The shiitake mushroom is native to Japan, China, and other East Asian countries, where it naturally grows on fallen trees in the forest: hence the common name, “black forest mushroom.” Deliberate cultivation of shiitake, both for food and medicine, is of ancient origin.
During the Ming Dynasty period (1368-1644), shiitake developed a reputation as a “tonic,” a substance said to increase energy, prevent disease, aid convalescence from illness, and slow bodily deterioration caused by aging. It was also used more specifically to treat respiratory illnesses, liver diseases, and intestinal infestation with worms.
The soft fleshy cap (“fruiting body”) is the part used medicinally.
As yet, there are no proposed uses of shiitake mushroom or shiitake mushroom extracts that are supported by reliable scientific evidence.
Current investigation of shiitake focuses primarily on the potential immune-stimulating and anti-cancer effects of some its constituents, most prominently lentinan (LNT), a polysaccharide substance in the beta-glucan family. Limited evidence from case reports and highly preliminary human studies hints that use of intravenously injected, purified lentinan might enhance the effectiveness of chemotherapy for stomach cancer, pancreatic cancer, and ovarian cancer.1-4 Note : Do not attempt to inject lentinan products designed for oral use.
One study found hints that oral lentinan might reduce recurrence rates of genital warts following laser surgery.11
One study failed to find oral shiitake extract helpful for treatment of prostate cancer.14
When taken orally, shiitake mushroom is most commonly used in the form of an extract: lentinus edodes mycelium extract (LEM). The typical dose of LEM is 1-3 grams 3 times daily.
Purified lentinan suitable for intravenous use is licensed as a pharmaceutical in Japan; it is not available in the United States.
As a widely eaten food, shiitake mushroom is believed to be fairly safe. As with any food, allergic reactions can occur.12,13
The safety of concentrated shiitake extracts, however, is less clear. Safety in pregnant or nursing women, young children, or people with severe liver or kidney disease has not been evaluated.
1. Matsuoka H, Seo Y, Wakasugi H, et al. Lentinan potentiates immunity and prolongs survival time of some patients. Anticancer Res. 1997;17:2751-2756.
2. Nimura H, Mitsumori N, Takahashi N, et al. S-1 combined with lentinan in patients with unresectable or recurrent gastric cancer]. Gan To Kagaku Ryoho. 2006;33(suppl 1):106-109.
3. Fujimoto K, Tomonaga M, Goto S. A case of recurrent ovarian cancer successfully treated with adoptive immunotherapy and lentinan. Anticancer Res. 2006;26:4015-4018.
4. Nakano H, Namatame K, Nemoto H, et al. A multi-institutional prospective study of lentinan in advanced gastric cancer patients with unresectable and recurrent diseases: effect on prolongation of survival and improvement of quality of life. Kanagawa Lentinan Research Group. Hepatogastroenterology. 1999;46:2662-2668.
5. Mitamura T, Sakamoto S, Suzuki S, et al. Effects of lentinan on colorectal carcinogenesis in mice with ulcerative colitis. Oncol Rep. 2000;7:599-601.
6. Wang J, Zhou ZD, Xia DJ. Study on effect of lentinan in enhancing anti-tumor action of dendritic cytoma vaccine and its mechanism]. Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. 2007;27:60-64.
7. Markova N, Kussovski V, Drandarska I, et al. Protective activity of Lentinan in experimental tuberculosis. Int Immunopharmacol. 2003;3:1557-1562.
8. Kupfahl C, Geginat G, Hof H. Lentinan has a stimulatory effect on innate and adaptive immunity against murine Listeria monocytogenes infection. Int Immunopharmacol. 2006;6:686-696.
9. Markova N, Kussovski V, Drandarska I, et al. Protective activity of Lentinan in experimental tuberculosis. Int Immunopharmacol. 2003;3:1557-1562.
10. Akamatsu S, Watanabe A, Tamesada M, et al. Hepatoprotective effect of extracts from Lentinus edodes mycelia on dimethylnitrosamine-induced liver injury. Biol Pharm Bull. 2004;27:1957-1960.
11. Guangwen Y, Jianbin Y, Dongqin L, et al. Immunomodulatory and therapeutic effects of lentinan in treating condyloma acuminata. CJIM. 1999;5:190-192.
12. Curnow P, Tam M. Contact dermatitis to Shiitake mushroom. Australas J Dermatol. 2003;44:155-157.
13. Suzuki K, Tanaka H, Sugawara H, et al. Chronic hypersensitivity pneumonitis induced by Shiitake mushroom spores associated with lung cancer. Intern Med. 2001;40:1132-1135.
14. deVere White RW, Hackman RM, Soares SE, et al. Effects of a mushroom mycelium extract on the treatment of prostate cancer. Urology. 2002;60:640-644.
Last reviewed December 2015 by EBSCO CAM Review Board Last Updated: 12/15/2015