Mushroom Magic For Heart Health

Mushrooms are valued in many parts of the world as nutrition and medicine. Cardiovascular health is one reason among many to eat mushrooms regularly, and science has been figuring out just what it is that mushrooms do to keep the heart and blood vessels healthy.  Some easy to obtain heart healthy mushrooms include delicious edibles like shiitake, maitake, oyster and button mushrooms.  Other medicinals like Reishi and Turkey Tails are also great for the heart but not so chewable!

Here are some amazing ways that mushrooms help keep our cardiovascular system in tip top shape…

1. Acting as ACE inhibitors

ACE inhibitors relax blood vessels and reduce blood volume so that the heart doesn’t have to work as hard to pump the blood through them.  Mushrooms possessing this activity include maitake, oyster mushroom, shiitake, button mushroom, reishi, and others.  Mushrooms don’t trigger the side effects seen with pharmaceutical ACE inhibitors, such as dry cough. While the effects of a pharmaceutical drug in the body are going to be stronger than simply eating mushrooms, regular mushroom consumption can be part of a long-term heart maintenance program. 

2. Influencing cholesterol metabolism

Cholesterol is made and broken down by the liver and has multiple important functions in the body.  LDL is simply a complex of cholesterol and carrier protein that shuttles cholesterol to the various parts of the body where it’s needed.  Chronic inflammation and high free radical load (“oxidative stress,” or essentially rust) damages the lining of our blood vessels, and cholesterol is produced and added to circulation to act as a bandage. If whatever’s causing the inflammation and/or oxidative stress isn’t dealt with, cholesterol will continue going up and itself may oxidize (rust) and become sticky. This is how blockages form.

Where do mushrooms come in? Oyster mushroom contains a natural statin that influences cholesterol metabolism by inhibiting an enzyme in the body called HMG-CoA reductase.  Other mushrooms promoting healthy cholesterol regulation include maitake, shiitake, button mushroom, reishi and many others, and they act by multiple mechanisms.  For example, increasing cholesterol breakdown in the liver, increasing removal of cholesterol from the body or reducing inflammation and oxidative stress (more on these momentarily).

3. Reducing inflammation and providing antioxidants

Mushrooms provide a wealth of anti-inflammatory chemicals and antioxidants.  As mentioned, one of the most significant reasons for the accumulation of cholesterol in blood vessels are inflammation and oxidative stress.  A major source of these? Processed carbs and damaged fats. For example: Commercially ground flour that is likely rancid from sitting too long; white flour; sugar; unstable polyunsaturated cooking oils like safflower, soy, and corn; trans fats, and fried foods. A great way to give some love to your vasculature and heart is to remove these ingredients from your diet and give mushrooms like maitake, shiitake, porcini, button, oyster, and reishi a better chance at reducing chronic inflammation and oxidative stress.

4. Providing fiber and other complex polysaccharides

Shiitake and maitake mushroom fiber were found to reduce serum cholesterol levels by increasing elimination via the bowel and through liver effects.  All mushrooms are high in fiber, so regular consumption of any good edible is likely to have similar effects.

5. Thinning the blood

Maitakeoyster, and other mushrooms reduce blood clotting, essentially “thinning” the blood. This, in turn, means an easier job for the heart in pumping the blood through our arteries. “Thinner” blood means reduced risk of blockages caused by clots.

6. Making blood vessel walls less sticky

During chronic inflammation, the inner lining of our blood vessels becomes stickier due to the production of adhesion molecules (think “velcro”). Blood cells stick to these and may accumulate, contributing to blockages. Some mushrooms, such as button, maitake, shiitake and oyster directly reduce production of the “velcro.”

7. Providing potassium

Among other mechanisms by which shiitake mushrooms and other mushrooms may reduce blood pressure is by providing potassium.  The balance of potassium and sodium is integral to blood pressure regulation, with high levels of potassium lowering and high levels of sodium increasing blood pressure. 

Eating mushrooms should be fine for those on blood pressure reducing medications, but pay attention to blood pressure levels and consult with a practitioner before using mushrooms in stronger medicinal forms like teas, liquid extracts, and encapsulated extracts.  Mushrooms can be a great addition to a nutritious diet and healthy lifestyle in keeping your ticker happily ticking!