Mushrooms and Health

For centuries, edible mushrooms have been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat all manner of illnesses and health issues. Now, hundreds of scientific studies validate the numerous therapeutic applications.

Some species of edible mushrooms have potent anti-viral effects. Turkey Tail mushroom (Trametes versicolor) contains a polysaccharide that interferes with the ability of the HIV virus to replicate itself.1,2 It also blocks a protein on the HIV virus (GP120, which gains entry into cells) from harming CD4 immune cell receptors.3 Lentin, a compound in shiitake mushroom (Lentinus edodes), also inhibits HIV viral replication.4 A compound in chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus), betulinic acid, works in several different ways against the HIV virus and has been proven safe in high doses.5 Mushrooms also help protect against influenza. In vitro tests of chaga mushroom grown on birch trees show that it is effective against human influenza viruses A and B, along with several strains of equine influenza.6 In vivo experiments show that cordyceps mushroom (Cordyceps militaris) boosts immune activity and decreases the severity of type A influenza.7 Other mushrooms show anti-viral effects against herpes simplex virus (shiitake)8 and upper respiratory tract infections (oyster mushroom)9.

Mushrooms also have anti-fungal, antibacterial, and anti-parasitic properties. In mouse experiments, betulinic acid from chaga mushroom reduced blood levels of the plasmodium parasite, which causes malaria.10 Agarikon mushroom (Fomitopsis officinalis) and Poria cocos mushroom are proven anti-bacterial agents.11, 12 Extracts from Lion’s Mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus) are effective against MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphyloccus aureus) bacteria.13 Shiitake mushroom contains both antibacterial and anti-fungal compounds.14,15,16

The brain and nervous system can also benefit from medicinal mushrooms. An in vitro study of Poria cocos mushroom suggests that it can protect against Alzheimer’s disease by inhibiting the oxidative stress that can lead to beta amyloid neurotoxicity. When it comes to nervous system health, Lion’s Mane mushroom is the superstar. Both in vitro and in vivo studies show that compounds in this mushroom stimulate nerve growth factor synthesis (an important protein for brain cell growth).17,18,19 Lion’s Mane has been shown in vitro to enhance the myelination of nerves20. (Myelination forms a protective sheath around the nerve and is important for healthy nervous system functioning.) In an in vivo experiment, orally administered Lion’s Mane boosted recovery time and improved outcomes in nerve-injured rats.21 Lion’s Mane can also improve cognitive impairment, according to a double-blind, placebo-controlled study involving senior citizens.22

Medicinal mushrooms help protect the liver, as numerous studies show. In rat studies, cordyceps mushroom was shown to protect against liver damage.23 Turkey Tail mushroom inhibited the growth of liver cancer cells and promoted the healthy function of normal liver cells in vitro.24 In human clinical trials, Agaricus blazei mushroom improved liver function in hepatitis B patients,25, 26 and improved disease markers in hepatitis C patients.27 Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum) protects against liver damage in rodent models28, 29; some research points to ganoderic acid as the active compound.30

Mushrooms have powerful anti-inflammatory effects. Cordyceps, reishi, and Poria cocos mushrooms contain compounds that suppress markers of inflammation.31, 32, 33, 34 Mushrooms also mitigate inflammation by their antioxidant effects, neutralizing free radicals and preventing oxidation.35, 36, 37, 38 Inflammation is associated with chronic lifestyle diseases, and mushrooms show great promise here as well. Edible mushrooms help control blood sugar levels in diabetics39, 40. In animal models, mushrooms improve cholesterol profiles, lowering triglycerides,41 total cholesterol,42 and LDL and VLDL cholesterol.43 Edible mushrooms also help to normalize high blood pressure in clinical and animal models.44, 45

Mushrooms are perhaps most well known for their immune-enhancing and anti-cancer effects. Agaricus mushroom has been shown to enhance immune activity in people with poor health.46 Agarikon (Fomitopsis officinalis) boosts humoral, cellular, and non-specific immunity.47 Cordyceps enhances natural killer cell activity in vitro and in vivo.48 In mouse models, reishi mushroom stimulates production of immune system white blood cells.49 In vitro experiments show that a compound in shiitake mushroom boosts natural killer cell, macrophage, and T-cell activity50 and that Turkey Tail mushroom stimulates the production of immunoglobulin M (a type of antibody).51

In the field of cancer research, the body of evidence for mushrooms as anti-cancer agents is large and growing. Turkey Tail shows great promise. It contains a polysaccharide that interferes with the function of enzymes associated with metastasis and has been shown to block the effects of some carcinogens in the body.52 Maitake mushroom is equally promising. Clinical trials show that a compound in maitake has therapeutic effects for liver, breast, and lung cancers.53 A number of different mushrooms enhance natural killer cell and other immune activity in animal models and human clinical trials.54, 55, 56, 57 Poria cocos mushroom has been shown to have anti-cancer properties both in vitro and in vivo.58, 59, 60 Various edible mushrooms have anti-tumor activity, as demonstrated in animal models61, 62, 63 and in human clinical trials.64, 65

Mushrooms have other varied benefits. Lion’s Mane mushroom has been shown to speed wound healing66 and protect against gastric mucosal injury in laboratory animals.67 In both animal models and clinical trials, mushrooms show promise in the treatment of allergies (Agaricus blazei68 and oyster mushroom69) and asthma (Cordyceps70). Cordyceps mushroom helps to boost exercise performance in senior citizens,71 may help postmenopausal women protect against bone loss,72 and in animal models has been shown to boost male fertility.73, 74. In vitro experiments show that edible mushrooms may even help protect against genetic damage.75, 76



1 Hirose, K., et al. A biological response modifier, PSK, inhibits reverse transcriptase in vitro. Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications. 1987. 149 (2), 562-567.

2 Ng, T.B., et al. Polysaccharopeptide from the Turkey Tail fungs Trametes versicolor (L.:Fr.) Pilat inhibits human immunodeficiency virus type 1 reverse transcriptase and protease. International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms. 2006. 8 (1), 39-43.

3 Collins, R.A., and Ng, T.B. Polysaccharide from Coriolus versicolor has potential for use against human immunodeficiency virus type 1 infection. Life Sciences. 1997. 60 (25), 383-387.

4 Ngai, P.H., and Ng, T.B. Lentin, a novel and potent antifungal protein from shitake mushroom with inhibitory effects on activity of human immunodeficiency virus-1 reverse transcriptase and proliferation of leukemia cells. Life Sciences. 2003. 73 (26), 3363-3374.

5 Cichewicz, R.H. and Kouzi, S.A. Chemistry, biological activity, and chemotherapeutic potential of betulinic acid for the prevention and treatment of cancer and HIV infection. Medicinal Research Reviews. 2004. 24 (1), 90-114.

6 Kahlos, K., et al. Preliminary tests of antiviral activity of two Inonotus obliquus strains. Fitoterapia. 1996. 67 (4), 344-347.

7 Ohta, Y., et al. In vivo anti-influenza virus activity of an immunomodulatory acid polysaccharide isolated from Cordyceps militaris grown on germinated soybeans. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 2007. 55 (25), 10194-10199.

8 Sarkar, S., et al. Antiviral effect of the extract of culture medium of Lentinus edodes mycelia on the replication of herpes simplex virus type 1. Antiviral Research. 1993. 20 (4), 293-303.

9 Majtan, J. Pleuran (beta glucan from Pleurotus ostreatus): an effective nutritional supplement against upper respiratory tract infections? Medicine and Sport Science. 2012. 59, 57-61.

10 Santos de Sa, M. et al. Antimalarial activity of betulinic acid and derivatives in vitro against Plasmodium falciparum and in vivo in P. berghei-infected mice. Parasitology Research. 2009. 105 (1), 275-279.

11 Coletto, M.A.B. and Striano, B. Antibiotic activity in Basidiomycetes. XIII. Antibiotic activity of mycelia and cultural filtrates. Allionia. 2000. 37, 253-255.

12 Zhang, L., et al. Anti-fungal and anti-bacterial activities of ethanol extracts of selected traditional Chinese medicinal herbs. Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Medicine. 2013. 6 (9), 673-681.

13 Kawagishi, H. Anti-MRSA compounds from Hericium erinaceus (Bull.:Fr.) Pers. International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms. 2005. 7 (3).

14 Rao, J.R., et al. Antimicrobial properties of shiitake mushrooms (Lentinula edodes). International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents. 2009. 33 (6), 591-592.

15 Hatvani, N. Antibacterial effect of the culture fluid of Lentinus edodes mycelium grown in submerged liquid culture. International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents. 2001. 17 (1), 71-74.

16 Hearst, R., et al. An examination of antibacterial and antifungal properties of constituents of shiitake (Lentinula edodes) and oyster (Pleurotus ostreatus) mushrooms. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice. 2009. 15 (1), 5-7.

17 Kawagishi, H., et al. Erinacines E, F, and G, stimulators of nerve growth factor (NGF)-synthesis, from the mycelia of Hericium erinaceum. Tetrahedon Letters. 1996. 37 (41), 7399-7402.

18 Shimbo, M., et al. Erinacine A increases catecholamine and nerve growth factor content in the central nervous system of rats. Nutrition Research. 2005. 25 (6), 617-623.

19 Mori, K., et al. Nerve growth factor-inducing activity of Hericium erinaceus in 1321N1 human astrocytoma cells. Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin. 2008. 31 (9), 1727-1732.

20 Kolotushkina, E.V., et al. The influence of Hericium erinaceus extract on myelination process in vitro. Fiziologichnyj Zhurnal. 2003. 49 (1), 38-45.

21 Wong, K.H., et al. Functional recovery enhancement following injury to rodent peroneal nerve by Lion’s Mane mushroom, Hericium erinaceus (Bull.:Fr.) Pers. (Aphyllophoromycetideae). International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms. 2009. 11 (3), 225-236.

22 Mori, K., et al. Improving effects of the mushroom Yamabushitake (Hericium erinaceus) on mild cognitive impairment: a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Phytotherapy Research. 2009. 23 (3), 367-372.

23 Liu, Y.K. and Shen, W. Inhibitive effect of Cordyceps sinensis on experimental hepatic fibrosis and its possible mechanism. World Journal of Gastroenterology. 2004. 9 (3), 529-533.

24 Kim, B.K., et al. Effects of a hot-water extract of Trametes versicolor (L.:Fr.) Lloyd (Aphyllophoromycetideae) on the recovery of rat liver function. International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms. 2000. 2 (1).

25 Hsu, C.H., et al. The mushroom Agaricus blazei Murill extract normalizes liver function in patients with chronic hepatitis B. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2008. 14 (3), 299-301.

26 Lirong, W., et al. Observation on treatment of Agaricus blazei for chronic hepatitis B. Journal of Lanzhou Medical College. 1994-01.

27 Hayato, I., and Tadayoshi, Y. Clinical utility of ABCL (Agaricus mushroom extract) treatment for C-type hepatitis. Japanese Pharmacology & Therapeutics. 2002. 30 (2), 103-108.

28 Wu, Y.W., et al. Post-treatment of Ganoderma lucidum reduced liver fibrosis induced by thioacetamide in mice. Phytotherapy Research. 2010. 24 (4), 494-499.

29 Yang, X.J., et al. In vitro and in vivo protective effects of proteoglycan isolated from mycelia of Ganoderma lucidum on carbon tetrachloride-induced liver injury. World Journal of Gastroenterology. 2006. 12 (9), 1379-1385.

30 Li, Y.Q., and Wang, S.F. Anti-hepatitis B activities of ganoderic acid from Ganoderma lucidum. Biotechnology Letters. 2006. 28 (11), 837-841.

31 Zhou, X., et al. Effect of cordycepin on interleukin-10 production of human peripheral blood mononuclear cells. European Journal of Pharmacology. 2002. 453 (2002), 309-317.

32 Dudhgaonkar, S., et al. Suppression of the inflammatory response by triterpenes isolated from the mushroom Ganoderma lucidum. International Immunopharmacology. 2009. 9 (11), 1272-1280.

33 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.

34 Yasukawa, K., et al. 3 beta-p-hydroxybenzoyldehydrotumulosic acid from Poria cocos, and its anti-inflammatory effect. Phytochemistry. 1998. 48 (8), 1357-1360.

35 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.

36 Jayakumar, T., et al. Antoxidant activity of the oyster mushroom, Pleurotus ostreatus, on CCI(4)-induced liver injury in rats. Food and Chemical Toxicology. 2006. 44 (12), 1989-1996.

37 Jayakumar, T., et al. Protective effect of an extract of the oyster mushroom, Pleurotus ostreatus, on antioxidants of major organs of aged rats. Experimental Gerontology. 2007. 42 (3), 183-191.

38 Jayakumar, T., et al. An extract of the oyster mushroom, Pleurotus ostreatus, increases catalase gene expression and reduces protein oxidation during aging in rats. Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Xue Bao. 2010. 8 (8), 774-780.

39 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).

40 Khatun, K., et al. Oyster mushroom reduced blood glucose and cholesterol in diabetic subjects. Mymensingh Medical Journal. 2007. 16 (1), 94-99.

41 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.

42 Wang, J.C., et al. Hypoglycemic effect of extract of Hericium erinaceus. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. 2005. 85, 641-646.

43 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.

44 Watanabe, T., et al. Antihypertensive effect of GAMMA-aminobutyric acid-enriched Agaricus blazei on mild hypertensive human subjects. Journal of the Japanese Society for Food Science and Technology. 2003. 50 (4), 167-173.

45 Kabir, Y., et al. Effect of shiitake (Lentinus edodes) and maitake (Grifola frondosa) mushrooms on blood pressure and plasma lipids of spontaneously hypertensive rats. Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology. 1987. 33 (5), 341-346.

46 Liu, Y., et al. Immunomodulating activity of Agaricus brasiliensis KA21 in mice and in human volunteers. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2008. 5 (2), 205-219.

47 Wuliya, P., et al. The immune-potentiating effect of fomes officinalis polysaccharides. Journal of Xinjiang Medical University. 2003-06.

48 Xu, R.H., et al. Effects of Cordyceps sinensis on natural killer cell activity and colony formation of B16 melanoma. Chinese Medical Journal (English edition). 1992. 105 (2), 97-101.

49 Yue, G.G., et al. Comparative studies on the immunomodulatory and antitumor activities of the different parts of fruiting body of Ganoderma lucidum and Ganoderma spores. Phytotherapy Research. 2008. 22 (10), 1282-1291.

50 Yamamoto, Y., et al. Immunopotentiating activity of the water-soluble lignin rich fraction prepared from LEM—the extract of the solid culture medium of Lentinus edodes mycelia. Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry. 1997. 61 (11), 1909-1912.

51 Maruyama, S., et al. Protein-bound polysaccharide-K (PSK) directly enhanced IgM production in the human B cell line BALL-1.

52 Fisher, M., and Yang, L.X. Anticancer effects and mechanisms of polysaccharide-K (PSK): implications of cancer immunotherapy. Anticancer Research. 2002. 22 (3), 1737-1754.

53 Kodama, N., et al. Can maitake MD-fraction aid cancer patients? Alternative Medicine Review. 2002. 7 (3), 236-239.

54 Niu, Y.C., et al. Immunostimulatory activities of a low molecular weight antitumoral polysaccharide isolated from Agaricus blazei Murill (LMPAB) in Sacroma 180 ascitic tumor-bearing mice. Die Pharmazie. 2009. 64 (7), 472-476.

55 Ahn, W.S., et al. Natural killer cell activity and quality of life were improved by consumption of a mushroom extract, Agaricus blazei Murill Kyowa, in gynecological cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. International Journal of Gynecological Cancer. 2004. 14 (4), 589-594.

56 Gao, Y., et al. Effects of Ganopoly (a Ganoderma lucidum polysaccharide extract) on the immune functions in advanced-stage cancer patients. Immunological Investigations. 2003. 32 (3), 210-215.

57 Kurashige, S., et al. Effects of Lentinus edodes, Grifola frondosa and Pleurotus ostreatus administration on cancer outbreak, and activities of macrophages and lymphocytes in mice treated with a carcinogen, N-butyl-Nbutanolnitrosoamine. Immunopharmacology and Immunotoxicology. 1997. 19 (2), 175-183.

58 Akihisa, T., et al. Tripterpene acids from Poria cocos and their anti-tumor-promoting effects. Journal of Natural Products. 2007. 70 (6), 948-953.

59 Jin, Y., et al. Antitumor activities of hetropolysaccharides of Poria cocos mycelia from different strains and culture media. Carbohydrate Research. 2003. 338 (14), 1517-1521.

60 Akihisa, T., et al. Anti-tumor-promoting effects of 25-methoxyporicoic acid A and other triterpene acids from Poria cocos. Journal of Natural Products. 2009. 72 (10), 1786-1792.

61 Weng, C.J., et al. Inhibitory effects of Ganoderma lucidum on tumorigenesis and metastasis of human hepatoma cells in cells and animal models. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 2009. 57 (11), 5049-5057.

62 Takaku, T., et al. Isolation of an antitumor compound from Agaricus blazei Murill and its mechanism of action. Journal of Nutrition. 2001. 131 (5), 1409-1413.

63 Antitumor activity of orally administered “D-fraction” from maitake mushroom (Grifola frondosa). Journal of Naturopathic Medicine. 1993. 4 (1), 10-15.

64 Nanba, H. Maitake D-fraction: healing and preventive potential for cancer. Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine. 1997. 12 (1), 43-49.

65 Kodama, N., et al. Can maitake D-fraction aid cancer patients? Alternative Medicine Review. 2002. 7 (3), 236-239.

66 Abdulla, M.A., et al. Potential activity of aqueous extract of culinary-medicinal Lion’s Mane mushroom, Hericium erinaceus (Bull.:Fr.) Pers. (Aphyllophoromycetideae) in accelerating wound healing in rats. International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms. 2011. 13 (1), 33-39.

67 Abdulla, M.A., et al. Effect of culinary-medicinal Lion’s Mane mushroom, Hericium erinaceus (Bull.:Fr.) Pers. (Aphyllophoromycetideae), on ethanol-induced gastric ulcers in rats. International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms. 2008. 10 (4), 325-330.

68 Ellertsen, L.K., and Hetland, G. An extract of the medicinal mushroom Agaricus blazei Murill can protect against allergy. Clinical and Molecular Allergy. 2009. 7 (6).

69 Jesenak, M., et al. Anti-allergic effect of pleuran (beta glucan from Pleurotus ostreatus) in children with recurrent respiratory tract infections. Phytotherapy Research. 2013. Doi: 10.1002/ptr.5020.

70 Lin, X.X., et al. Effects of fermented Cordyceps powder on pulmonary function in sensitized guinea pigs and airway inflammation in sensitized rats. Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi. 2001. 26 (9), 622-625.

71 Xiao, Y., et al. Randomized double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial and assessment of fermentation product of Cordyceps sinensis (Cs-4) in enhancing aerobic capacity and respiratory function of the healthy elderly volunteers. Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine. 2004. 10 (3), 187-192.

72 Qi, W., et al. The co-effect of Cordyceps sinensis and strontium on ostetoporosis in ovariectomized osteopenic rats. Biological Trace Element Research. 2011. 141 (1-3), 216-223.

73 Chang, Y., et al. Effect of Cordyceps militaris supplementation on sperm production, sperm motility and hormones in Sprague-Dawley rats. The American Journal of Chinese Medicine. 2008. 36 (5).

74 Lin, W.H., et al. Improvement of sperm production in subfertile boars by Cordyceps militaris supplement. The American Journal of Chinese Medicine. 2007. 35 (4).

75 Kylyc, A., and Yesilada, E. Preliminary results on antigenotoxic effects of dried mycelia of two medicinal mushrooms in Drosophila melanogaster somatic mutation and recombination test. International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms. 2013. 15 (4), 415-421.

76 Lakshmi, B., et al. Antimutagenic activity of methanolic extract of Ganoderma lucidum and its effect on hepatic damage caused by benzoapyrene. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 2006. 107 (2), 297-303.


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