Eating a handful of mushrooms a day cuts cancer risk by third, study suggests

Alexandra Thompson
·2-min read
Cooking Italian Vegetarian Pizza With Vegetables And Mushrooms At Home, On A Wooden Table. The Woman Slices The Mushrooms. Step-by-step instructions, Do it Yourself. Step 5.
All varieties of mushrooms are rich in a 'unique and potent' antioxidant. (Stock, Getty Images)

Adding a handful of mushrooms to your risotto, omelette or pasta could ward off cancer, research suggests.

Scientists from Penn State University analysed 17 studies with more than 19,500 participants between them.

Results suggest eating 18g of mushrooms a day cuts the risk of developing any form of cancer by just over a third (34%).

The fungi are rich in the "unique and potent" antioxidant ergothioneine.

Read more: Student overcomes testicular cancer after noticing 'pea-sized lump'

While "superfood" varieties like shiitake and king oyster contain more ergothioneine, the easier-to-source white button and portobello mushrooms also have cancer-fighting properties, according to the scientists.

Medical 3D illustration of a dividing cancer cell with a cell surface
One in two people born after 1960 in the UK will statistically develop cancer. (Stock, Getty Images)

"Mushrooms are the highest dietary source of ergothioneine, which is a unique and potent antioxidant and cellular protector," said study author Djibril Ba, a graduate student.

"Replenishing antioxidants in the body may help protect against oxidative [internal] stress and lower the risk of cancer."

Read more: Cancer-killing virus shows promise for inoperable skin tumours

One in two people born after 1960 in the UK will statistically develop cancer at some point in their life.

Although often unpreventable, the disease can sometimes be warded off with healthy lifestyle habits, like a nutritious diet, not smoking and exercising regularly. 

Watch: How to cook morel mushrooms

To better understand mushrooms' cancer-fighting potential, the scientists analysed studies carried out between 1966 and 2020.

Overall, the participants with the highest mushroom consumption were 34% less likely to develop any form of cancer than those with the lowest intake, the results show.

When it comes to breast cancer specifically, which most of the 17 studies focused on, the risk was reduced by 35%.

A high mushroom intake was found to lower the odds of non-breast cancer by 20%. This less marked risk reduction is likely due to the studies largely investigating breast cancer, according to Ba.

"The association between higher mushroom consumption and lower risk of cancer, particularly breast cancer, may indicate a potential protective role for mushrooms in the diet," the scientists wrote in the journal Advances in Nutrition.

Read more: Nearly 11,000 breast cancer cases undiagnosed in UK due to pandemic

They stressed the 17 studies varied in how they were carried out, with some requiring the participants to recall their mushroom consumption, leaving room for inaccuracies.

Nevertheless, co-author Professor John Richie said: "Overall, these findings provide important evidence for the protective effects of mushrooms against cancer.

"Future studies are needed to better pinpoint the mechanisms involved and specific cancers that may be impacted."

Watch: John Travolta opens up about losing wife Kelly Preston to cancer