Men wanting to keep their prostate in good health are often advised to eat a healthy balanced diet with plenty of fresh green vegetables and fewer well-cooked meats. And now, Japanese researchers say it’s time to put more mushrooms on the menu too, as their study suggests a link between eating mushrooms and a lower risk of prostate cancer.

Writing in the International Journal of Cancer, the experts followed more than 36,000 Japanese men between the ages of 40 and 79 over a couple of decades. After analysing questionnaires on the men’s lifestyle choices – including what they ate and whether or not they ate mushrooms –  the researchers concluded that eating mushrooms on a regular basis reduces the risk of prostate cancer. The effect was even more pronounced in men aged 50 and older and also in those whose diet consisted of a lot of meat and dairy and not very many fruits and vegetables. Those who ate mushrooms once or twice a week were eight percent less likely to develop prostate cancer than those eating mushrooms less than once a week, the study found. And men eating mushrooms three or four times a week had a 17 per cent lower risk.

But why mushrooms? Shu Zhang, assistant professor of epidemiology in the Department of Health Informatics and Public Health at Tohoku University School of Public Health and lead author of the study explains: “Mushrooms are a good source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants,” he says, “especially L-ergothioneine.” L-ergothioneine is thought to reduce oxidative stress, described by Zhang as “a cellular imbalance resulting from poor diet and lifestyle choices and exposure to environmental toxins that can lead to chronic inflammation that is responsible for chronic diseases such as cancer”.

It’s far from the first time mushrooms have been linked with a positive health effec. Just recently, researchers suggested eating mushrooms could reduce the risk of cognitive impairment in later life.

But before you start thinking that it’s okay to skimp on healthy foods as long as you eat mushrooms a few times a week, Zhang has this warning: “Although our study suggests regular consumption of mushrooms may reduce the risk of prostate cancer, we also want to emphasise that eating a healthy and balanced diet is much more important than filling your shopping basket with mushrooms.”

Photo by Claudia Crespo on Unsplash