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
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