Mushrooms as Medicine!

Some of us love a good mushroom on a pizza, sauteed in a stir fry or even grilled on a bun!  But this information is regarding the "super" stars that most of us do not eat!  These are mushrooms with active medicinal components.

There are three distinct parts to the medicinal mushroom:  the mycylium , which accumulates food and energy to produce a mushroom: the mushroom itself, or fruiting body; and lastly, the spores the mushroom produces.

There are a number of compounds that are believed to be of clinical value in mushrooms.  These compounds have been identified and analyzed for efficacy and quality.  They include:  polysaccahrides , which are generally thought of as biological response modifiers.  They activate macrophages, T-cells, and NK cells (Natural Killer Cells) which are a type of cytotoxic lymphocyte critical to the innate immune system.  Studies indicate these compounds often protect against cancer cells, as well as viral, bacterial, and fungal infections.  Another component common to many medicinal mushrooms is Triterpenoids.  Triterpenoids have been researched primarily in Reishi mushrooms.  Triterpenoids are responsible for the bitter taste as well as protecting the liver, lowering lipids, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.  Ergosterol, a triterpenoid, has also been discovered to have anti tumor and antioxidant properties.  Ergosterol is also a precursor to vitamin D. 

Certain medicinal mushrooms may also have nucleosides, enzymes, beta glucans, chitin and naturally occurring statins. 

I like to prescribe mushrooms as preventative medicine as well as adjunct care during cancer treatment. Following are some details about my favorite four!  They are some of the most well-researched anti-cancer mushrooms rich in polysaccharides and beta glucans, the primary active immune-enhancing constituents:

Ganoderma Reishi Mushroom, Ling Zhi, Mannentake , "The Mushroom of Immmortality"

This is one of the great longevity tonics of Chinese Medicine used in cancer treatment.  Reishi also enhances immune response, alleviates chemotherapy side effects such as nausea and kidney damage and protects cellular DNA by raising antioxidant capacity. It's a great preventative and immune booster!

Shitake (Lentinula edodes),  Black Forest Tree Mushroom,  or Xiang Gu

This is a tasty medicinal mushroom most often used in cooking.   Shitake contains a glucan called AHCC , Active Hexose Correlated Compound and is widely used in alternative and complementary treatment of cancer in Japan due to its immune-enhancing functions. Lentinan , a compound found in Shitake, is used as an intravenous anti-cancer drug with antitumor properties. Clinical studies have associated lentinan with a higher survival rate, higher quality of life and lower recurrence of cancer.

Coriolus versicolor (Trametes versicolor)"Turkey Tail Mushrooms"Yun Zhi

This mushroom isa biological response modifier.  Studies show that it improves survival rates and has immune stimulating and anti-tumor properties. Many of the studies have focused on breast cancer and show that it can enhance the effects of chemotherapy and reduce the side effects of radiation therapy.  I ask all of my breast cancer patients to use it as adjunct care to all allopathic treatments and for prevention.

Cordyceps sinensis , Chinese Catapillar FungusDong Chong Cia Cao

These mushrooms are immune stimulators!  The increase cancer fighting and virus fighting T-cells and NK cells.  They also prolong the live of WBC ( white blood cells) improving the resolution of infection and aiding patients through the chemotherapy process when WBC sometimes drop.  They are invaluable in helping return WBC count to normal so the patient can continue the course of chemotherapy uninterrupted. They also demonstrate anti tumor properties.  They are widely used in most anti- cancer protocols in Traditional Chinese Medicine.  I prescribe them regularly for those that suffer from poor immunity.

Finding the right product is another story-  There are three main types of products currently available:   whole mushrooms, mycelium and spores.  Most of the research inChina and Japan has focused on extracts of whole mushrooms.  Some products involve complex extractions, whereas others involve a traditional decoction , which is then rendered into a concentrated powder.  These are typically used in a tablet or capsule form in order to concentrate relevant compounds.

There are also tinctures \or liquid extracts on the market.  In general high quality products are available in concentrated powder made from whole mushrooms or in liquid extractions. 

It is best to ask your healthcare practitioner for specifics if mushrooms are proscribed. 

My two favorite suppliers are:

Mushroom Science and Host Defense!

Prevention is the best medicine~ so include mushrooms in your wellness plan!