Odd ag pairing has one thing in common
Two very different ingredients of California agriculture have been shown by U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers to have significant health benefits.
One is sunshine, which is perhaps the most important contributor to the sustainability of the state's agricultural production. The other is white button mushrooms, a crop grown in practical darkness in both Northern and Southern California.
The dichotomy of sunshine and shadows was reported recently in the research publication produced by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), named, aptly enough, Agricultural Research. In its June issue, the magazine, which is published 10 times a year, reported on research showing how vitamin D resulting from exposure to sunshine and consumption of the mushrooms contribute to better health.
Authors of the article Marcia Wood and Rosalie Marion Bliss point out that millions of Americans experience a shortage of vitamin D, often called the sunshine vitamin. They say the shortage has been identified as one of the most serious public health issues facing the United States today.
Vitamin D doesn't come from the sun, but human bodies manufacture it when stimulated by sunlight striking the skin. The mushrooms have been shown by research conducted at Tufts University to enhance the activity of natural killer cells. Antiviral and other proteins are released by the cells as they seek to protect and repair tissue.
The two partners influencing better health are somewhat incompatible.
While the sunshine is a staple in most of California during the summer, the mushrooms are grown in areas influenced by foggier climates, mostly in the coastal strip from San Mateo County in the north to San Diego County in the south. Eleven of the larger producers are located in San Mateo, Monterey, Santa Clara, Ventura and San Diego counties.
Of course, California is better known for its sunshine than for its mushrooms. Pennsylvania is the nation's largest producer of mushrooms, with 61 percent of the crop, while California is second at 20 percent produced on 518 acres and returning an average of $187 million annually.
Even in the cooler, shadier coastal areas, mushroom production is an indoor practice with growth occurring in beds of peat protected from daylight. The white button mushrooms that were the focus of the research by ARS make up 90 percent of the country's mushroom production. They also are the leaders in California's production, followed by crimini and portabellas.
George Stephenson, a physiologist at the ARS Immunity and Disease Prevention Research Unit in Davis, has overseen a first-of-its-kind study involving 72 young adults and their exposure to sunshine. In it, "low sun exposure" was defined by a person spending no more than 20 minutes a day in direct sun, wearing long pants, a short-sleeved top and no hat. The researchers equated that to an average office worker's exposure.
Stephenson and his colleagues at the ARS Western Human Nutrition Research Center caution that the findings of the study are preliminary and that more research with a larger number of volunteers is needed to refine the predictive power of the new mathematical model his group developed.
Apparently no such precautions are necessary with mushroom consumption, which also provides a certain level of vitamin D. That may be the only benefit common to both sunshine and mushroom consumption. It's kind of a matter of night and day, but with health benefits as a rewards, who cares what the clock says?
CONTACT Don Curlee at firstname.lastname@example.org