The tonifiers of traditional medicine
Heidi Fritz, MA, ND
Medicinal mushrooms possess an impressive range of applications, from immune strengthening to antiaging benefits. Learn the best use of each mushroom and why to use a high quality standardized extract.
Turns out, it’s not magic at all. Polysaccharides (a specialized type of carbohydrate) are thought to be the primary active constituents within mushrooms. Researchers believe that mushroom polysaccharide activity results in increased activity of specialized immune cells such as natural killer (NK) cells, lymphocyte-activated killer (LAK) cells, lymphocytes, and other subsets.
Mushrooms may also help normalize reduced immune cell counts, such as in patients receiving chemotherapy, and improve immune surveillance, by which NK and LAK cells “seek out and destroy” tumour cells. This may help prevent cancer in those at high risk or help prevent cancer recurrence. In addition, specific mushrooms have been shown to tonify, or strengthen, other aspects of bodily function.
Here are five amazing mushrooms and their benefits.
This medicinal trio is best known for immune-modulating and anticancer effects.
Reishi is known as the “mushroom of immortality,” clearly attesting to the high regard for this mushroom in traditional Asian cultures. In Japan, coriolus mushroom is used as an adjunctive cancer treatment. Coriolus and reishi have been studied in patients with colorectal, stomach, esophageal, lung, and breast cancer. Several studies show that they decrease the side effects of chemotherapy, improve immune parameters, and improve remission and survival time.
Traditionally used in Poland and Russia, chaga contains polysaccharide components, as well as betulinic acid, which has been shown to inhibit the growth of colorectal, breast, and lung cancer cells.
In China, cordyceps is regarded as a “super-ginseng” and is considered to benefit the lung and kidney meridians. Cordyceps is best known for its adaptogenic, antiaging properties. Possible related indications include adrenal fatigue, fertility, sexual function, athletic performance, diabetes, liver disease, and respiratory conditions.
Lion’s mane is known as the “the brain mushroom.” It contains constituents called hericenones and erinacines that can stimulate nerve growth. Supplementation with lion’s mane has been shown in published research to improve cognitive function in patients with mild cognitive impairment and to reduce depression and anxiety.
Look for mushroom products that are hot-water extracted (the traditional Asian method of extraction) and standardized to polysaccharide content. The chitin cell wall must be dissolved by hot water to gently release the polysaccharides without damaging them. Standardization ensures that the extract contains a consistent amount of polysaccharides and delivers a therapeutic dose.
Patients with cancer are advised to consult a licensed naturopathic doctor to determine if mushrooms are an appropriate treatment in their individual case.