Dear readers, do you enjoy a good conspiracy theory? Well, have I got a good one for you! I have been getting a lot of e-mails about episode #1035 of the Joe Rogan Experience with Paul Stamets. Stamets, a celebrated mushroom expert, warned Joe Rogan about eating raw portabella mushrooms, then suddenly went silent. Here is the excerpt from the podcast:
Paul Stamets: Portabellas have a problem. All mushrooms should be cooked, and portabellas, in particular, should be cooked at high temperatures.
Joe Rogan: Why?
PS: There is an unfortunate group of compounds called agaritines. Agaritines, are hydrazines that are heat unstable, so the good news is, you should cook them, and if you cook them well, then those mushrooms are not a problem. If you don’t cook them well, then these hydrazines are potentially problematic. Now, nature’s a numbers game: so, there are beneficial compounds, that, in some balance, may outweigh the negative effects of the hydrazines, the garatines in these mushrooms, but that jury is still out so to speak.
JR: What are the negative effects of this?
PS: This is an explosive area of conversation, and that puts my life in danger, so I reserve the right not to answer your question.
JR: Woah! I didn’t expect that. It puts your life in danger talking about portabella mushrooms?
Many listeners found this intriguing and jumped on Google to make sense of his enigmatic concern. I, too, began to research this and the only seemed to increase.
When I evaluate a compound, I like to begin by learning about its intended biological function. In this case, what gene does the portabella mushroom have that expresses enzymes leading to the synthesis of agaritine? What factors lead to its expression? (In other words, what environmental factors turn this gene on and off?) What were the likely pressures for the evolution of this gene? In the attempt to answer these questions, I discovered that the leading research on agaritine concludes that there is no de novo synthesis of agaritine by the fungus itself, meaning that they do not believe that the portabella mushroom is responsible for making agaritine and that its origin has yet to be identified. There are some theories, but nothing even close to proven true.
So, now, we have a compound of unknown origin, and an unknown biological role that silenced a mushroom expert when asked the basic question: “What are the negative effects of this?” This contains all the makings of a good conspiracy.
What are the documented effects of agaritine? Agaritine has been proven to form convenient bonds with DNA through enzymatic activation to form a mutagenic aganent and when we see this happening, most people jump straight to one thought: cancer. With this documented property, we can now look at this compound’s ability to cause or prevent cancer. So, which is it? It turns out, that it does both, and maybe that will help us to decrypt Stamets’ “nature’s a numbers game” statement.
There is a small body of research using the mushroom Agaricus bisporus that, most often, shows a rise in tumor production. The altered DNA seems to be concentrated mostly in the stomach, but we also see mutagenic effects in the kidneys, bladder, and lungs. Although, the doses of these raw mushrooms (or their extracts) are not realistic for a typical diet. In other words, the rats used in the study were eating the equivalent of a years’ worth of mushrooms daily. So, like the 1970s studies of saccharine, does this imply that if human beings eat raw portabella mushrooms, they are at a higher risk of developing cancers? Since most of the damage occurs in the outer layer of the stomach, even if this agaritine causes cancer in humans, the location of the tumors would have no significant biological consequence.
There is an even smaller body of research showing that agaritine has some anti-tumor effects and it has also been theorized that, due to its DNA binding capabilities, agaritine could be used medicinally as an antiviral. This compound has not been shown to target any specific cancers or viruses, so, in my humble opinion, if someone were to have a leukemic tumor, or HIV, injecting a known carcinogen as a form of treatment would most likely cause more harm than good, and I estimate ingesting loads of raw, portabella mushrooms to treat these conditions to have the same efficacy as crystal healing therapy, homeopathy, or KT tape.
So far, I have yet to uncover any sort of “smoking gun” that would put Paul Stamets’ life in danger. Is the portabella mushroom industry is connected to the Italian mafia? and they have issued death threats to him if he mentions one of the above studies? Unlikely. Maybe there are some undocumented, negative effects, or documented effects that have been taken down due to pressures from organized crime syndicates. Again, unlikely, because these crime groups have found something much more profitable than mushrooms: Narcotics. And they are not going to waste their time on mushrooms. Then again, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m just a shill for the mushroom industry and they have paid me millions, nay, billions of dollars to write this thousand-word blog post. Anything is possible, right?
Well, friends, like most conspiracies, this one turns out to be interesting, but it doesn’t have a lot of backing. According to Stamets, we should start eating lion’s mane mushrooms instead of portabellas, but when is the last time you’ve seen lion’s mane in your local grocery store? Maybe some of you will be brave enough to run around in the woods and try to find your own, but not me. So, I guess I’ll call it a day and cook up some basil and mozzarella (grass-fed, of course) stuffed portabella mushrooms. As long as I bake them long enough, I should be okay, right?
What do you think about the portabella mushroom conspiracy? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.