As more research focuses on traditional medicine, many ancient therapies continue to impress with a vast array of remarkable health effects. Researchers are often surprised at the results — not only by the apparent benefits offered by so many natural therapies, but also by the magnitude of those benefits.
Traditional botanical medicines are showing powerful health-promoting and disease-fighting activities, both in lab tests and in people’s lives. Some of the most powerful examples of the advantages of such traditional therapies are health-boosting benefits of medicinal mushrooms, which have been used in ancient healing systems for thousands of years.
It seems many mushroom species are well suited to address modern ills related to stress, toxins and unhealthy lifestyles. They play particularly important roles during cold and flu season.
We don’t know how exactly how ancient healers discovered mushrooms’ health benefits. Perhaps it was a combination of trial and error as well as accidental discovery. In any case, these ancient cultures got it right. Beneficial mushrooms contain a virtual medicine chest of therapeutic compounds that help protect and promote long-term health. These substances include lipids, proteoglycans, polysaccharides, alkaloids, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Medicinal mushrooms have been found to:
- Reduce blood pressure.
- Lower cholesterol
- Increase circulation.
- Enhance oxygen use.
- Protect against radiation damage.
- Neutralize free radicals.
- Detoxify the body.
- Fight cancer.
- Support metabolism.
- Protect against heart disease.
Mushrooms also benefit digestion, cognitive function and hormone balance. In fact, they may be the world’s first “smart” drugs — sensing where the body is injured or performing poorly and targeting that specific area or function for improvement. For example, they seem to seek out places in the body where heavy metals and toxins have accumulated and work to detoxify, repair and strengthen tissues.
Perhaps their most amazing benefit is how mushrooms interact with the immune system. They aren’t immune system boosters, per se, they’re immune systemoptimizers.
Immune System Training
Mushroom cell walls contain a family of carbohydrates called beta-glucans, compounds with a powerful impact on the immune response. These molecules bind to macrophages, part of the innate immune system, and work to energize them. In addition, beta-glucans interact with lymphocytes, T cells, Natural Killer cells and others immune components to enhance functionality.
The relationships between mushrooms and immunity are complex. It would be simplistic, and accurate, to say that mushrooms increase the immune response. But in fact, there’s more going on. The active ingredients in mushrooms seem to modulate, or essentially train the immune system, so that it functions appropriately and neither underreacts nor overreacts to a perceived threat.
This is apparent in how mushrooms affect people with different immunity issues. While they have been shown to benefit people who have suppressed immunity, mushrooms also help people who struggle with the opposite problem: autoimmune disease.
Mushrooms can help control an overactive immune system by moderating the T1 helper cells that could otherwise generate the overactive inflammatory response so common in autoimmune disorders. This can be particularly helpful for people suffering from lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. In contrast, most prescription medications used for autoimmune diseases produce an entirely suppressive effect on the immune system and come with a long list of side effects.
Having a natural agent that can precisely modulate the immune system is a great advantage in treating any number of diseases. Consider cancer: For years, clinicians and researchers have been hunting for new ways to harness and amplify the immune system’s ability to identify and attack tumors. A number of recent studies, and thousands of years of traditional use, have demonstrated that certain mushrooms are active against a variety of cancers and against cancer metastasis.
In addition to cancer, medicinal mushrooms have been shown to moderate a number of factors that contribute to heart disease, such as blood viscosity (thickness) and cholesterol. They are also potent antiviral agents. Several studies have confirmed anecdotal reports suggesting that mushrooms work against cold and flu and may even be active against more serious viruses, such as HIV and hepatitis.
Certain mushroom species have been, and continue to be, extensively studied. Here are some top varieties and their researched benefits. These mushrooms can be found as single supplements or in formulas or as extracts. Some, like Maitake, are sold in the produce section of your local health food store:
- Coriolus versicolor: Contains beta-1 and beta-4-glucans and is a powerful anti-cancer agent. In addition to fighting cervical cancer, this mushroom has been found to enhance the therapeutic effects of radiation.
- Ganoderma lucidum (Reishi): Contains alkaloids, proteins, ergosterol and beta-glucans. This well-studied mushroom lowers cholesterol and promotes circulation. In animal studies it has been shown to have powerful immune-modulating benefits, particularly against cancers and viruses such as HIV. Supports liver health, protects against radiation damage, enhances oxygenation of the blood, and is used for asthma and bronchitis.
- Agaricus blazei: Increases interferon and interleukin activity, stimulating the immune system to deal with infections as well as cancer, and has demonstrated antibacterial action. This mushroom species shows powerful antitumor activity in animal studies, and has the highest known levels of beta glucans. Agaricus also controls cholesterol and blood sugar.
- Cordyceps sinensis: Increases phagocyte, macrophage and Natural Killer activity. Increases HDL (good) cholesterol and lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol. Increases athletic performance. Has anti-aging and restorative benefits.
- Polyporus umbellatus: Demonstrates anticancer actions and helps reduce side effects of chemotherapy. Enhances the performance of the immune system, supports liver health, and helps alleviate symptoms of hepatitis and cirrhosis. Polyporus also shows antibacterial activity against E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus bacterium.
- Grifola frondosa (Maitake): Has anticancer actions, reduces high blood pressure, enhances macrophage, NK cell and T cell activity. Shows anti-HIV activity in vitro. Lowers blood sugar and supports liver health.
We recommend a botanically enhanced mushroom formula that provides comprehensive health support. By growing the mushrooms in a bed of powdered herbs known to enhance immune function, we can increase their already-powerful benefits.
A high-quality medicinal mushroom formula can make a big difference in wellness and vitality, particularly because mushrooms are useful for so many areas of health. Mushrooms help detoxify, lower cardiovascular risk factors, fine tune the immune system and perform other functions to prevent disease and promote overall health. They are truly nature’s “smart” drugs.