Mushrooms and their extracts have demonstrated promising potential for treating a range of health conditions and are considered a superfood due to their high amounts of vitamins, minerals, and bioactive compounds. Several studies have shown that these properties in mushrooms may contribute to lowered blood glucose levels, but there is not much research done on humans focusing on the association between mushroom consumption and diabetes or blood glucose levels (1).
However, recent research has found that the average consumption of dietary mushrooms may have a beneficial effect on preventing the development of type 2 diabetes, offering a possible natural approach against diabetes and insulin resistance.
Type 2 diabetes is a disease that impacts how the body processes glucose in the blood. When the body does not properly respond to insulin, it becomes difficult for glucose to enter cells and be used in the body, leading to severe health consequences. According to the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), an estimated 400 million people worldwide have the condition, and numbers are projected to rise to 783 million by 2045 (approximately 1 in 8 adults).
As a result, the prevention of type 2 diabetes has become a critical priority in public health. Risk factors such as diet and exercise can play a major role in the disease. Certain foods such as cereals and whole grains have been linked to a lower risk of diabetes, yet more studies are needed to determine enough evidence to prove this claim.
Scientists believe that these foods may prevent diabetes due to their content of beta-glucan, a soluble fiber that has been shown to enhance insulin sensitivity, slow down the absorption of sugar in the bloodstream, and reduce glycemic response, leading to a more controlled increase of blood sugar levels following meals (2).
Mushrooms are known for their high amounts of beta-glucans, along with other diabetes-fighting nutrients like vitamin D and Selenium, leading to the question of whether or not mushrooms have an impact on the condition as well. In South Korea, mushrooms are commonly used in meals and medicine, leading the scientists of the study to look into the association between type 2 diabetes and mushroom consumption based on a prospective cohort study on individuals aged 40 and older in Korea.
The research utilized data from the Korean Genome and Epidemiology Study-Cardiovascular Disease Association Study. The over 16,000 participants included three community cohorts in rural areas of Korea. At the baseline of the study, they were free from cardiovascular disease or cancer.
The study was conducted between 2005 and 2017, with follow-ups every two to four years. Each participant completed a questionnaire at baseline and during each follow-up visit to assess their dietary mushroom intake. The cumulative average of mushroom consumption was calculated to reflect long-term dietary patterns. Incidents of type 2 diabetes were determined through self-reported diagnosis confirmed by a physician or elevated fasting blood glucose levels (≥126 mg/dL) at follow-up.
The study included other factors that could influence the results, such as weight, age, smoking, and exercise. Researchers also divided participants into groups based on personal characteristics like age, level of education, and whether or not they exercised to see if mushrooms had the same protective effects against diabetes in each group. This allowed them to determine if mushroom consumption would be more effective at preventing diabetes for some people compared to others.
The results of the study found that increased mushroom consumption was linked to a lower chance of type 2 diabetes, with a 35% lower risk in men and a 30% lower risk in women. As mushroom consumption increased, particularly in male participants, the risk of developing diabetes decreased, indicating a significant linear dose-response relationship.
Even participants with higher risk factors demonstrated a lowered risk of diabetes, demonstrating the beneficial effects of mushrooms amongst various population demographics (3).
The overall results align with previous studies; however, some earlier research did not find a clear link between mushroom consumption and lower diabetes risk. These differences in findings could be because of the types and amounts of mushrooms consumed in each study. Since mushrooms are a common part of the diet in Korea, it might explain why they have a noticeable impact on diabetes there, further suggesting the hypothesis that certain varieties of mushrooms could influence the results.
The researchers acknowledged some limitations, such as the possibility of other healthy behaviors among the participants that could also promote lowered diabetes risk. The study also did not factor in the use of medicinal mushrooms, which are also commonly consumed in Korea, as these mushrooms contain different levels of compounds that could have contributed to the results.
Future research should involve more detailed studies to better understand the mechanisms behind how mushrooms might prevent type 2 diabetes and whether certain types of mushrooms are more beneficial than others.