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“I like to think of fungi as altruistic… They’re friendly to everything.” When we interviewed fungus expert and Academy fellow Dennis Desjardin last year for this video, he had only great things to say about mushrooms. A vital part of any ecosystem, he pointed out, fungi provide water and nutrients to trees and other plants, and they are remarkable decomposers. And according to a study published today in Nature Communications, they also fight obesity!

Scientists used a mushroom called Ganoderma lucidum—known from traditional Chinese medicine—on mice with high-fat diets to see how the fungus might affect the unhealthy rodents. This particular species of fungus is known to help fight diabetes, but it had never been tested to understand its effects on obesity.

The researchers were especially keen to see how the mushroom affected the gut bacteria of these chubby mice. The team added an extract of G. lucidum to their food, and after eight weeks, the treated mice showed a reversal of the microbial imbalance in the gut caused by a high-fat diet and actually lost weight! In addition, the authors observed that fecal transplants from the treated mice to other obese mice can produce the same beneficial metabolic effects.

The results suggest G. lucidum supplements could be useful for the treatment of obesity and associated disorders in humans, too, but further research is necessary to confirm the effects.

With approximately 500 million obese people and 1.4 billion overweight people worldwide, obesity is a major threat to public health.

So Desjardin wasn’t exaggerating—fungi are friendly to everything and, possibly, everyone!

Image(s): Fungi, Eric Steinert/Wikipedia; Chubby Mouse, Mycroyance/Flickr

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