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July 28, 2021

Find out how mushrooms can boost your immune system

Mushrooms have been scientifically proven to boost the immune system and fight illness. Find out why they do this and how you can benefit.

Quick Facts

  • In addition to vitamin D, essential for maintaining our immune system, mushrooms also have powerful properties known as beta-glucans and polysaccharides that are used to treat illness and boost our own immune system
  • All "medicinal" mushrooms including Oyster and Shiitake contain these powerful properties, which have been found to help fight inflammation and balance the immune system.  For instance, Beta-glucans can attach themselves to the receptor sites on the immune cells and activate them, allowing them to recognize cancer cells as ‘foreign’ and create a higher level of response.
  • You probably are already aware that Penecillian is derived from a Mold (fungus). However, there are many other antibiotics that use different mushroom-based properties as the main effective ingredient. They are also being investigated as a potential solution to antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
  • Different mushrooms can be used to treat specific illnesses, for instance, Turkey Tail supporting the immune system to help fight cancer or 'Lions mane' for cognitive diseases.

Why have mushrooms developed health superpowers?

In many ways, fungi are more related to members of the animal kingdom than they are to the plant kingdom. So, they are also susceptible to infections from the same microbes like bacteria, viruses and even other fungi like yeast. Because the mushroom mycelium is so fragile (they have no skin) they have evolved very powerful properties to fight back, These same properties are bioavailable to our body (which means we can inherit them when we eat them).

It's fascinating to watch a Shiitake block fight mould. It will quarantine it with liquid metabolites (which are brown and the same colour as the cap), then go in and kill it. These brown metabolites then go on to form a fairly thick skin around the Shiitake block which then protects it, much like our own skin.

How do mushrooms support immunity?

  • Our immune system is activated by polysaccharides, terpenes, and other compounds found in mushroom mycelium and fruitbodies.
  • Each beneficial mushroom species contains a wide variety of nutrients (like vitamin D)  and compounds to support our natural immunity.
  • The variety and multitude of nutrients found in mushrooms are the key to immunomodulation. A substance that stimulates or suppresses the immune system and may help the body fight cancer, infection, or other diseases.

Autoimmune disorders - mushrooms also regulate the immune system

The human immune system is a complex balancing act. When we have an infection or disease to fight, our immune system “upregulates” (becomes stronger) to battle the infection. Too much immune activity, however, can lead to an overactive immune system — which is the case in autoimmune conditions.

Medicinal mushrooms have been shown to have immunomodulating effects, meaning they help keep the immune system in balance — stimulating it when there’s something to fight (such as an infection or cancer) and downregulating it when it’s overactive.

What are Beta-Glucans and how do they support health

  • Beta-glucans are sugars found in a broad range of foods and plants including mushrooms, yeasts, algae, oats, and barley. In fungi, they’re present in the fruiting body of mushrooms.
  • Beta-glucans provide powerful support for moderating your immune response and improving immune function. For this reason, healthcare workers often administer beta-glucans through IV or other methods to patients with HIV, cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, hepatitis, the flu, and many other conditions. [Source]
  • Patients with autoimmune or inflammatory conditions such as lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Lyme disease, asthma, allergies, ulcerative colitis, and skin conditions like eczema can benefit from the regulating properties of beta-glucans.
  • Beta-glucans support the immune system by stimulating your Natural Killer (NK) cells [Source]. These cells are powerful “natural killers” for combating all types of infections from HIV to common colds.
  • In foods, beta-glucans are soluble in hot water. When it comes to mushrooms, you can extract the beta-glucans using hot water and increase bioavailability (the available amount of a substance for your body to process and use).

8 mushrooms for boosting your immunity

Some of these mushrooms like Oyster and Shiitake are available in NZ as fresh mushrooms or you can grow your own in. However, for biosecurity reasons many are not available, so will need to be purchased as a supplement (in pill or powdered form or, frozen and dried.

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1. REISHI MUSHROOM (Ganoderma lucidum)

  • In "wellness circles" these mushrooms have been called  “mushrooms of immortality” and have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries.
  • Studies show that properties in reishi can stimulate Natural "Killer" cells for destroying cancer cells. (3)
  • Reishi also has an interesting effect on white blood cells for reducing inflammation. (4)

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2. TURKEY TAIL MUSHROOM (Trametes versicolor)
  • This is one of the few "highly potent" medicinal mushrooms that can be found growing wild in NZ.
  • Turkey tail mushroom is distinctive, so it's easy to spot. It looks like a turkey's tail, with hews of green and brown fanning out from the centre.
  • Its scientific names are Trametes versicolor and Coriolis versicolor.
  • As a mushroom for immunity, it is one of the most powerful.
  • Turkey tail contains polysaccharide peptides and krestin (PSK) which perfectly stimulate and repress different immune responses in unique ways. For this reason, turkey tail is an excellent choice for regulating immune systems and reducing inflammation.
  • Both PSK and PSP are under evaluation in clinical studies (and has been used in practice throughout China and Japan) for fighting cancer cells. There has also been clinical trials, to great effect, with dogs suffering from cancer.
  • Turkey tail is a potent source of beta-glucans. Paul Stamets, a world-renowned American-based mycologist, tours the world preaching the benefits of turkey tail mushroom which he says helped his mother dramatically recover from breast cancer.

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3. MAITAKE (Grifola frondosa)
  • Maitake mushroom is commonly known as “hen of the woods” is a gourmet mushroom used throughout Asia and the rest of the world as a succulent meat replacement.
  • Maitake is a powerful adaptogen and shows significant promise for protecting against disease and illness. Adaptogens are a specific type of plant that improves the body’s response to stress, support the immune system, and defend against disease.
  • Maitake provides an excellent source of beta-glucans for supporting the immune system. Further, studies suggest that Maitake may be effective for fighting against cancer cells. (5)
  • On top of that, research suggests that Maitake can help regulate blood sugar and cholesterol levels so eat up! (67)

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4. CHAGA (Inonotus obliquus)
  • From Siberia. Chaga is a highly prized fungus, long used in traditional Siberian, Korean, Chinese, north European and Scandinavian herbalism. It is found growing wild in old forests throughout the colder regions of Northern Asia and Northern Europe.
  •  it’s actually not a mushroom at all. Chaga is a sclerotium which is technically a combination of mushroom mycelium and birchwood.
  • Research shows that chaga has specific anti-cancer qualities and is especially effective for reducing inflammation, blood sugar, and cholesterol. (8)

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5. LION’S MANE (Hericium erinaceus)

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6. CORDYCEPS
  • Cordyceps are well known among athletes due to their benefit in improving energy, physical stamina, and endurance.
  • Studies show that they are also beneficial for fighting cancerous tumours, supporting kidney function, regulating the immune system, and even boosting libido. 1Source].
  • Cordyceps also contains antioxidants for defending against free radical damage and the effects of ageing.

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7. SHIITAKE (Lentinula edodes)
  • The health properties of Shiitake are famous, as there have been many studies not just of immune system support but also in fighting cancer. I encourage you to google to discover more. There are some links in the further reading section below.
  • Shiitake mushrooms have long been used in traditional Chinese medicine. They’re also part of the medical traditions of Japan, Korea, and Eastern Russia (4).
  • One study gave people two dried shiitake daily. After one month, their immune markers improved and their inflammation levels dropped.
  • Shiitake is something that we sell fresh, and as a grow your own kit. In addition, within NZ they are now more available in local grocery stores.

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8. Oyster Mushrooms (Pleurotus)

A 2004 study on HIV patients showed that the mushrooms had some anti-retroviral-induced hyperlipidemia.

  • There seems to be potential benefit from ingesting a tea made from wood grown, freeze-dried oyster mushrooms. In the International Journal of OncologyJedinaki and Silva (2008) identified two molecular mechanisms from alcohol extracts of oyster mushrooms that “specifically inhibits the growth of colon and breast cancer cells without significant effect on normal cells, and has a potential therapeutic/preventive effect on breast and colon cancer.”
  • In 1997 “The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry” published a study with results showing that Oyster Mushrooms can have significant antibacterial activity. This being due to an active compound, “benzaldehyde”, which was shown to reduce bacterial levels in the body. It seems that the compounds released by the mushroom to digest organic material from nature (to digest food) are also the same compounds that can help combat bacteria, and infections in the body.

Further reading

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