More than 2000 species of edible and/or medicinal mushrooms have been identified to date, many of which are widely consumed, stimulating much research on their health-promoting properties. These properties are associated with bioactive compounds produced by the mushrooms, including polysaccharides. Although β-glucans (homopolysaccharides) are believed to be the major bioactive polysaccharides of mushrooms, other types of mushroom polysaccharides (heteropolysaccharides) also possess biological properties. Here we survey the chemistry of such health-promoting polysaccharides and their reported antiobesity and antidiabetic properties as well as selected anticarcinogenic, antimicrobial, and antiviral effects that demonstrate their multiple health-promoting potential. The associated antioxidative, anti-inflammatory, and immunomodulating activities in fat cells, rodents, and humans are also discussed. The mechanisms of action involve the gut microbiota, meaning the polysaccharides act as prebiotics in the digestive system. Also covered here are the nutritional, functional food, clinical, and epidemiological studies designed to assess the health-promoting properties of polysaccharides, individually and as blended mixtures, against obesity, diabetes, cancer, and infectious diseases, and suggestions for further research. The collated information and suggested research needs might guide further studies needed for a better understanding of the health-promoting properties of mushroom polysaccharides and enhance their use to help prevent and treat human chronic diseases.
Keywords: antibiotics; bioactivity; biomarkers; cancer; chemistry; diabetes; functional food; health-promoting food additives; mushrooms; obesity; polysaccharides; research needs.