Mushrooms aren’t just food. They can be medicine, too, with amazing immune-supporting power. They can simultaneously nourish the body while increasing the immune function. It’s one of my favorite things to use for my patients and myself. There has been so much research done into medicinal mushrooms, yet they have just started to tap into the power of medicinal mushrooms as food and medicine. The immune-supporting power is pretty big! Want to know more?
There are over 16,000 types of mushrooms. Whoa – that’s a lot of fungus! Only about 100 of those are edible- make sure you are getting yours from an expert because there are look-a-likes. That’s less than 10%, so your odds of coming across an un-edible shroom are high. About 12 of those elite edible species are considered medicinal. Why are they so powerful for the immune system? Because they are loaded with polysaccharides and beta-glucans that allow for anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal qualities.
These qualities aren’t new. The healing qualities of fungus have been known for a long time. Penicillin, amoxicillin, and other antibiotics have healing components that come from fungus. Medicinal mushrooms are fungi with potent abilities.
Why aren’t medicinal mushrooms more frequently identified in the mainstream for their abilities?
The pharmaceutical companies don’t see “mushroom” for profit. —Ba-da bum.
We aren’t talking store-bought mushrooms here. We are talking about medicinal mushrooms. Reishi, Chaga, Cordyceps, Turkey Tail, Lion’s Mane, Agarikon, Maitake, Royal Sun, Blazei & Shiitake are some of the best-known and most used. What makes them so special? Their immune-supporting powers!
Shrooms Super Powers
Medicinal mushrooms can be full of nutrients like protein, fiber, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, B Vitamins, choline, manganese, zinc, copper, calcium, and others. They also have lots of antioxidants, such as polyphenols and selenium, which scavenge for free radicals. The anti-inflammatory compounds good for immune health and longevity are well known. These add up to great support for the immune system. If you’re supporting your immune system, it just makes sense that you’re going to live longer.
Many people think of mushrooms as plants. But they aren’t. If you look at the DNA level, fungi are more closely related to the animal kingdom than the plant kingdom. (1) Bet you didn’t know that. Many of the components that help with the mushrooms’ survival are active in humans too. Modern science is catching up to understanding foods used for centuries as medicine. (2) Studies have shown mushrooms:
- Increase longevity.
- Improve blood flow.
- Help regulate cholesterol.
- Support blood sugar regulation.
- Protect the liver.
- Kidney support.
- Help with respiratory conditions (including asthma).
- Nervous system support.
- Improved skin & hair.
- Increased sexual function.
- Improve endurance and athletic ability.
- Medicinal mushrooms are also extremely rich in serotonin. (3)
So Mushroom for Love
Some recently identified components that make medicinal mushrooms effective are health-promoting and immunomodulating polysaccharides, especially beta-glucans. These complex sugars, found in the wall of the mushroom, immensely support our immune system and response. (4)
You can really see the power of medicinal mushrooms when looking at their support of the immune system in fighting cancer cells. Medicinal mushrooms appear to increase the number and activity of killer T and natural killer lymphocytes, with no toxicity to healthy cells. Many traditional cancer therapies harm healthy cells along with the cancer cells. What’s great is that mushrooms can be used in conjunction with traditional therapies as we continue to discover their benefits. Medicinal mushrooms can boost your fighter cells (T cells and NK Cells) to help support your body’s fight. Medicinal mushrooms help the immune support deal with the side effects of radiation therapy and seem to increase the effects of chemotherapy. So far, research has shown medicinal mushrooms to be safe and effective with no negative effects while extending the survival of cancer patients who took the mushrooms. (5)
Got stress? Everyone does at some point and stress is at the root of many diseases. All medicinal mushrooms are powerful adaptogens. That means they help the body deal with stress. They normalize the body’s response versus forcing the body into a response. While stress drives down the immune system, an adaptogen will help to increase the immune system and bring down inflammation. Medicinal mushrooms are a very anti-inflammatory food. When you go through stress, the mushroom will help you, and your body, adapt to that stress.
Power of Medicinal Mushrooms
The best part? We have seen the power of mushrooms documented. Reishi mushrooms have helped regulate blood pressure and have been shown to suppress breast cancer cell growth and survival. (6) (7) (8) Lion’s Mane has been shown to be active against liver cancer cells, colon cancer cells, and gastric cancer cells. (9) Chaga has shown protective factors when given to diabetic mice. (10) Turkey Tail has been shown to reduce tumor symptoms and increase survival in lung cancer patients. (11) That’s just to name a few of the documented components. We are just beginning to tap into the immune-supporting power of medicinal mushrooms. What can all the powerful components of medicinal mushrooms do to improve your health?
Medicinal Mushrooms: Where to Get Started
Now that you know all the amazing benefits, you are probably wondering how to get these benefits for yourself. Remember how we talked about there being over 16,000 types of mushrooms, and only about 100 of those are edible? Don’t go foraging for mushrooms for yourself. Please leave it to the experts. A lot of ground mushrooms can shut down your liver in 24 hours. Don’t pretend you’re Grizzly Adams- unless you are an expert. Or Chuck Norris.
There can also be the potential concern of high levels of heavy metals and other chemicals if the soil in the area is contaminated. The fungus can absorb and boost the bad stuff along with all those nutrients, so you want to get yours from a reputable, organic source.
How to Buy Medicinal Mushrooms
Don’t worry; there are plenty of places to buy mushrooms or mushroom capsules. A great way to start is with a mushroom complex like this one. The profile of beta-glucans is different between species of mushrooms, so by combining them, they become even more powerful. (12)
A complex like this can offer good overall long-term immune support to keep your immune system up for tackling colds, flus, and various pathogens you come across. It can be taken at a low dose throughout the year for that kind of immune support. If you are feeling run down or have an immune issue, you can up the dose.
Mushrooms are great for overall health. Don’t try to treat your symptoms or try to cure yourself with mushrooms. You want to be sure to be tested to find out why you are having symptoms. Mushrooms can be a great part of your treatment protocol if you know the cause of your symptoms– so get tested. Remember, different mushrooms support different parts of the immune system- that’s why we test. Health is always the goal -not masking symptoms.
Mushroom for Health
Mushrooms have been used for centuries in countries, including China and Russia, for their medicinal and wound-healing properties. Modern medicine is just now realizing the benefits are as diverse as the number of mushroom species, so there is much more room to learn in the growing field. That contributes to the immune-supporting power of medicinal mushrooms. Tap into that power- there’s always mushroom for health!
Written by Dr. Andy Treutelaar
Check out Dr. Patrick Flynn’s Quick Tip on Chaga: