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The body could not function without cholesterol, which helps break down fats, or lipids, in the small intestine so that they can be absorbed into the bloodstream. In the liver, cholesterol combines with lipids and proteins in the blood to form various complexes called lipoproteins (LDL or “bad” cholesterol). It has been linked to clogged artery walls, which can lead to heart attack or stroke. High-density lipo-proteins (HDL or “good” cholesterol), on the other hand, have been shown to scavenge excess LDL from the bloodstream and carry it to the liver for excretion or processing into good cholesterol.
According to studies performed in Japan during the 1970s, shiitake contains an amino acid called eritadenine that accelerates cholesterol’s processing in the liver. In addition, shiitake’s high dietary fiber helps the body process cholesterol.
In a 1974 study, 40 elderly people and 420 young women ate 9 grams of dried shiitake or the equivalent amount of fresh shiitake (90 grams) daily. After seven days, total cholesterol level (the types of cholesterol affected were not distinguished) had decreased 7 to 15% in the elderly and 6 to 12% in the young women.
Another 1974 study involved 30 young women. Ten added 90 grams of fresh shiitake and 60 grams of butter to their daily diet, ten added only the butter, and ten added only the shiitake. After seven days, the total cholesterol level of the shiitake and butter group decreased an average of 4%, while that of the butter group increased an average of 14% and that of the shiitake group declined an average of 12%. The researchers concluded that shiitake had “completely nullified” the effect of the butter on the cholesterol level of the first group of participants.