Hypertension, or high blood pressure, occurs when the pressure in an individual’s blood vessels is too high. This worldwide wealth concern is a major risk factor for other health conditions like cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) and stroke. Every year, hypertension is estimated to cause around 7.5 million deaths globally, making up approximately 12.8% of all deaths. Hypertension can be combatted through prescribed medications but also dietary changes such as lowering sodium intake and consuming functional foods. According to a new study published by Phytotherapy Research, edible mushrooms act as functional foods by reducing hypertension and improving cardiovascular health. Researchers attribute these benefits to the bioactive compounds found in mushrooms.’’
Over the years, several studies have investigated the relationship between edible mushrooms and hypertension. In 2011, researchers conducted a study to determine the therapeutic potential of edible mushrooms on cardiac diseases. Their findings suggested that mushrooms may have the potential to be used to treat certain heart conditions (1). Similarly, another study from 2014 found that consuming mushrooms was associated with a lower risk of hypertensive symptoms (2).
These studies and several others consistently reach similar findings that demonstrate the effectiveness of edible mushrooms for treating hypertension. However, much research has still not entirely determined the bioactive reason why mushrooms successfully reduce hypertension.
As research continues, many scientists are discovering naturally occurring compounds in mushrooms that can improve aspects of our health. In fact, the abundance of bioactive compounds found in mushrooms is so significant that it blurs the line between them being considered edible or medicinal by terminology. These findings support the idea that incorporating mushrooms into our diets can offer many potential health benefits, particularly in managing and preventing high blood pressure.
The authors of this newly published study further research the mechanisms behind mushrooms and their ability to promote cardiovascular health while discussing the potential of functional foods as substitutes for synthetic prescription drugs (3).
Many edible mushrooms are full of health benefits: from reducing tumor activity to managing mood. Many of these compounds have been studied for their effects on hypertension and have boasted positive results. When scientists study the relationship between mushroom consumption and markers related to heart health and blood pressure, they look at different biomarkers in the body to determine how mushrooms may impact these factors. Some biomarkers they observe include cholesterol, LDL, and HDL levels, triglycerides, homocysteine, and markers of inflammation and blood clotting.
Several of these compounds help reduce high levels of LDL, which is considered “bad” cholesterol. High cholesterol levels can lead to atherosclerosis, a condition that can cause thickening or hardening of the arteries through plaque buildup. This buildup can increase the resistance to blood flow and the formation of blood clots, ultimately leading to raised blood pressure. Though high cholesterol is not directly responsible for high blood pressure, maintaining healthy cholesterol levels is crucial to managing overall cardiovascular health.
Edible mushrooms contain various bioactive compounds that have been researched for their potential to support heart health and manage blood pressure.
Ergosterol breaks down into different forms of vitamin D when exposed to light. According to one study, lower levels of vitamin D can lead to a higher risk of hypertension (4).
Cordycepin is extracted from Cordyceps militaris and has potential antihypertensive effects. It has been shown to help reduce fat levels in the blood, including total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides (5). Scientists believe this occurs because cordycepin has a similar structure to a molecule called adenosine which is linked to several processes throughout the body.
Lovastatin is found in many common edible mushrooms. When lovastatin is consumed, it changes into a different form called hydroxy acid. This new form of lovastatin lowers cholesterol levels in the body by blocking the conversion of HMG-CoA into mevalonic acid. By inhibiting this step, lovastatin stops the production of cholesterol in the body (6).
GABA (γ-Aminobutyric acid) has been found to lower hypertension in various animal and human cell studies. It does this by activating special GABA receptors in the cardiovascular system, which effectively slows down the heart rate and brings down blood pressure (7), (8).
Quercetin is a natural flavonol found in many fruits and vegetables, but also in mushrooms. It is a potent antioxidant that widens blood vessels, prevents plaque buildup in the arteries, and lowers blood pressure (9).
Beta-glucans (β-Glucans) are a bipolymer found in mushrooms. These soluble fibers turn into a gelatinous substance during digestion. This gel captures fats in our digestive system, such as cholesterol and triglycerides, which lowers blood cholesterol levels. In a 2021 study, researchers found that beta-glucans have biological activities and demonstrate cardiovascular protective effects like lowering blood sugar levels, reducing cholesterol, preventing obesity, lowering blood pressure, and improving atherosclerosis. They also found that consuming sources of beta-glucans reduced CVD risk factors (10).
Edible mushrooms also have a higher linoleic/linolenic ratio which benefits heart health due to essential fatty acids called PUFAs, which convert to tissue hormones and prevent blood clots and high blood pressure (11). Many of the various compounds in mushrooms have hypotensive effects that have been studied as a treatment option for high blood pressure. These bioactive compounds can positively affect our heart health and help maintain a normal blood pressure when added as a regular part of our diets.
There are hundreds of edible mushrooms, many chock full of vitamins, minerals, and naturally occurring compounds that can benefit your health. According to the new study, these are some of the top mushrooms that can help reduce hypertension, based on previous research:
Portobello mushrooms are one of the most popular cultivated mushrooms in the world and are versatile in meals due to their succulent texture and earthy, robust flavor. They contain several beneficial compounds, such as glutathione, selenium, beta-glucans, and ergothioneine, which are known to have hypoglycemic and hypolipidemic effects (12).
Oyster mushrooms are widely popular for their mild, seafood-like flavor and meaty texture. They can be served in both raw and cooked forms. Some bioactive peptides in oyster mushrooms inhibit Angiotensin-Converting Enzymes (ACE), an enzyme that indirectly increases blood pressure by restricting blood vessels (13).
Shiitake mushrooms are known for their earthy and bold umami flavors with a slightly meaty texture. They are a popular addition to various dishes. They contain ergosterol, eritadenine, and lentinan, which reduce high blood pressure (Agunloye and Oboh, 2021). In one preclinical study, shiitake extract was found to stimulate the removal of excess sodium and lessen fluid retention. Plus, it contains calcium and magnesium, which are crucial in reducing hypertension (14).
Maitake, also known as hen of the woods, has a deep earthy flavor and a texture comparable to chicken. In one animal study, researchers found that maitake can intensify insulin sensitivity and reduce inflammation and triglyceride levels, particularly in age-related cases of hypertension (15).
Reishi mushrooms are a bright red bracket fungus known for its medicinal qualities, primarily in Chinese medicine. Though technically edible, reishi is incredibly bitter and tough in texture. However, it can be turned into tinctures or powders or steeped in tea or soup recipes. Reishi contains bioactives that regulate an enzyme called ACE, which is responsible for cardiovascular system functioning and lowering cholesterol levels in the blood. By regulating ACE, reishi helps keep the heart and blood vessels healthy (16).
Shimeji mushrooms, or beech mushrooms, are common in Asian dishes and popular for their rich umami flavor and crunchy texture. Shimeji contains angiotensin ACE inhibitors, also known as oligopeptides which can help lower blood pressure by inhibiting the ACE enzyme. It also has other beneficial compounds like polysaccharides, flavonoids, cytokines, and phenolic content. These substances can prevent oxidative stress and inflammation in the body, thus improving blood pressure (17).
The chanterelle is a widely popular wild edible mushroom with a bright golden appearance. These aromatic mushrooms have a pleasant texture when cooked and are a highly coveted culinary delight. They contain important nutrients like niacin, pantothenic acid, vitamin D, phenols, flavonoids, and copper, which help maintain and reduce blood pressure levels. Chanterelles are considered safe for those experiencing preeclampsia, a pregnancy-induced hypertensive condition (18).
Cauliflower mushrooms get their name from their cauliflower-like appearance. They are firm to the bite and have a delicious nutty flavor. Some even compare its taste to the coveted morel mushroom. Cauliflower mushrooms have the potential to treat high blood pressure. According to one study, researchers found that incorporating the mushroom into the diet of hypertensive rats produced an enzyme called nitric oxide (NO), which can help regulate blood pressure. Cauliflower mushrooms were also found to improve endothelial dysfunction, which causes impaired functioning of blood vessels in individuals with hypertension. This improvement was due to activating a brain pathway called Akt/eNOS (19).
Wild enoki mushrooms (Flammulina velutipe) are darker with wider caps and shorter stems, while more commonly cultivated enoki (Flammulina filiformis) are light-colored with long, thin stems. These mushrooms contain a bioactive compound called mycosterol, which may have positive effects on blood pressure and cholesterol levels in the blood and liver (20).
Prescribed hypertension medications can effectively treat hypertension in some individuals, but the results can vary, and these treatments could have adverse side effects. Some of these side effects can include dizziness, headaches, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, and more. For those looking to circumvent traditional medication options, mushrooms could be a good option, such as exercising regularly, reducing salt consumption, and consuming a well-balanced, healthy diet. Though mushrooms aren’t a cure-all and should not replace recommendations from your physician, incorporating them into your diet gives you another nutritious and delicious ingredient packed with health benefits.