Healthy fungus

White button mushrooms appear to boost immune function

It appears that a little fungus may be good for what ails you. That’s the conclusion of a new study that found that eating white button mushrooms may boost the immune system and protect against infection.

The elixir of immunity © GETTY IMAGES

If the research, done on animals, translates to people, it could raise the health-benefit profile of the fungus, which also contains high concentrations of the super-antioxidant ergothioneine, which protects cells from damaging free radicals.

“This is the first published study showing the effect of white button mushrooms on immune function,” Dayong Wu, a scientist in the Immunology Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts and lead author of the study, published in the June issue of the Journal of Nutrition, told

The research also suggests that the mushroom may boost both innate and acquired immune system health. The innate immune system, the one you’re born with, is the body’s first line of defense. The acquired immune system revs up if a pathogen makes its way past the innate system and customizes the immune response to target the invader.

For the study, the Tufts researchers, in collaboration with scientists from China’s National Institute of Communicable Disease Control and Prevention, fed mice a diet containing white mushroom powder at concentrations of 0, 2 or 10 percent. After 10 weeks, they examined markers for innate and acquired immune system health.

The results suggest that increased intake of white button mushrooms, which represent 90 percent of the mushrooms eaten in the United States, “may promote innate immunity against tumors and viruses” by heightening the activity of natural killer (NK) cells, a vital part of the immune system, the researchers wrote. Depressed NK activity has been associated with increased incidence of cancer as well as a higher susceptibility to colds and viruses.

This story ran in the July issue of the Tufts Journal.