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Natural Miracles:
What Functional Foods Can Do for You?

(Released October 2007)

  by Leila Kiani  


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Mushrooms, Spices & Algae


This section provides a short survey on other foods and food products that have active ingredients with health benefits, consisting of mushrooms, spices, and seaweeds.


In Asia, especially China, mushrooms are used for their health promotion benefits. And shiitake has been used for thousands of years (17).

mushroom on branch
Shiitake Mushroom
Mushrooms are endowed with plentiful nutritional and functional benefits. Their protein, essential amino acids, minerals and fiber are really valuable, and their functional effects are very useful. Recent studies have revealed these benefits of mushrooms:

  • Probiotic effects to help strengthen the body (see earlier Probiotics Discovery Guide)
  • Host Defense Potentiators (HDP) which can have immune system enhancement properties
  • Cancer treatments in many countries (Japan, Russia, China and the USA) because they have polysaccharide compounds with antitumor effects
  • Immunity building and longevity promotion
  • Fatigue relief and energy increase
  • Heart disease prevention by lowering cholesterol and blood pressure and through anticoagulant properties
  • Fatigue fighting and strength building
  • Chronic hepatitus B infection decrease
  • Potent antioxidant (for which they are a top food source)
Research also shows that Ganoderma mushrooms have these uses (20):
  • prevent viral diseases
  • detoxify the liver
  • have a positive effect on insomnia
  • help cure high blood pressure
  • treat diabetes
slanted mushroom
Shiitake growing at a slant
The most popular mushrooms, which have long been used for both nutritional and medicinal effects, are Lentinus edodes (Shiitake mushroom), Ganoderma lucidum, Trametes versicolor (Turkey Tail mushroom), and Flammulina velutipes (winter mushroom). They all have been shown to boost the host's immune system and they can treat many kinds of diseases (17, 20, 21 and 22).

Lentinan is an active compound in mushrooms that helps the immune system to be more powerful. Lentinan may help to overcome diseases, especially infectious diseases, such as influenza or other viral diseases, even HIV (17).

Lentinan, which has a polysaccharide structure "beta-glucan," also has anti-cancer effects.

Another compound in mushrooms, called "eritadenine," helps to reduce cholesterol and has been studied in a large number of animals (17).

L-ergothioneine in mushrooms is a powerful antioxidant. Research has shown "that mushrooms contain higher concentrations of L-ergothioneine than either of the two dietary sources previously believed to contain the most: chicken liver and wheat germ" (17).

Spices (food additives)

These are the spices most used in food preparation (25):

  • fenugreek seeds (Trigonella foenumgraecum)
  • garlic (Allium sativum)
  • onion (Allium cepa)
  • turmeric (Curcuma longa)
  • cumin seeds (Cuminum cyminum)
  • ginger (Zingiber officinale)
  • mustard (Brassica nigra)
  • curry leaves (Murraya koenigii)
  • coriander (Coriandrum sativum)
  • basil
  • oregano
  • garlic
  • turmeric
  • rosemary
These food additives help to improve health due to their antidiabetic potential and also their hypoglycemic effects on controling diabetes. Furthermore, the phenolic compounds in spices give flavor, taste, aroma, and color to food.

However spices do much more. They can fight many diseases, such as cancer, diabetes and high blood sugar, as well as improving overall health. Ginger has been shown to help control inflammation, which can contribute to the development of ovarian cancer cells. In multiple ovarian cancer cell lines, ginger induces cell death at a similar or better rate than the platinum-based chemotherapy drugs typically used to treat ovarian cancer. Another example is capsaicin, the compound that makes peppers hot, which can shrink pancreatic tumors.

Adding spices such as basil, oregano, garlic, turmeric, and rosemary to your diet may reduce the risk of chronic health problems. Two common spices with powerful effects are saffron and turmeric.

Saffron: An Anti-Depressant Herb

saffron bud
Saffron is used for (24):

  • digestive problems
  • treat menstrual disorders
  • difficult labor
  • inflammation
  • depression
  • vomiting
  • throat disease
  • s
  • control bleeding
In small doses, Saffron promotes production of gastric juices. But pregnant women need to beware. Large doses cause contractions in the smooth muscle of the uterus and may induce abortion. (24)

The medicinal properties attributed to saffron are extensive. Topically, it is applied to improve overall skin condition and to treat acne (19). And internally it is used to:

  • improve blood circulation
  • regulate menstruation
  • treat digestive disturbance
  • ease cough and asthmatic breathing
  • reduce fever and inflammation
  • calm nervousness
  • alleviate depression
In Tibet, saffron is often an ingredient in medicinal incenses; it is considered a tonic for the heart and the nervous system. The active ingredients may be beneficial in inhibiting growth of cancer cells (19).


turmeric & flower
Turmeric and Flower
This food is very low in Cholesterol and Sodium. It is also a good source of Vitamin C and Magnesium, and an excellent source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin B6, Iron, Potassium and Manganese (1).

Turmeric is more commonly used as a spice than as a medicine, though it does seem to have anti-inflammatory properties. Among its many mildly medicinal effects are antitumor and antibacterial activity, relief of liver damage, and stimulation of bile production. The medicinal part of the plant is its fleshy underground stem (24).

powdered turmeric
Powdered Turmeric
Turmeric is a mild digestive, being aromatic, a stimulant and a carminative. An ointment base of the spice is used as an antiseptic in Malaysia. Turmeric water is an Asian cosmetic applied to impart a golden glow to the complexion. Curcumin has been shown to be active against Staphlococcus aureus (pus-producing infections) (25).

The volatile oil fraction of turmeric has demonstrated significant anti-inflammatory activity in a variety of experimental models. Even more potent than its volatile oil is curcumin, the yellow or orange pigment thought to be turmeric's primary pharmacological agent. In numerous studies, curcumin's anti-inflammatory effects have proved comparable to the potent drugs hydrocortisone and phenylbutazone as well as over-the-counter anti-inflammatory agents such as Motrin. Unlike these drugs, which are associated with significant toxic effects, including ulcer formation, decreased white blood cell count, and intestinal bleeding, curcumin produces no toxicity (18).

In summary these are some benefits of active ingredients of Turmeric:

  • Effective Treatment for Inflammatory Bowel Disease
  • Relief for Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Prevention of Cancer
  • Inhibition of Cancer Cell Growth and Metastases
  • Risk reduction for Childhood Leukemia
  • Improved Liver Function
  • Cardiovascular Protection
  • Protection against Alzheimer's Disease
Recent studies show Possible Benefits from Curcumin (26)

Algae (Spirulina)

What is Spirulina?

Spirulina is blue-green algae. For its culture warm, fresh alkaline water is necessary. Its name is from the Latin word that means "helix" or "spiral" because microscopy figures show that its configuration is like a spiral. Spirulina is a super food because it has most of the necessary nutrients to meet bodily needs. It is sometimes called the "food for the future." In comparison to meat (22 percent protein) spirulina has 65 to 71 percent complete protein and all essential amino acids (27).

spirulina spirulina coils

What is Spirulina? Spirulina is a sea plant that contains both chlorophyll (green) and phycocyanin (blue) pigments which make it blue-green algae (27).

Spirulina has been used as a dietary supplement in many countries; NASA has chosen it as astronauts' food in space.
Spirulina's most important components are (28):

  • vegetable protein (3~4 times higher than fish or beef),
  • Multi Vitamins (especially vitamin B 12), which are particularly lacking in a vegetarian diet.
  • Minerals (including Iron, Potassium, Magnesium Sodium, Phosphorus, Calcium etc.)
  • High volumes of gamma-Linoleinic acid (which is helpful for reducing cholesterol and protecting against heart diseases).
  • Phycocyanin, a pigment which can only be found in Spirulina (28).
The good news is that many essential nutrients recommended by experts to help protect our bodies are concentrated in Spirulina. It contains the most powerful combination of nutrients ever known in any grain, herb or food (29).

Studies (not completed yet) are showing that spirulina has these health benefits (30):

  • Therapeutic effects on hyperlipidemia and obesity
  • Decreased total serum cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, while in-creasing high-density lipoprotein
  • Significant reduction of body weight after inclusion in the diet for four weeks
  • Boosted immune system
Spirulina also benefits the immune system and other systems crucial to human health. For instance, "feeding studies show that even small amounts of Spirulina build up both the humoral and cellular arms of the immune system" (30). Spirulina prevents invasion of the body, boosting the cellular immune system, including a variety of cells that "circulate in the blood and are especially rich in body organs like the liver, spleen, thymus, lymph nodes, adenoids, tonsils and bone marrow" (29).

Spirulina Phycocyanin Builds Blood

Spirulina dark blue-green color indicates that "it is rich in a brilliant blue polypeptide called Phycocyanin. Studies show that Phycocyanin affects the stem cells found in bone marrow. Stem cells are 'Grandmother' to both the white blood cells that make up the cellular immune system and red blood cells that oxygenate the body" (29).

Key players in immunity that are stimulated in the presence of spirulina or its extracts

Easy to take any time for more vitality

Three to ten grams of spirulina contains the daily necessary compounds for the body so if you cannot prepare enough regular food for each day you can use spirulina daily along with all the food you eat. It works well as a supplement to provide for your nutrition deficiency: "Tablets are convenient anytime, between, before, or with meals. Many people enjoy mixing Spirulina powder, which can dissolve in a green fruit juice smoothie, as an instant breakfast, or a vegetable juice smoothie, as a snack in the afternoon" (29).

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