Updated: May 21, 2019
In recent years, traditional plant-based medicines are gaining more and more attention with medical practitioners. Mushrooms being at the top of the list for their many amazing health benefits. Many forms of mushrooms have been used throughout the centuries in Ancient Chinese herbal medicine, with well over 200 different species used in therapeutic capacities throughout the years. There is a great deal of recent research surrounding mushrooms and their potential therapeutic benefits for a variety of conditions such as cancer, digestive health conditions, liver conditions, and autoimmune issues.
The key component in these healing mushrooms is psilocybin. Mushrooms containing psilocybin boost immune health through stimulating the production of T-lymphocytes and also the production of killer cells. ((Powell, M. (2013). Medicinal Mushrooms: The Essential Guide. Chalgrove, Oxfordshire. Mycology Press)) In his book, Medicinal Mushrooms, The Essential Guide, Powell discusses how medicinal mushrooms work, as well as many of the various health conditions that medicinal mushrooms can help with. According to Powell,
The compounds that medicinal mushrooms produce, give the mushrooms an advantage in the microorganism community. These compounds discourage competitive organisms, yet have a pronounced effect on the human body. They ward off viruses, bacterial infections, and ‘bad’ fungal overgrowths such as candida. Medicinal mushrooms are antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral in nature. Humans and animals have evolved alongside these fungal communities, and this benefits our immune system regulation. Polysaccharides are the main compound found in these mushrooms. These polysaccharides help to downregulate the proinflammatory immune response for individuals with compromised immune systems. Therefore, there is a reduction of overall inflammation in the body, and a modulation of the immune system.
Some immunological changes triggered by mushroom polysaccharides include:
Activation of immune macrophages, neutrophils, and monocytesIncreased antibody productionIncreased interferon productionIncreased immune activity against many different cancersInhibition of tumorsReduction of pro-inflammatory cytokinesInhibition of prostoglandin synthesis
Many of the mushrooms that are considered medicinal, are also delicious tasting! And the health benefits remain, even after cooking. Each medicinal mushroom family has different medicinal effects. Below is a review of three edible, medicinal mushroom types, and the role they can play in our health.
TYPES OF MEDICINAL MUSHROOMS, AND THEIR PROPERTIES
Chaga has been used by traditional cultures for its health benefits, for hundreds of years. It grows high up on the bark of birch trees in the Eastern U.S. and Canada. This mushroom presents as a hardened, blackened, crusty formation, with the appearance of a bursting tumor on the trunk of a birch tree. Chaga’s most important components, betulinic acid and melano-glucan complexes are derived from the bark of the birch trees the fungus grows on. Chaga is traditionally used as a tea and is revered for its anti-cancer and digestive health benefits.
In his review of recent research, Hastings found that Chaga demonstrated hypoglycemic effects in mice, anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties, reduced oxidative stress, anti-gene mutation properties, and inhibition of liver cancer cells
Summary of the benefits of Chaga:
Mental healthEnergyAnti-tumorDetoxifiesBoosts digestion, improves the appetitePurifies the bloodRegulates blood sugarStrengthens the heartModulates the immune system.
Cordyceps have a large variety of medicinal effects and Chinese practitioners have used them as medicine for hundreds of years. Cordyceps grow on moth larvae, and have a symbiotic relationship with their host. Traditionally, cordyceps were only used by the very few people who could afford it. They were used for the treatment of asthma, erectile dysfunction, and as a health tonic for the elderly. The main health benefit from cordyceps is increased energy because they help to deliver oxygen to the body at a cellular level. Due to their ability to increase metabolic efficiency, many athletes utilize cordyceps for increased efficiency of energy metabolism. In a 12 week study8 done on healthy older adults, cordycep use was associated with a 10.5% increase in metabolic threshold. The researchers concluded that supplementation with cordyceps improves exercise performance, and might contribute to wellness in healthy older subjects. Cordyceps are also used in treatment for asthma, cancer and diabetes.
Summary of the benefits of cordyceps:
HydrationIncreased oxygen to cellsBreaks down phlegmAnti-fatigueAntioxidantImmune modulationHeart tonicSexual tonicKidney function improvementAnti-viral
In Ancient Chinese medicine Reishi is referred to as the “spirit herb”, known for its ability to improve mind, body and spirit. Reishi is also known as the mushroom of long life. The Reishi mushroom contains several bioactive compounds. These compounds include specific polysaccharides, with triterpene being one of the active polysaccharide compounds of Reishi mushroom. It possesses potent anti-inflammatory, anti-tumorigenic and hypolipidemic properties. Triterpenes from Reishi are associated with cancer cell death as well. Ganoderic acid is an important triterpene component which has shown inhibitory properties on cancer. Reishi is also associated with toning the blood, reducing phlegm, eradicating coughing and wheezing, strengthening the visceral organs, and promoting restful sleep.
In one study on a very aggressive form of breast cancer, reishi selectively reduced cancer cell viability and invasion, as well as the expression of key proteins involved in the pathogenesis of breast cancer cells. Reishi downregulated the expression of cancer cells on over 10 different pathways.
Summary of the benefits of Reishi:
Anti-tumorBoost digestionStops coughing and wheezingBoosts immune functionIncreases oxygenation of the cellsCalming, restful sleepReduce anxiety, depression, and paranoia
Medicinal mushrooms are only new to the world of Western medicine, and have a long history of therapeutic use. Up until recently, Western medicine had not incorporated these amazing mushrooms, but as a new medical paradigm emerges, the introduction of these mushrooms to the masses will continue to prove how extremely beneficial they are for a variety of health conditions.