Interview with Steve Farrar
By Dr. Mercola
Steve Farrar has a Masters Degree in Horticulture from the Washington State University and has worked and studied mushrooms professionally for the last 30 years.
The first 20 years he spent growing them and working primarily with gourmet chefs, but in the past decade, he's started applying his expertise of mushrooms to health purposes.
According to Farrar, Americans consume about 900 million pounds of mushrooms a year, but 95 percent of that just one species: the common button mushroom and its relatives, the Crimini and the Portabello mushrooms.
In more recent years, mushrooms have received a lot of attention, both in gourmet cooking and in the pharmaceutical industry.
Virtually all mushrooms provide excellent nutrition, such as protein, vitamins and enzymes, and many have potent medicinal value.
Mushrooms should not be confused with mold and fungi however, which do not form fleshy fruit bodies. To learn more about the details of how mushrooms grow and propagate, please listen to the interview or read through the transcript. The common button mushroom, while not as 'interesting' as its more exotic cousins, is an excellent low-calorie food, especially for diabetics. It contains a number of valuable nutrients, including:
- Vitamin D2
However, Farrar's focus has been on growing various gourmet mushroom species, particularly the wood decaying mushroom species, which differ greatly from your average button mushroom in terms of biology, nutrition and medicinal value, as well as in the production and methodology of growing them.
"By virtue of them being primary decomposers, they have some unique nutritional and also health benefits to them," Farrar explains. "I tended to focus on species like Maitake, Shiitake, Enokitake, oyster mushrooms, brown beech mushrooms; mushrooms that people over the last 20 years were not really that familiar with."
The wood decaying mushrooms, which are preferred in Asia and parts of Europe, are quite different in terms of flavors and textures. They also tend to have valuable medicinal properties that differ from the button mushroom. And we've barely scratched the surface when it comes to understanding the value and importance of mushrooms as we've only classified about 10 percent of all available species.
"I'm continually humbled by my ignorance of what's going on in this incredible complex world of fungi," Farrar says. "It's just mind boggling. Even with the well-studied species, nearly every week they're finding a new bio-active component… Maybe it's a polysaccharide, maybe it's an enzyme, a protein, an antioxidant. They are continually finding new things that have profound effects when we consume them as a food or as a dietary supplement."
According to Farrar, the effect mushrooms can have on human health is multifaceted, but they're most well-known for their immune-boosting properties. Long chain polysaccharides, particularly alpha- and beta glucan molecules, are primarily responsible for the mushrooms' beneficial effect on your immune system.
"They're host mediated responses, meaning that they are not going in like a pharmaceutical medicine and like a sledgehammer forcing your body in a particular way. They interact through your immune system itself by stimulating it and making it ready and efficient,"he explains.
Mushrooms are excellent sources of antioxidants in general as they contain polyphenols and selenium, which are common in the plant world. But they also contain antioxidants that are unique to mushrooms. One such antioxidant is ergothioneine, which scientists are now beginning to recognize as a 'master antioxidant.' Interestingly, it's an amino acid that contains sulfur, and if you listened to my interview with Dr. Seneff on the highly underestimated importance of sulfur, you may recognize why this particular antioxidant may be of particular importance for human health, as many are severely deficient in sulfur.
"It's one of the only antioxidants identified so far that our cells use as a transport system to actively take ergothioneine across the cell membrane into the cell, to the points of oxidative stress," Farrar explains. "It's a very significant antioxidant. It's probably eventually going to be called a vitamin they barely even found ways to quantify it effectively. Mushrooms are an excellent source of this antioxidant. We can only get it from our diet. It's only produced by fungi and certainly soil inhabiting bacteria."
A 2009 study in the journal Nature discusses the importance of ergothioneine, describing it as "an unusual sulfur-containing derivative of the amino acid, histidine," which appears to have a very specific role in protecting your DNA from oxidative damage. So, if Farrar's assertions that your body needs ergothioneine, which is fairly exclusive to mushrooms, to effectively transport ergothioneine into your cells, it's easy to see how mushrooms may be an important part of an optimal diet. If you don't like to eat them whole, you can also find them in supplement form, either as an extract or whole food supplement, which I'll discuss more in a moment. According to Farrar, many of the immune benefits obtained from mushrooms are due to the glyconutrients (complex sugars) contained in the fruit body and the mycelia.
"The vital information that can be contained in these sugars is astounding," he says."The way they communicate is through receptor sites on your cells. It's described as a lock and a key. There are receptor sites depending on the physical structure of the polysaccharides, the side branches, and the substitutions on it, and they will lock on to certain components of your immune system and activate it much like they would be activated by coming into contact with the bacteria.
It's very profound effects, and we don't fully understand them. But it's really these long chained polysaccharides (that are immense complex structures), a lot of times bound with proteins or amino acids or different side chains, that have the effect on your immune system."
From a practical standpoint, what this means is that you can effectively elicit a very broad-based immune response by consuming a variety of different mushrooms of different species. Most likely, this is exactly what our ancestors used to do, and by eating a diverse variety of foods within each food group, you're giving your body everything it needs, thereby optimizing your genetic expression.
Also of interest: Health Benefits of Medicinal Mushrooms and Fungi
*This information is for educational purpose only. It is not meant to diagnose or cure a disease