Inflammation is the body’s response to injury or disease. It is a protective mechanism and a necessary part of healing, but when it becomes chronic, it can lead to further problems. Many of today’s lifestyle ailments – obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and even cancer – are associated with chronic inflammation. Medicinal mushrooms contain compounds that inhibit the inflammation process in a variety of ways, including antioxidant function.
Some mushrooms act directly on inflammation. Take cordyceps, a mushroom that contains a compound called cordycepin. It stimulates the production of interleukin 10, an anti-inflammatory cytokine.1 Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum) contains triterpenes, which in vitro have been shown to suppress several markers of inflammation: tumor necrosis factor alpha, interleukin-6, nitric oxide, prostaglandin, NF-kappaB, and COX-2 activity.2 Poria cocos mushroom also contains triterpenes, which have been shown to improve inflammation in mice.3, 4
Other mushrooms exert an anti-inflammatory effect less directly, by quenching damaging free radicals and counteracting oxidation. Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus), for instance, has antioxidant activity, protecting cells against oxidative damage in vitro.5 Oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus) has an antioxidant effect as well. Animal studies show that it helps to increase antioxidant levels in older or injured rats.6, 7, 8 One study points to chrysin as one of oyster mushroom’s active antioxidant compounds.9 Different parts of a mushroom can confer different benefits. Researchers have found, for example, that an extract from the fruiting body of chaga mushroom has greater antioxidant activity than other parts of the mushroom.10
Medicinal mushrooms show great promise in the battle against many of today’s lifestyle diseases, such as diabetes, which are associated with chronic inflammation. Medicinal mushrooms have been shown to help manage this disease. Reishi mushroom helps to lower fasting blood sugar levels, post-meal blood sugar levels, and HbA1c levels in both clinical and animal models.11, 12 Animal studies on the blood-sugar lowering effects of Lion’s Mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceum),13 oyster mushroom,14 maitake mushroom15, 16, 17 and cordyceps18, 19, 20 have yielded similar results. Oyster mushroom’s blood-sugar lowering effects have been proven in clinical trials as well.21
Quite often, the mushrooms that lower blood sugar also lower cholesterol. Such is the case for oyster mushroom, according to in vivo studies involving rats. It lowers blood levels of LDL and VLDL cholesterol,22 triglycerides,23 and helps boost HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels.24 Lion’s Mane and reishi mushrooms also do double duty. In addition to its blood sugar benefits, Lion’s Mane lowers triglycerides and total cholesterol in animal models.25 In hamsters and mini pigs, reishi is shown to reduce total cholesterol by up to 20% and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol by 27%.26 Other mushrooms that normalize cholesterol profiles include shiitake mushroom (Grifola frondosa)27, 28, maitake mushroom29, and Turkey Tail mushroom (Trametes versicolor).30
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is associated with chronic inflammation in the lining of the arteries. Medicinal mushrooms, alone or in combination with other nutrients, help to normalize hypertension. In one clinical study, an Agaricus blazei mushroom preparation combined with GABA (an amino acid) significantly lowered blood pressure in people with hypertension.31 In animal models maitake mushroom, in powdered or extract form, has anti-hypertensive effects.32, 33, 34
Chronic inflammation even influences the development of cancer. Medicinal mushrooms, working via a variety of biological mechanisms, show great potential for the prevention and treatment of cancer. PSK, a polysaccharide from Turkey Tail mushroom, inhibits cancer metastasis by influencing enzymes, blocks the effects of some carcinogens, stimulates the immune system, enhances the effects of some anti-cancer drugs, and eases some chemotherapy side effects.35 A compound from maitake mushroom called D-fraction boosts immune response, has anti-tumor and anti-metastatic effects, and helps alleviate unpleasant side effects of chemotherapy.36, 37 Agaricus blazei has anti-tumor effects, helps ease chemotherapy side effects, and may even prolong survival rates.38 In vitro studies examining betulinic acid, a compound in chaga mushroom, suggest that it, too, may be effective against some types of cancer.39 Substances found in reishi mushroom spores show anti-tumor activity,40 while lucidenic acid from reishi inhibits the invasion of cancer cells in vitro.41 In vitro experiments show that substances in cordyceps mushroom stimulate cancer cell death, suppress RNA encoding needed for cancer cells to replicate,42 and block the spread of cancer cells.43
Researchers continue to explore the therapeutic potential of edible mushrooms. New benefits are constantly being discovered, and in the battle against chronic inflammation and its many health consequences, mushrooms show great promise.
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2 Dudhgaonkar, S., et al. Suppression of the inflammatory response by triterpenes isolated from the mushroom Ganoderma lucidum. International Immunopharmacology. 2009. 9 (11), 1272-1280.
3 Cuellar, M.J., et al. Effect of the basidiomycete Poria cocos on experimental dermatitis and other inflammatory conditions. Chemical and Pharmaceutical Bulletin. 1997. 45 (3), 492-494.
4 Yasukawa, K., et al. 3 beta-p-hydroxybenzoyldehydrotumulosic acid from Poria cocos, and its anti-inflammatory effect. Phytochemistry. 1998. 48 (8), 1357-1360.
5 Park, Y.K., et al. Chaga mushroom extract inhibits oxidative DNA damage in human lymphocytes as assessed by comet assay. BioFactors. 2004. 21 1 (4), 109-112.
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9 Anandhi, R., et al. Antihypercholesterolemic and antioxidative effects of an extract of the oyster mushroom, Pleurotus ostreatus, and its major consituent, chrysin, in Triton WR-1339-induced hypercholesterolemic rats.
10 Nakajima, Y., et al. Antioxidant small phenolic ingredients in Inonotus obliquus (persoon) Pilat (Chaga). Chemical and Pharmaceutical Bulletin. 2007. 55 (8), 1222-1226.
11 Gao, Y., et al. A phase I/II study of Ling Zhi mushroom Ganoderma lucidum (W.Curt.:Fr.) Lloyd (Aphyllophoromycetideae) extract in patients with type II diabetes mellitus. International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms. 2004. 6 (1).
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13 Wang, J.C., et al. Hypoglycemic effect of extract of Hericium erinaceus. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. 2005. 85, 641-646.
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19 Kiho, T., et al. Structural features and hypoglycemic activity of a polysaccharide (CS-F10) from the cultured mycelium of Cordyceps sinensis. Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin. 1999. 22 (9), 966-970.
20 Lo H.C., et al. Anti-hyperglycemic activity of natural and fermented Cordyceps sinensis in rats with diabetes induced by nicotinamide and streptozotocin. The American Journal of Chinese Medicine. 2006. 34 (5).
21 Khatun, K., et al. Oyster mushroom reduced blood glucose and cholesterol in diabetic subjects. Mymensingh Medical Journal. 2007. 16 (1), 94-99.
22 Bobek, P., et al. Cholesterol-lowering effect of the mushroom Pleurotus ostreatus in hereditary hypercholesterolemic rats. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism. 1991. 35 (4), 191-195.
23 Bobek, P., et al. Effect of oyster fungus (Pleurotus ostreatus) on serum and liver lipids of Syrian hamsters with a chronic alcohol intake. Physiological Research. 1991. 40 (3), 327-332.
24 Hossain, S., et al. Dietary mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus) ameliorates atherogenic lipid in hypercholesterolaemic rats. Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Physiology. 2003. 30 (7), 470-475.
25 Wang, J.C., et al. Hypoglycemic effect of extract of Hericium erinaceus. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. 2005. 85, 641-646.
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38 Hetland, G., et al. Effects of the medicinal mushroom Agaricus blazei Murill on immunity, infection and cancer. Scandanavian Journal of Immunology. 2008. 68 (4), 363-370.
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42 Chen, L.S., et al. RNA-directed agent, cordycepin, induces cell death in multiple myeloma cells. British Journal of Haematology. 2008. 140 (6), 682-691.
43 Lee, E.J., et al. Cordycepin suppresses TNF-alpha-induced invasion, migration and matrix metalloproteinase-9 expression in human bladder cancer cells. Phytotherapy Research. 2010. 24 (12), 1755-1761.