivated, readily available in grocery stores and online and can be added (cooked) to many recipes from soups to stews, salads and meats and even desserts! These mushrooms are packed with nutrients and are especially high in antioxidants, have little effect on blood sugar levels and are low in calories.
Oyster mushrooms have a natural cholesterol reducing effect similar to lovastatin, a synthesized drug that treats patients with excessive blood cholesterol and is known to lower the risk of heart attacks and strokes. These mushrooms have been widely studied for their effect on modulating blood cholesterol levels including a study done in 2004 by the National Institute of Health with HIV patients. Patients were given a tea made from dried Oyster mushrooms and though some participants did not complete the study complaining that the concoction did not taste good, there was enough evidence to conclude that Oyster mushrooms had the ability to reduce triglycerides and LDL cholesterol in these patients.
In a separate 2003 animal study published in Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Physiology, scientists added Oyster mushrooms to the diet of rats and discovered that it reduced plasma total cholesterol by @28% (“bad” LDL cholesterol was reduced by 55%, triglycerides by 34% and “good” cholesterol increased by 21%). They concluded that adding Oyster mushrooms to a daily diet can prevent plaque from forming in arteries of patients with high cholesterol levels.
Oyster mushrooms, like other gourmet fungi, are a functional food meaning that they have healing and health promoting benefits and can be consumed daily without issue. Cooked, these mushrooms are an important source of fiber, protein, vitamins and other essential nutrients that contribute to a healthy lifestyle. 100g (@ 1 cup) of Oyster mushrooms has only 43 calories, 0g of fat, 2.3g of fiber and 3g of protein.
The following describes some of the important nutrition value these mushrooms provide and their contribution to a healthy heart:
- Niacin (Vitamin B3) – Oyster mushrooms have five times the amount of this vitamin compared to most vegetables. Niacin helps metabolize carbohydrates, fats and proteins and repairs damaged DNA. This vitamin boosts memory, improves skin conditions, helps with arthritis and assists in maintaining good blood circulation. Niacin contributes to heart health by lowering “bad” cholesterol and raising “good” cholesterol levels.
- Vitamin D – One cup of Oyster mushrooms provides 103 IU (International units) of Vitamin D, about 17% of the recommended daily allowance. Mushrooms are one of the only food sources that produce its own Vitamin D (see Terrafunga blog Mushrooms: Natural source of Vitamin D). Our bodies need Vitamin D to absorb calcium, regulate the genes that influence growth and boost our immune system. Vitamin D contributes to heart health by lowering blood pressure.
- Antioxidants – Oyster mushrooms are one of the few natural sources of ergothioneine, an amino acid that lowers systemic inflammation. The benefits of ergothioneine include improved cognitive function, eye health, immune modulation, lung, skin and reproductive health. 3 oz. of Oyster mushrooms provides 13mg of ergothioneine. Antioxidants contribute to heart health by preventing the build-up of plaque in the arteries.
- Thiamine (Vitamin B1) – Improves energy by converting carbohydrates into glucose. It helps the body withstand stressful situations, boost the immune system and maintain a healthy nervous system. Thiamine contributes to heart health by increasing the production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine that ensures proper cardiac function.
- Pyridoxine (Vitamin B6) – Helps in the production of neurotransmitters, supports the immune system, maintains lymph node health and improves carpel tunnel syndrome, anemia, muscular sclerosis and influenza. In addition Vitamin B6 is helpful for those suffering from premenstrual syndrome, arthritis and depression. Pyridoxine contributes to heart health by lowering the levels of homocysteine in the blood thereby reducing the risk of heart disease.
- Dietary Fiber – Fiber stimulates digestion, relieves indigestion and constipation. In addition, fiber nurtures the lining of the colon and aids in the absorption of glucose. Studies have shown that there is a correlation between low fiber diets and heart disease and that dietary fiber may help reduce the risk factors for strokes such as high blood pressure, high blood levels of “bad” cholesterol. The American Heart Association recommends an intake of 25g of fiber daily and a cup of Oyster provides 9% of that total. Dietary fiber contributes to heart health by lowering the risk of first time strokes.
- Potassium – This mineral is important in maintaining water balance in the body as well as strong bones, build protein and enhance muscle strength. Potassium helps with anxiety and stress as well as kidney and heart disorders. The recommended daily value for potassium is 3.5g and 1 cup of Oyster mushrooms provides 12% of the daily intake. Potassium contributes to heart health by lowering blood pressure, lowering “bad” cholesterol and regulating proper heart rhythm.
- Copper – Copper is essential to our bodies as it maintains the health of connective tissues, increases our energy, helps metabolize iron and increases the production of red blood cells. In addition, copper supports good eye and hair health, reduces symptoms of arthritis and helps prevent premature aging. Copper contributes to heart health by reducing “bad” cholesterol production and influences the functioning of the heart and arteries.
Oyster mushrooms offer many more nutritional benefits to maintain good health. We focused on nutrients that specifically enhance cardiovascular health given that it is Heart Health month. To get you started, we have posted a great good-for-heart recipe: Roasted Oyster Mushrooms and Red Quinoa Salad. Enjoy!
Sources: Mycomedicinals, Paul Stamets (2002), National Institute of Health, NCBI.nlm.nih.gov, heart.org, nutritiondata.self.com, healthyeating.sfgate.com, diethealthclub.com, healthiestfoods.com, organicfacts.net
Terrafunga does not offer medical advice. Readers should seek medical advice from a licensed physician or other qualified health care professional and not rely on information they may gather from secondary sources such as the internet.