Did you know that medicinal mushrooms have been used to help modulate the body's immune system dating as far back as the Han Dynasty in Japan? More recently, a percentage of currently used pharmaceutical drugs, including antibiotics and anti-rejection drugs for tissue transplants, were initially derived from fungi.
Although mushroom constituents vary depending on the species, scientists agree that the key active ingredient in medicinal mushrooms is the beta glucan. Beta glucans are a type of polysaccharide found in the medicinal mushrooms' cell walls.
These polysaccharides bind to receptor sites, called lectin sites, in the body, stimulating the immune system. This stimulation is termed immunomodulation and, depending on the mushroom species, often can involve increased levels of tumour necrosis factor (TNF), natural killer (NK) cells, macrophages, and B and T lymphocytes.
Additionally, beta glucans can upregulate platelet and granulocyte production in the bone marrow when required. Due to these immune modulating effects, medicinal mushrooms are also being used in cancer and chemotherapy treatments.
Absorption of beta glucans into the body depends on the extent of polysaccharide breakdown. This can be achieved by jointly taking 1,000 mg Vitamin C or 3,000 mcu's of bromelain enzyme at the same time as the mushroom dose. These substances help reduce the beta glucan chains into shorter segments, with subsequent easier absorption, thus ensuring maximum immune benefit.
Reishi Mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum)
Reishi mushrooms have been used extensively in China for years, traditionally used to promote longevity and health. Reishi is both a tonic mushroom as well as immunomodulator due to its beta glucan levels.
Clinically, reishi has been shown to boost natural killer (NK) and T cell levels. It is interesting to note, however, that studies show that if someone has normal helper T cell levels before using reishi mushrooms, the addition of these mushrooms will not affect T cell numbers, where, on the other hand, if someone has low helper T cell levels, reishi beta glucans will stimulate the cells' upregulation.
Turkey Tail (Coriolus versicolor)
The name turkey tail is intriguing, but it accurately describes this large, hard fungus often seen growing along the edges of fallen trees and logs. The mushroom's identification markings seem to mimic the broad stripes of colour seen in the plumage of wild turkeys.
Like the reishi mushroom, turkey tails are rich in beta glucans, resulting in potent immunomodulatory activity. In fact, anticancer pharmaceuticals containing PSK and PSP are derived from Coriolus. In the mushroom these constituents are a specific type of bound beta glucan particular to turkey tails.
Use of turkey tail mushroom has been shown to boost natural killer (NK) cell activity, as well as levels of interleukin 2. Additionally, clinical documents show potential anti-tumour activity as well.
Maitake (Grifola frondosa)
Maitake mushrooms have a long documented history of use, starting in Japan many centuries ago. Maitake also possesses the immunomodulatory effects seen with reishi and turkey tail mushrooms. Additionally, maitake is suspected to have tumour inhibitory properties.
In animal studies, use of maitake has shown moderate lowering of blood glucose levels, requiring caution to be used by those on blood sugar medications since the mushroom may improve the medications' effectiveness.
Mushrooms for prevention
The world of medicinal mushrooms appears very promising in the scope of immune system modulatory benefits. Mushrooms like reishi, turkey tail, and maitake can potentially help prevent or treat common winter ailments. Try a medicinal mushroom combination to help your body's immune system effectively fight back.