In part one of this article, we covered the medicinal properties of mushrooms including how Chinese medicine has incorporated these gifts from nature into their pharmacopeia. It has been established that some of the more common mushrooms provide antioxidants, fiber, protein as well as vitamins B6, B12 and D. We also explained how mushrooms activate the immune system and trigger a beneficial immune response.
By boosting immune response, mushrooms also may play a role in fighting cancer. Turkey tail (Trametes versicolor) mushrooms were found to improve the immune response of subjects in a clinical trial of breast cancer patients whose immune systems were compromised. Paul Stamets, author of Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World, says first-hand how this amazing gift from nature helped his own mother. She was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer and given a virtual death sentence – three months to live. His mother took turkey tail mushrooms and more than three year laters, no detectable tumors could be found.
Mushrooms’ amazing role in fortifying the immune response means that we can better respond to invasive diseases, particularly those that lead to cancer. As with many life-threatening illnesses, cancer hurt’s the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food. This in turn – malnutrition – can weaken the immune system.
It’s unclear exactly how mushrooms work their magic and stimulate the immune response in the body. One theory is that as with any foreign object in the body, when consumed, fungus as seen as invasive. Provided the immune system isn’t completely disabled, it will trigger the immune response in order to fend off invaders. More illness-fighting white blood cells may be triggered into production.
Another theory is that once the immune system is triggered by the presence of fungus, that natural killer (NK) cells are not only called to action and into production, but that they also attack and stick to cancer cells. In the wild, the mycelium is the part of the mushroom that comes in contact with pathogens. The mycelium is the mushroom’s own immune system. It is thought that this fact may be what makes mushrooms such a powerful warrior when it comes to the human immune system.
Medicinal mushrooms are also play a role in fighting inflammation, which is also believed to contribute to aging, illness and chronic disease. Mushrooms are powerful antioxidants and help to fight free radicals – highly reactive atoms that interfere with cell membranes. The resulting damage can cause cells to become damaged or die.
Mushrooms are closer in makeup to animals (which includes humans) than they are to plants. This could have some bearing on their potency and effectiveness in the human body. Some chemicals produced by mushrooms are used to ward off their own predators also help people. Penicillin – derived form Penicillium fungi – is a good example of a chemical that falls in this category. This relationship is also supported by the belief from Chinese medicine that “anything that comes from an animal is always 10 times more potent than that which comes from a plant.”
How To Use Medicinal Mushrooms
Generally speaking, our immune systems are more stressed during winter months than during summer months. This is true even in temperate climates that don’t have drastic seasonal changes. Given that medicinal mushrooms’ strength lies in their ability to support immunity at a basic level, adding them at this time of year makes a lot of sense. Andrew Miller, author of Medicinal Mushrooms: Ancient Remedies for Modern Ailments recommends purchasing products containing at least 10% – 12% polysaccharides and from certified organic producers.
In addition to turkey tail mushrooms, other good choices for boosting immunity include shiitake (Lentinul edodes), Maitake (Grifola frondosa) and reishi (Ganoderma lucidum). These are also some of the most widely researched varieties of mushrooms. Other varieties to consider that are also beneficial are oyster ceps (Cordyceps sinensis), wood ear (Auricularia auricular), white wood ear (Tremella fuciformis) and oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus). Don’t feel that you have to limit your intake to one type. Instead, look for blended products in supplement or extract form.
As with other supplements, absorption by the body is aided by taking vitamin C at the same time. Paul Stamets’ protocol includes taking mushrooms for a month, stopping for several days and beginning again.
With winter upon us in the Northern Hemisphere, now is a good time to add these wonderful gifts from Nature to your arsenal for protecting against colds, bronchitis, flu and other cold-weather ailments. Let us know other natural ways you boost your immune system to prepare for winter in the comments box below.
Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World, Paul Stamets, DSc, Ten Speed Press, 2011
Medicinal Mushrooms: Ancient Remedies for Modern Ailments, Andrew Miller, Georges Halpern, M. Evans and Company
Energy Times, Corinne Garcia, October 2012
Phases 1 Clinical Trial of Trametes versicolor in Women with Breast Cancer, ISRN Oncology Journal, 2/16/2012
Mycophilia: Revelations from the Weird World of Mushrooms, Eugenia Bone, Rodale Press, 2011