For thousands of years mushrooms have been valued in different cultures for their medicinal and psychedelic properties. They were used by shamans and medicine men and found a way to highly organized medical systems such as the Traditional Chinese Medicine. The ancient Chinese believed that mushrooms were longevity tonics and used them to strengthen the body and prevent disease. Modern research shows that mushrooms, especially the species known in China and Japan, contain active compounds which are able to enhance the immune system and fight tumors in the body.
Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of certain fungi, mostly of the order Agaricales. More than 14,000 different types of mushrooms have been identified around the world. It is considered that around 3,000 are edible. About 700 different mushrooms have medicinal properties and about twice as many are highly poisonous. Some mushrooms contain hallucinogens such as psilocybin and other psychoactive tryptamins. They were used by shamans in mystical ceremonies.
Edible mushrooms are source of fiber, protein, B vitamins, vitamin D, and minerals, especially copper, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and selenium. Mineral content often varies depending on the soil on which the mushroom grows. Mushrooms are rich in polysaccharides, especially the immune system enhancing beta glucans. They consist mostly of water - between 80 and 90 per cent, and are used in many cuisines for their nutritional value, texture, and aroma.
Ever since Alexander Fleming isolated penicillin from the fungus Penicillium chrysogenum 1924, laboratories all over the world are researching medicinal properties of mushrooms and fungi. In 1976 the first statin drug was isolated from Penicillium citrinum by a Japanese scientist, Dr. Akira Endo. Properties attributed to mushrooms by ancient cultures and folk medicine are being tested and confirmed in laboratory setting. Researchers in China and Japan are testing mushroom species that are traditionally used in cooking and as medicine in these countries. Thanks to the ongoing research, mushrooms find application in the treatment of certain cancers as well as in the treatment of a weak immune system as well as auto-immune diseases. Some of the species are known to regulate blood sugar.
- Agaricus blazei known as Murill mushroom, almond mushroom, or Himematsutake originates in Brazil and contains very high levels of beta glucans. It enhances the immune system by stimulating macrophages and the NK cells among others. Because of its strong anti-tumor activity, it is used in alternative and complementary cancer therapies in certain cancers. It also has the ability to regulate the blood sugar as it boosts the levels of adiponectin in the body. Moreover, it regulates the levels of cholesterol in the blood. It is also successfully used to cure some types of hepatitis.
- Agaricus bisphorus or the common Champignon mushroom and the Portobello mushroom contain compound that inhibits activity of the enzyme aromatase. Women who consumed as little as 10 grams of fresh mushrooms a day had decreased incidence of breast cancer. Portobello mushroom is a great vegetable source of the CLA - Conjugated Linoleic Acid, which is an antioxidant with strong anti-cancer properties.
- Auricularia polytricha or Auricularia auricula-judaealso known as Mu Er or the Judas' ear used in Chinese cuisine has a remarkable blood thinning properties. Already a small amount can prevent blood platelets from sticking together. This anti-coagulant ability can help prevent heart disease and stroke. Mu er also has the ability to strengthen the immune system and to regulate the blood lipids levels.
- Boletus badius also known as Bay bolete is an edible mushroom rich in antioxidants. Studies have shown that polysaccharides extracted from the mycelial culture of this mushroom have extraordinary capacity to inhibit the growth of sarcoma 180. Boletus badius contains substantial amounts of theanine normally found only in Camelia sinensis or tea plant. Theanine has an anti-anxiety effect. It promotes relaxation and serenity. It also shows tumor inhibiting properties.
- Coprinus comatus known as the shaggy ink cap or shaggy mane was valued for its black pigment that was used in the past as an ink. In the Traditional Chinese Medicine it is used to treat diabetes, circulatory disease, digestive disorders, and piles. It has a very high lectin activity, contains the antioxidant ergothionein, and shows strong anti-tumor activity in hormone dependent tumors. It helps to regulate glucose levels.
- Cordyceps sinensis or Caterpillar fungus is a parasitic fungus that acquires nutrients for its growth from several species of caterpillars. It is found at a high altitude in China, Tibet, and Nepal. It has been used for centuries in the Traditional Chinese Medicine as well as in the Tibetan medicine. It is an adaptogen that increases energy levels, endurance and stamina. In the Orient it was used to improve the kidney and lung functions, and was considered to have rejuvenating properties. Research shows that it balances the blood sugar levels and may also be able to protect liver from damage. Like many other medicinal mushrooms, cordyceps shows strong anti-oxidative and anti-carcinogenic activity. Scientists isolated a comopund called manno-glucan that demonstrates very strong anti-tumor activity.
- Flammulina velutipes also known as Enoki or Enokitake used in Japanese cooking, contains an antioxidant called ergothioneine that is protecting the body from the hydroxyl radicals and the hypochlorous acid. Enoki also contains a compound called flammulin that has a very strong anti-tumor activity. The mushroom also has an immune system modulating properties.
- Fomitopsis officinalis also known as Agarikon is one of the largest and longest living mushrooms in the world. In ancient Greece it was used to cure tuberculosis. This mushroom is now extinct in Europe where it was known as the elixir of long life, but it can be found in North America. Unfortunately it isn't well researched yet, but it has been used to cure lung and respiratory diseases. Agarikon is believed to enhance the female libido. It has strong anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties and is currently tested by the US Army scientists.
- Ganoderma lucidum also known as Ling Zhi or Reish has been used in Asia for thousands of years. It is a powerful immune system modulator and helps to heal allergies and autoimmune diseases. It shows a very strong anti-tumor activity and is successfully used in alternative and complementary cancer therapies. It promotes cardiovascular health and regulates blood cholesterol and blood sugar levels. It reduces inflammation in the body and has very strong anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal properties. It protects the liver and the urinary tract. It is an adaptogen that helps to relieve fatigue, build up stamina and resistance to stress.
- Grifola frondosa or Maitake is one of the most researched medicinal mushrooms. It is antiviral and supports the immune system and a healthy blood pressure. Thanks to the compound called alpha-glucosidase inhibitor it is able to normalize the blood sugar levels and enhance insulin sensitivity. It may therefore be very useful for people with diabetes and people who struggle to lose their weight. It also shows a tumor inhibiting activity in the lung, breast, and liver cancers.
- Hericium erinaceus also known as Hou Tou Gu, Lion's Mane, or Yamabushitake has been used in China to successfully treat gastrointestinal problems. It shows a strong immune modulating activity and it also regulates the blood sugar levels. It contains compounds called erinacines known to stimulate the growth of nerve cells. The mushroom is used to promote cognitive health. Some of the compounds found in this mushroom have a very strong antioxidant activity. Phytosterols in this mushroom are able to regulate lipid levels in the blood. This mushroom also shows a strong antibacterial activity and is successfully used to heal the Helicobacter pylori infection. It enhances the proliferation of T- and B-lymphocytes in the body. It also shows strong anti-tumor activity.
- Inonotus obliquus known as Chaga or Kabanoanatake grows in the North on birch, beech, and alder trees with the best specimens coming from the cold climate of Siberia. The medicinal chaga is harvested from birch trees. It is used to stimulate the immune system and improve metabolism. It stimulates the central nervous system as well as the cardiovascular and the endocrine systems. It helps with respiration and digestion. It regulates blood sugar and lowers blood pressure. Chaga contains large amounts of the antioxidant SOD enzyme. It is also rich in betulinic acid which has very strong anti-cancerogenic properties. It inhibits the growth of tumors and slows down the development of metastases in the body.
- Lentinula edodes or Shiitake is an edible mushroom that contains all the eight essential amino acids. It contains a polysaccharide called lentinan with a very strong anti-viral and immune system stimulating properties. Research shows that lentinan kills a very broad spectrum of viruses and is stronger than the powerful prescription antiviral drug amantadine hydrochloride. Shiitake stimulates the immune system to produce more interferon which the body uses to fight viruses and cancer. It also contains eritadenine - a compound known to substantially reduce blood cholesterol. Further, it has a blood thinning properties.
- Phellinus linteus called song gen in Chinese or meshimakobu in Japanese, is widely used in China, Korea and Japan and is often drunk as an infusion. It shows a very strong anti-tumor activity. It inhibits the proliferation of lung, prostate, and the skin cancer cells. The latest research shows that this mushroom can also prevent the growth of breast cancer. A compound called Interfungin A shows the capacity to inhibit the protein glycation process.
- Pleurotus ostreatus or the Oyster mushroom has the ability to reduce the levels of cholesterol in the blood and is the source of statin drug Lovastatin. Moreover, it shows an anti-cancer activity, especially on the cells of colon cancer.
- Trametes versicolor known as Turkey tail, Yun Zhi, or Kawaratake is the mushroom with the best researched anti-cancer properties. it is a source of the anti-cancer drug called Kresin or PSK (Polysaccharide-K). Kresin is used in conjunction with chemotherapy in patients with the breast, stomach, lung, and colorectal cancers increasing the survival rate.
There are many more mushrooms species with medicinal properties. The ongoing research is discovering new compounds that can be used to enhance the immune system, regulate blood sugar and treat diabetes, prevent cancer, inhibit the growth and destroy existing tumors. Mycotherapy has a long tradition in Asia and it has a promising future as a branch of the alternative medicine in the West as well. Mushrooms were used as medicine in ancient Greece and in mycophile cultures of Eastern Europe. New scientific research only confirms the intuitive uses of mushrooms in this region.
Some of the medicinal mushrooms can be used in daily cooking. Others are consumed in form of capsules, extracts, tinctures, or infusions. Regular consumption of fresh mushrooms and mushroom supplements will help maintain and enhance the immune function and prevent many diseases, including cancer. It is important to purchase mushroom supplements of the highest purity and concentration.
By Dominique Allmon
*This information is for educational purpose only. It is not meant to diagnose or cure a disease. Please, remember that you should consult a certified health care provider before commencing a home treatment.
Health Benefits of Medicinal Mushrooms and Fungi by Dominique Allmon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.