The Power of Mushrooms
In recent years, traditional plant-based medicines are gaining more and more attention with medical practitioners. Mushrooms being at the top of the list for their many amazing health benefits. Many forms of mushrooms have been used throughout the centuries in Ancient Chinese herbal medicine, with well over 200 different species used in therapeutic capacities throughout the years. There is a great deal of recent research surrounding mushrooms and their potential therapeutic benefits for a variety of conditions such as cancer, digestive health conditions, liver conditions, and autoimmune issues.
The key component in these healing mushrooms is psilocybin. Mushrooms containing psilocybin boost immune health through stimulating the production of T-lymphocytes and also the production of killer cells.1 In his book, Medicinal Mushrooms, The Essential Guide, Powell discusses how medicinal mushrooms work, as well as many of the various health conditions that medicinal mushrooms can help with. According to Powell,
Mushrooms are part of the fungal kingdom. As such they are more closely related to humans and other members of the animal kingdom than to plants and, partly because of this relative evolutionary closeness, many of the compounds they produce show physiological activity in humans as well as other animals.
The compounds that medicinal mushrooms produce, give the mushrooms an advantage in the microorganism community. These compounds discourage competitive organisms, yet have a pronounced effect on the human body. They ward off viruses, bacterial infections, and ‘bad’ fungal overgrowths such as candida. Medicinal mushrooms are antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral in nature. Humans and animals have evolved alongside these fungal communities, and this benefits our immune system regulation. Polysaccharides are the main compound found in these mushrooms. These polysaccharides help to downregulate the proinflammatory immune response for individuals with compromised immune systems.1 Therefore, there is a reduction of overall inflammation in the body, and a modulation of the immune system.
Some immunological changes triggered by mushroom polysaccharides include:
- Activation of immune macrophages, neutrophils, and monocytes
- Increased antibody production
- Increased interferon production
- Increased immune activity against many different cancers
- Inhibition of tumors
- Reduction of pro-inflammatory cytokines
- Inhibition of prostoglandin synthesis1
Many of the mushrooms that are considered medicinal, are also delicious tasting! And the health benefits remain, even after cooking. Each medicinal mushroom family has different medicinal effects. Below is a review of three edible, medicinal mushroom types, and the role they can play in our health.
Types of Medicinal Mushrooms, and Their Properties:
Chaga has been used by traditional cultures for its health benefits, for hundreds of years. It grows high up on the bark of birch trees in the Eastern U.S. and Canada. This mushroom presents as a hardened, blackened, crusty formation, with the appearance of a bursting tumor on the trunk of a birch tree. Chaga’s most important components, betulinic acid and melano-glucan complexes are derived from the bark of the birch trees the fungus grows on. Chaga is traditionally used as a tea and is revered for its anti-cancer and digestive health benefits.1
In his review of recent research, Hastings2 found that Chaga demonstrated hypoglycemic effects in mice, anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties, reduced oxidative stress, anti-gene mutation properties, and inhibition of liver cancer cells2
Summary of the benefits of Chaga:
- Mental health
- Boosts digestion, improves the appetite
- Purifies the blood
- Regulates blood sugar
- Strengthens the heart
- Modulates the immune system
Cordyceps have a large variety of medicinal effects and Chinese practitioners have used them as medicine for hundreds of years. Cordyceps grow on moth larvae, and have a symbiotic relationship with their host.1 Traditionally, cordyceps were only used by the very few people who could afford it. They were used for the treatment of asthma, erectile dysfunction, and as a health tonic for the elderly. The main health benefit from cordyceps is increased energy because they help to deliver oxygen to the body at a cellular level. Due to their ability to increase metabolic efficiency, many athletes utilize cordyceps for increased efficiency of energy metabolism.1 In a 12 week study3 done on healthy older adults, cordycep use was associated with a 10.5% increase in metabolic threshold. The researchers concluded that supplementation with cordyceps improves exercise performance, and might contribute to wellness in healthy older subjects. Cordyceps are also used in treatment for asthma, cancer and diabetes.1
Summary of the benefits of cordyceps:
- Increased oxygen to cells
- Breaks down phlegm
- Immune modulation
- Heart tonic
- Sexual tonic
- Kidney function improvement
In Ancient Chinese medicine Reishi is referred to as the “spirit herb”, known for its ability to improve mind, body and spirit. Reishi is also known as the mushroom of long life. The Reishi mushroom contains several bioactive compounds. These compounds include specific polysaccharides, with triterpene being one of the active polysaccharide compounds of Reishi mushroom. It possesses potent anti-inflammatory, anti-tumorigenic and hypolipidemic properties. Triterpenes from Reishi are associated with cancer cell death as well. Ganoderic acid is an important triterpene component which has shown inhibitory properties on cancer.4 Reishi is also associated with toning the blood, reducing phlegm, eradicating coughing and wheezing, strengthening the visceral organs, and promoting restful sleep.
In one study5 on a very aggressive form of breast cancer, reishi selectively reduced cancer cell viability and invasion, as well as the expression of key proteins involved in the pathogenesis of breast cancer cells. Reishi downregulated the expression of cancer cells on over 10 different pathways.
Summary of the benefits of Reishi:
- Boost digestion
- Stops coughing and wheezing
- Boosts immune function
- Increases oxygenation of the cells
- Calming, restful sleep
- Reduce anxiety, depression, and paranoia
Medicinal mushrooms are only new to the world of Western medicine, and have a long history of therapeutic use. Up until recently, Western medicine had not incorporated these amazing mushrooms, but as a new medical paradigm emerges, the introduction of these mushrooms to the masses will continue to prove how extremely beneficial they are for a variety of health conditions.
- Powell, M. (2013). Medicinal Mushrooms: The Essential Guide. Chalgrove, Oxfordshire. Mycology Press [↵] [↵] [↵] [↵] [↵] [↵] [↵]
- Hastings, D.R. (2014). Medicinal Mushrooms: Naturally Build Immunity and Fight Cancer (Better Your Life Book 3). Published by Crane Medicine. [↵] [↵]
- Chen S., Li Z., & Krochmal R et al. 2010. Effect of Cs-4® (Cordyceps sinensis) on Exercise Performance in Healthy Older Subjects: A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine Volume: 16 Issue 5 [↵]
- AMDEKAR, S. (2016). Ganoderma lucidum (Reishi): source of pharmacologically active compounds. Current Science, Vol 111, No. 6 [↵]
- Suarez-Arroyo IJ, Rosario-Acevedo, R, & Aguilar-Perez A et al. (2013). Anti-Tumor Effects of Ganoderma lucidum (Reishi) in Inflammatory Breast Cancer in In Vivo and In Vitro Models. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0057431. Accessed February 1, 2017 [↵]