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The obesity fighting mushroom: Chinese medicine counters diabetes and weight gain

As any gardener knows, plants need the right mix of fertilisers to flourish – and the same seems to be true for your gut bacteria. Microbiologist David Ojcius from Taiwan’s Chang Gung University and his colleagues found the secret to a healthy gut is what you feed them – and that perfect meal could come from a humble mushroom. They published their findings in Nature Communications.

“It’s a very large body of work,” says Margaret Morris, pharmacologist at the University of New South Wales. “To me it’s really intriguing.”

The mushroom in question is a white rot macrofungus that grows on trees and is used in traditional Chinese medicine – practitioners have named it the “mushroom of immortality”. Ganoderma lucidum has been used in Asia for 2,000 years to promote health and longevity. In recent times it’s been shown to reduce blood glucose levels in mice with diabetic symptoms. “We wanted to know whether it has anti-obesity effects,” says Chuan-Sheng Lin, co-author of the study.

The team fed mice a high-fat diet for eight weeks – they became obese and were showing signs of diabetes. A second group of mice received the same diet, but were also fed a concentrated G. lucidum extract in the form of a broth – 100 microlitres a day, equivalent to a cup of broth for an adult human.

Sure enough, the mice on the high-fat plus broth diet gained less weight than their junk-food-only counterparts. The broth staved off obesity and appeared to protect against diabetes too – inflammatory molecules in fat cells and blood sugar levels were also lower.

How was the mushroom exerting these effects? When the researchers took a close look, they saw another change, not in the mice but in what was living in their guts.

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