Over the centuries, mushrooms have earned their reputation as a crucial component of natural medicine. The health benefits of mushrooms address everything from immunomodulation to the gut microbiota and its impact on mental and physical wellbeing.
In Eastern countries, mushrooms have stood out as a valuable tool for health management; extracts from Cordyceps and turkey tail mushrooms help the immune system and fatigue while Reishi mushrooms and Lion’s mane reduce the impact of free radicals and are neuroprotective.
In the western world, mushrooms also have a significant impact on healthcare. Approximately 40% of pharmaceuticals leverage mushroom extracts today, including penicillin, one of the most widely used antibiotics in existence.
Scientific study lists the following as some of the health benefits of mushrooms:
- Cardiovascular support
- Radical scavenging
More than just a “superfood”, mushrooms are powerhouses of medical benefits, making them a must-have component of any holistic health strategy.
The Anatomy of Medical Mushrooms
There are approximately 50,000 species of mushrooms worldwide.
Not every mushroom is equipped with the same health benefits, though many are rich in components that make them suitable for health supplementation. The compounds found medicinal mushrooms, such as Reishi mushrooms, Cordyceps, Maitake, and others, have medicinal functions that are just as, if not more beneficial than other pharmaceutical substances.
Crucially, from a nutritional perspective, mushrooms, either eaten or in supplemental form, are rich in antioxidants, suitable for stabilizing the immune system, and capable of boosting brain power. The right dosage of medicinal mushroom can assist patients with hormone imbalances, and improve gut performance, particularly in connection with the gut microbiota.
As proven “superfoods”, mushrooms offer a natural source of vitamins. They are currently the only non-animal-based provider of ergosterol provitamin D.
Medicinal mushrooms consist of more than 150 bioactive compounds, connected with approximately 126 medical functions. These unique fungi feature:
- Polysaccharide-protein complexes
- Proteins (including fungal immunomodulatory proteins or FIPS)
Beta-glucans are among the most versatile of the broad selection of bioactive compounds in mushrooms. These immunomodulators play a significant role in maximising the performance of the immune system, as well as modifying and modulating immune response.
Beta-glucans are found in all medical mushrooms, but different fungi contain specific combinations of each compound. These compounds are defined as biological response modifiers, which are different to pharmaceutical drugs treating different types of pathologies through the alteration or enhancement of processes that occur naturally in our body. Beta-glucans are also considered adaptogens, which can change their impact according to the specific needs of the body, working more synergistically on various parts of the body at once.
Therapeutic benefits are far-reaching within medicinal mushrooms, whereas pharmaceutical drugs are more likely to focus on a specific symptom or condition.
3 of the major health benefits of mushrooms often cited in medical studies are their cancer fighting abilities, impact on autoimmune diseases, and ability to support people with chronic conditions.
Health Benefits of Mushrooms: The Impact on Cancer
Some of the key players in the world of medicinal mushrooms include Reishi, Lion’s Mane, Cordyceps, Maitake, and many others. Each mushroom has its own unique impact on the body, and a specific ability to target certain problems.
Increasingly, medicinal mushrooms are emerging as a critical part of holistic treatment for more serious diseases, including cancer. Worldwide, substances like Lentinula edodes (shiitake), Cordyceps, and Grifola Frondosa (Maitake) are demonstrating significant anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, and anti-viral properties. Combined with the medicinal mushroom’s ability to solve immune system issues, these substances could represent the perfect supplemental treatment to a cancer therapy like radiation.
The Reishi mushroom, common in Chinese medicine, is frequently used as a cancer adjuvant treatment in both traditional and modern Eastern medical practices. This natural product improves immune response, supporting the body in breaking down cancer cells. Reishi also alleviates chemotherapy side effects like kidney damage and nausea, among others.
Shiitake mushroom, known as Letinula edodes contains lentinan which is associated with tumour fighting immune response in published studies. These conclude that “overall clinical data show a solid effect of lentinan on improving the quality of life and on promoting the efficacy of chemotherapy and radiation therapy during cancer treatment”.
Other cancer-fighting mushrooms include:
- Cordyceps sinensis mushroom: Cordyceps mushrooms raise virus and cancer-fighting T cells, while prolonging the life of white blood cells and eliminating infections. It also protects the kidneys from the side effects of chemotherapy.
- Maitake (Grifola frondosa): Maitake enhances the immune system and assists in fighting against infections. Maitake also protects cells through antioxidant properties, reducing inflammatory factors such as the COX2 enzyme, which is commonly found in cancer physiology. Research indicates that Maitake also helps to reduce tumour cell’s migration.
- Chaga: Chaga mushroom is a potential anti-cancer agent thanks to its contents of betulin, and betulinic acid that works to reduce skin, neck, brain, ovarian, and other cancers, through the promotion of apoptosis.
- Turkey Tail: Turkey tail, one of the many mushrooms often recommended for cancer-fighting properties, contains PSK (Polysaccharide-K), which stimulates the performance of the immune system. Indeed, Turkey Tail mushroom extract is now an approved anti-cancer prescription drug in areas of Japan. The Turkey Tail mushroom can improve the survival rate of people with certain cancers and improve the immune response of people receiving chemotherapy.
Health Benefits of Mushrooms: Autoimmune disease
The health benefits of mushrooms also expand beyond cancer treatment, to assist with auto-immune diseases. Even though the root cause of autoimmune diseases remains unknown, researchers are discovering significant benefits in mushrooms for overcoming these issues.
Holistic treatment with mushrooms may be increasingly important at a time when autoimmune conditions are being exacerbated by increased exposure to chemicals, pollutants, and infectious agents in the day-to-day world. Mushroom’s support immunomodulation, and deliver benefits for those suffering from autoimmune diseases. The Reishi mushroom is capable of inducing a significant increase in the activity of NK cells in the body. Reishi mushrooms also assist with the increased plasma concentration of IL-2 and IL-6 cytokines in cancer patients.
However, Reishi can also be effective in autoimmune diseases. In cases of rheumatoid arthritis, Reishi’s analgesic effects can improve the overall condition of the patient, particularly when used in correspondence with other natural treatments. The anti-inflammatory compounds within Reishi mushrooms further help to reduce the symptoms of autoimmune conditions, including underlying chronic inflammation.
Reishi mushroom is an amphoteric substance, which can regulate the immune system according to the needs of the individual patient. Because the Reishi mushroom is also rich in polysaccharides, and immune-system-modulating proteins, it can improve the wellbeing of various patients. Steroidal saponin glycosides in Reishi mushrooms can further reduce the adrenal-hypothalamic pituitary feedback loop, responsible for regulating inflammation.
Agaricus Blazei Murill extract is also promising for the treatment and management of autoimmune conditions. This substance has a strong immunomodulating ability, making it incredibly valuable in improving the T-lymphocytes that support immune system performance. T-cells are thought to be the main clue to determining where autoimmune conditions come from in the first place. The Agaricus Blazei Murill mushroom can support immune system performance while reducing inflammatory cytokines in patients with immune conditions.
Agaricus Blazei extracts also have the potential to increase phagocytosis in monocytes and macrophages, while reducing plasmatic levels of immunoglobulin E, which acts as an anti-allergy agent against reactions with crucial substances. A. Blazei further supports patients as an antifungal and anti-allergen solution.
Health Benefits of Mushrooms: Chronic Disease
The health benefits of mushrooms are becoming clearer all the time, thanks to medical research and increased investment into valuable study. The Reishi mushroom, for instance, mentioned above for its immunoregulation and cancer-fighting abilities, can further assist with feelings of anxiety and depression in the holistic treatment of mental health conditions.
Studies further indicate that the compounds in Reishi can help with weight loss and improving metabolism performance in people suffering from the side effects of obesity and over-eating. The relaxing properties of the mushroom further assist with sleep management, allowing the body to better relax and recover during periods of illness.
The Lion’s mane mushroom, alternatively, fosters the production of the nerve growth factor in the human body, as well as myelin, which is an insulation substance responsible for protecting nerve fibers. The combination of Myelin and NFG are essential to brain health. Imbalance in these compounds can increase the likelihood of certain neurological conditions like multiple sclerosis, and Alzheimer’s.
Access to Lion’s Mane extract could be the key to improving cognition in patients concerned about memory loss. Similar to the Reishi mushroom, Lion’s mane also assists with alleviating anxiety, but it can also be suitable for improving concentration.
Chaga mushrooms are packed full of antioxidants, which make them valuable tools for the fight against free radicals and inflammation. Inflammation and free radicals are commonly associated with a range of chronic conditions. The Chaga mushroom combats oxidative stress, which can help to prevent or slow the growth of cancer. Further, the compounds in this mushroom can assist with reducing low-density lipoproteins, which can lead to issues with heart disease and high cholesterol.
Shiitake mushrooms are common in many meals and dietary plans, but they can also be valuable for holistic supplementation. Brimming with compounds that can protect and support the heart, Shiitake mushrooms are proven to reduce cholesterol. Shiitake mushrooms also contain valuable phytonutrients like eritadine, which reduce high blood tension.
For those who struggle with chronic fatigue and other common issues, Cordyceps could prove a valuable supplementation option. Cordyceps mushrooms assist the body in utilizing oxygen effectively. These mushrooms are also effective for promoting the circulatory system and enhancing blood flow. For athletes, Cordyceps mushrooms are frequently recommended as a tool to improve performance and reduce muscle pain during recovery.
The Health Benefits of Mushrooms: A Holistic Treatment
Scientific evidence is building to support the position of medicinal mushrooms as a critical component of holistic treatment strategies. The studies available into medicinal mushrooms today are increasingly positive, highlighting the immunomodulating, anti-inflammation, and antiviral properties of various mushroom strains.
Perhaps even more importantly, the scientific evidence that highlights the efficacy of mushrooms is backed by consistent evidence showing that mushrooms are safe for almost any patient to take. Mushrooms deliver virtually no side effects for the majority of patients. The safety of mushroom supplementation is helping to accelerate the adoption of these substances in clinical practice.
Mushroom supplementation offers a convenient way for patients suffering from various conditions to enhance and augment the treatments already available to them. For chronic diseases, autoimmune conditions and cancer treatment, mushroom supplementation represents a powerful tool, capable of strengthening the immune system and improving treatment response.
In many cases of chronic illness, mushrooms can also be given as a standalone supplemental treatment, to assist with conditions like obesity, or immune system regulation. Unlike other pharmaceutical solutions, mushrooms work in synergy with other treatments, and offer a reliable form of treatment all over the world.