Medicinal Mushrooms Part 2

I have been using mushrooms as Foods, Super Foods and Medicines for over 20 years now and as stated in my last blog, I find that these categories cannot be sharply divided. I realize the Canadian Government’s Food and Drug Act is intended to create these categories. This doesn’t always sit right with me. What is water, garlic or cayenne pepper? We can gain significant health or physiological benefits from consuming them, but does that make them medicines?

In this section I will be looking at some of the benefits we can find in mushrooms, from a broad paint-stroke prospective. In later blogs I will go through several of my favorite fungi and what I have learned about them.

Actions for Several Medicinal Mushrooms

There are many actions that take place in medicinal mushrooms which I list here briefly. It is a large area of study; here are a few of the relevant highlights.

Antioxidant activity: Several mushrooms contain antioxidants such as ascorbic acid, carotenoids, ergothioneine, phenolic compounds, superoxide dismutases (SODs), and tocopherols.1 Medicinal mushrooms with antioxidant effects include: Agaricus blazei2, Chaga 3,4,5 Flammulina velutipes,6 Maitake,7 Reishi,8,9 and Shiitake.10,11

Antibacterial and Antifungal Mushrooms: It is not surprising that mushrooms have strong activity against bacteria and fungi, due to the nature of the environment they live in. Several constituents have shown broad-spectrum use. Some, including sesquiterpenoid hydroquinones from Ganoderma sp., have activity against multi-resistant bacterial strains such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aurens 12,13,14. Oxalic acid is found in Shiitake, and the ethanolic mycelial extract of Shiitake has shown antimicrobial action.15,16 A review summary of Aphyllophorales can be found by Zjawiony.17

Antiviral Mushrooms: Allopathic medicine has very little to resist viral infections. This is an area where mushrooms show great promise, for whole extracts of mushrooms as well as isolated compounds. Antiviral effects can be observed with direct contact to the viruses and indirect antiviral effect resulting from immunological activity of the polysaccharides and other compounds.18  Several triterpenes of Reishi and a water extract of Chaga have activity against HIV-1.19,20 Extract of Chaga has shown antiviral action against Influenza A and B.21 Ergosterol found in several mushrooms also has antiviral action.22 Many other mushrooms, including water-extracted Shiitake mycelium and protein-bound polysaccharides (PSK and PSP) from Coriolus, as well as D-fraction from Maitake, have shown multiple antiviral functions.23,24,25,26,27,28

Antitumor Mushrooms: Many of the mushrooms have long folklore association with their use on cancer, including Chaga, which was used in the 16th and 17th century in Eastern Europe to treat cancer29; and Reishi (Ling Zhi), used in China over 2000 years ago.  Several extracts of whole mushrooms, as well as isolated compounds (including triterpenes, ergosterol and polysaccharides) have well-documented antitumor action. Many of the medicinal mushrooms reviewed here have various actions in this area.

Immune Function: Even though we have seen that several of the mushrooms can stimulate the immune system, some can suppress immune function when required. Interestingly sometimes both stimulatory and sedative functions can be found in the same mushroom. Reishi has been shown to inhibit histamine release.30,31 Isolates of Chaga include ergosterol, hispolon and hispidin; these are found in many mushrooms and have antiallergic action.32,33

Cholesterol Function: Many mushrooms have strong cholesterol regulating action. Reishi 34,35 and Agaricus blazei 36,37 have an inhibitory effect on elevated cholesterol levels. Shiitake mushroom contains an anti-cholesterol compound called eritadenine.38 Oyster mushroom has a naturally-occurring statin drug known as lovastatin.39 Other studies have shown that consumption of mushrooms can control cholesterol as well.40,41

Blood Sugar: With the increase of both type-1 and type-2 diabetes around the world, more effective treatments are needed. Several medicinal mushrooms can lower elevated blood sugars. Polysaccharides from Maitake42,43,44 Ganoderan A and B from Reishi,45,46,47 glucan-protein complex from Coriolus48, as well as whole extract and constituents from Chaga49, Agaricus blazei50,51,52 and Cordyceps53,54,55 all have blood sugar regulating effects. The mechanism has not been worked out for most mushrooms, but Maitake’s action was shown to be an alpha-glucosidase inhibitor.56

Anti-inflammatory:  Ganoderic acids from Reishi have stronger anti-inflammatory action than acetylsalicylic acid.57 Ergosterol found in many of the mushrooms can inhibit COX (cyclooxygenases 1 and 2) activity.58

Liver protection: Ganoderic acids, some glucans and other compounds from Reishi have liver protective functions both in-vitro and in-vivo.59,60,61 Reishi has activity against Hepatitis B.62 Other mushrooms, especially Coriolus, have strong protective action for the liver as well.

Dementia and Pain: Lion’s Mane has possible anti-dementia activity, while demonstrating the ability to stimulate nerve cell growth.63,64,65 Lion’s Mane has also revealed an ability to stimulate myelination.66 Several mushrooms have been studied for functional pain relief, effected with an opioid-like action.67,68,69,70

Vitamin D2: Mushrooms are the only non-animal source of Vitamin D, in the form of D2. This makes Vitamin D2 a good alternative for vegans, though you need to take 2-3 times more to receive the same benefits as with Vitamin D3.When exposed to UV light, mushrooms convert ergosterol into vitamin D2. The amount of Vitamin D found in these mushrooms is high enough to support vegans through the winter months. High Vitamin D2 mushrooms are now available in United States, but shelf life studies and more research are still needed in this area.71,72,73

The following is a chart comparing the therapeutic effects of the different fungi: 74

 

Therapeutic Effects Reishi

 

Cordyceps

 

Maitake   Shiitake Poria

cocos

Coriolus Polyporus Agaricus Chaga
Anti –

bacteria

 X    X   X   X  X   X    X     X
Anti-

Candida

 X     X   X  X         X
Anti-

inflammatory

 X        X         X
Antioxidant  X    X         X       X
Anti-

Tumor

 X    X   X   X     X     X   X
Anti-

Viral

 X    X   X   X     X    X   X   X
Blood Pressure  X    X   X   X  X      X    
Blood Sugar  X    X   X   X         X   X
Cardio-vascular  X    X           X     X
Cholesterol reducing  X    X   X   X  X      X   X  
Immune enhancing  X    X   X   X  X   X     X   X
Kidney tonic  X    X     X     X      
Liver

tonic

 X    X     X     X       X
Lung/ Respiratory  X    X   X             X
Nerve tonic  X    X      X      X     X
Sexual potentiator      X     X          
Stress reducing  X    X   X   X  X        

 

As you can see from both folklore and scientific information, medicinal mushrooms can play an important role in almost anyone’s health program. Even though it is true that some mushrooms should not be consumed by people with Candida Yeast infections, most medicinal mushrooms are safe for these people and can often reduce symptoms and underlying causes of the candida problem.

There are many stories surrounding medicinal mushrooms. My favorite has to be the one I heard from one of my teachers, an Amazon Shaman. In trying to understand more about the personality of a medicinal mushroom, I asked him to explain his use of Reishi (G. lucidum). He told me the part we call ‘mushroom’ and use is just the fruit. The actual plant lives underground, often covering several acres and even up to a couple miles underneath the Amazon jungle. He explained that these fungi are very old beings, living in the earth and drawing on its (Gaia’s) energy for thousands of years. The result is a calming, wise energy – like an energy we might consider a sage would possess. By using the fruit as medicines, we take on some of the calming wise energy, helping to ground us – something many people in western society could really use.

Summary of Part 2

As can be seen there has been a lot of research done in the area of mushrooms, but the surface has barely been scratched. We can find many fungi with strong therapeutic uses. The bioactivity can often be found in the polysaccharide and the triterpenes, but many other mechanisms can also be found. Some of the mushrooms have activity in many areas, and thus have been used by health care practitioners as multi-medicinal substances. There needs to be much more research in this area.

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