Medicinal mushrooms have an uncanny “intelligence” within the body, seeming to sense areas that are toxic, stressed, injured, or damaged and focus their healing potency where it is needed most. Certain species of mushrooms have been used medicinally for thousands of years. Today there are over 270 different varieties with scientifically documented healing properties. These powerful fungi are a rich source of healthy compounds such as lipids, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and many others.
In the treatment of specific health conditions, medicinal mushrooms have been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol, provide antioxidants, remove toxins, protect against radiation damage, fight cancer, and protect against heart disease. On top of all that, they offer powerful support for other important areas of health including digestive, cognitive, hormonal, and vital energy. However, out of all the remarkable health benefits offered by medicinal mushrooms, improving and regulating immunity may be the most well-known and significant.
Because of their reputation, you may think that medicinal mushrooms act to “supercharge” immunity—to some degree, you’d be right. But the interaction between mushrooms and the immune system is more complex, because mushrooms can also benefit people with autoimmune disorders. Rather than simply energizing the immune system, medicinal mushrooms optimize it by helping to organize, activate, and “educate” specific immune cells to function better.
A fine-tuned immune system is critical for overall health and longevity. Because the immune system is designed to take on anything and everything—including pathogens, foreign bodies, and diseased cells—medicinal mushrooms can have a powerful impact against a wide variety of conditions. Following are a few examples:
Cancer One of the most important goals in both mainstream and integrative cancer treatments is to find ways to ramp up the immune system against cancer. Mushrooms have been used for this purpose for thousands of years and have been proven to be clinically active against a number of cancers.
Cardiovascular Disease Mushrooms have been shown to reduce cholesterol as well as blood viscosity, an element of high blood pressure. They can also support circulation.
Viruses Several published studies and countless anecdotal reports support the use of medicinal mushrooms against viruses like cold and flu. There is also evidence they can have a positive effect against herpes, HIV, and hepatitis.
Autoimmune Disorders As noted, mushrooms can help regulate proper immune response and as such can help to calm overactive immunity—this has been particularly true for people with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
How to Add Mushrooms
One of the beauties of functional foods is that it’s so simple to incorporate them into your lifestyle. A number of studies have highlighted the nutritional density of button, portabella, crimini, and shiitake mushrooms, demonstrating their ability to lower cholesterol.
Shiitake mushrooms, in particular, can have a powerful impact on health. The mushroom contains a compound called lentinan which, in combination with chemotherapeutic drugs, has demonstrated antitumor effects in human clinical trials and increased survival time in patients with breast and gastric cancers. Lentinan also protects against bacteria, viruses (including influenza), and parasites.
However, though culinary mushrooms should certainly play a role in any healthy diet, they lack the potency of medicinal mushrooms. So the question then arises: which mushrooms should I use? If there are 270 varieties, how do I sort through them? And what combinations should I take?
With mushrooms, it’s easier, and probably more beneficial to find a formula that fits your lifestyle, needs, and budget. Remember, how the mushrooms are grown is as important as which mushrooms are taken. Fungi have an innate tendency to absorb toxins, which is great to cleanse the body, but not so good in the growing process. I also recommend mushrooms that are botanically enhanced. In other words, they have been cultivated in a clean environment on a powdered blend of immune-supporting herbs, which boosts their already-powerful health benefits.
For acute immune support, I recommend a formula called MycoPhyto Complex that combines botanically enhanced coriolus, ganoderma, agaricus, cordyceps, umbellatus, and maitake. I use this formula in my clinical practice because it provides an ideal blend of potent medicinal mushrooms which empower the immune system, support vital energy, detoxify the body, and provide other health benefits.
Additional Botanicals and Herbs
Remember also that mushrooms are only part of the complete package. There are numerous herbs that support immune and cardiovascular health. Some examples are cardamom fruit, red saunders heartwood, fruit, allspice fruit, and bael tree fruit. Again, there are proven formulas available that combine these and other herbs to provide powerful immune support.
Medicinal mushrooms offer the unique ability to target the specific areas most in need of healing. When taken daily or in acute situations, mushrooms can help you achieve a greater level of wellness by offering focused, individualized health benefits while providing critical support for vitality and well-being, safely and naturally.
Isaac Eliaz, MD, MS, LAc, is a licensed acupuncturist, physician, and homeopath, has a MS in traditional Chinese medicine, and has done graduate studies in herbology. Visit him online at dreliaz.org.
As noted, there are hundreds of mushroom species with medicinal value. Here are a handful I find particularly helpful.
Coriolus versicolor (multicolored mushroom) is found in China, Europe, and the Pacific Coast. In addition to showing activity against cervical and other cancers, coriolus has been proven to help reduce side effects associated with radiation and chemotherapy by helping to protect tissues and reduce inflammation.
The primary active ingredient is a beta-glucan called PSK, which helps activate immune cells and scavenges free radicals. Coriolus has also demonstrated antiviral activity—possibly even inhibiting HIV infection—and can help control herpes. This mushroom is useful in treating respiratory, urinary, and digestive infections and inflammation, as well as helping control hepatitis B and other liver problems.
Ganoderma lucidum (shining skin) is found worldwide, though the Chinese and Japanese species have been studied the most for their therapeutic value. This species has been shown to lower cholesterol and improve blood pressure and overall cardiovascular health. It demonstrates powerful anticancer actions and has also shown antiviral action, including activity against HIV. In addition, ganoderma improved enzyme levels for patients with hepatitis B, and also showed improvement for people suffering from asthma and chronic bronchitis.
Agaricus blazei (mushroom of the sun) is unusual among the medicinal mushrooms because it is not native to Asia but was originally brought to Japan from Brazil. This mushroom boosts various aspects of immunity and has demonstrated powerful antitumor activity in animal studies. It has also shown antibacterial effects, especially against Salmonella. On the cardiovascular side, agaricus has been found to regulate cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
Ophiocordyceps sinensis (Chinese clubhead), also known as caterpillar mushroom or fungus, is found in high mountainous regions of China and elsewhere in Asia. Ophiocordyceps enhances multiple aspects of the immune system, enriches the bone marrow, and has demonstrated anti-tumor effects. This mushroom improves cardiovascular function, lowering LDL and increasing HDL cholesterol. It is also known to improve athletic performance and restore low libido.
Polyporus umbellatus (umbrella-like polypore) is found in forests in China, Europe, and Eastern and Central North America, growing from dead tree stumps or the roots of birches, maples, beeches, and willows. Like its cousins, polyporus has demonstrated significant anticancer activity, confirmed in both in vitro and animal studies. In addition to being used to treat lung and other cancers, it can help reduce the side effects associated with chemotherapy. This mushroom can also help alleviate symptoms of chronic hepatitis.