If someone were to ask me about mushroom varieties off the top of my head I can name the delicious kind, the poisonous kind, the “magical” kind and the medicinal type. Who knew there are about 10,000 identified mushroom species known from North America? Furthermore, what is all the recent hype regarding medicinal mushrooms? Mushrooms are popping up everywhere from bed sheets and art prints at Target Home to truffle fries and lattes. Are they more than just a health trend that makes for great Instagram recipe drink images? The research we have compiled explains why mushrooms are finally getting the respect in the medical world that they deserve.
Many varieties of mushrooms are immune boosters, and have proven helpful with viral infections such as the flu (lung conditions including asthma and bronchitis), heart disease and contributing conditions such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, kidney and liver disease as well as cancer.
Some of the most well-known medicinal mushrooms include Reishi, Turkey Tail, Maitake, Shiitake and Chaga. These 5 of 10,000 varieties are the most popular in the functional medicine world. What Chinese medicine has known for years, western scientific research is now discovering: that these mushrooms all have the ability to help the body fight cancer. Medicinal mushrooms can be taken in several forms including pill, powder oil and cooked as whole mushrooms. My favorite form is powder. There are many high quality powders on the market. Some of our favorites are created by Sun Potion, Moon Juice and Solaray. The benefit of taking mushrooms in powder form is that they are easily dissolved and the taste (that not everyone likes-but many do) is masked well in juices, smoothies, coffee drinks and milks. Pills containing mushroom powder are also easy to swallow and easy to digest. I have tried many different drink recipes that I would be happy to recommend. Just ask! The following is more information about each of the most widely used medicinal mushrooms.
Turkey Tail Mushrooms
Coriolus versicolor, better known as Turkey Tail mushrooms, are multicolored mushrooms that resemble the shape of a turkey’s tail. They have been used for years in ancient Chinese medicine due to their antitumor effects. These mushrooms, paired with different chemotherapy regimens, are shown to help fight cancer. Turkey Tail mushrooms can also help reduce the side effects of chemotherapy. When patients go through chemotherapy and radiation, their immune systems can become weakened. Turkey Tail mushrooms can strengthen the immune systems in patients going through treatment. The U.S Food and Drug Administration is in the process approving several trials for Turkey Tail mushrooms and their effectiveness in cancer treatment.
Maitake mushrooms grow in clusters and contain chemicals which have been found to help fight and slow down the growth of tumors in cancer patients. These chemicals also help to stimulate certain cell function in the immune system and boost the immune system as well. In a scientific research study done in patients with bladder cancer, Maitake enhanced interferon, a protein that inhibits virus replication, and its activity against cancer cells. Maitake mushrooms are also used to help fight the effects of chemotherapy. These mushrooms can reduce blood glucose levels in diabetes patients as well as lower high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Patients taking blood-sugar lowering medications or Warfarin are advised not to take Maitake mushrooms and should consult a doctor beforehand.
These mushrooms have no roots, leaves, blossoms or seeds and are one of the more well-known medicinal mushrooms due to their common appearances in different meals. A sugar molecule in Shiitake mushrooms, lentinan, has been shown to enhance several aspects of the immune system, which helps slow down tumor growth. The use of lentinan has also shown to extend survival rates in patients with stomach, colorectal, pancreatic and liver cancers. Shiitake has been used to decrease the incidence of chemotherapy adverse effects in cancer patients. Scientific studies showed that when Latcripin-13 was extracted from Shiitake, it exhibited antitumor activity in lung cancer cells. Shiitake mushrooms are also used to help lower cholesterol and fight infections. There are some side effects one needs to be aware of when consuming Shiitake mushrooms including the possibility of skin inflammation, sensitivity to sunlight, and abnormally high amount of certain white blood cells, upset stomach and pneumonia caused by hypersensitivity to spores.
Reishi mushrooms are known for their antioxidant properties and their ability to boost the immune system and the body’s response to advanced stage cancer. They contain chemicals that are believed to stop the activity in tumors. These mushrooms are used in the prevention and treatment of prostate cancer because of their ability to act from within the cell and interfere with the androgen receptor, according to Life Extension. Reishi mushrooms are also taken to help with ovarian cancer because they can inhibit the rapid reproduction of ovarian cancer cells. They are also known for lowering high cholesterol and high blood pressure and reducing inflammation.
Chaga mushrooms have woody growths called conks which are used for medicine. Studies have shown that certain compounds in Chaga mushrooms are able to selectively kill cancer cells. Chaga is also able to inhibit the progression of cancer. Some of the chemicals found in Chaga have antioxidant effects. One of those chemicals, betulin acid, has been shown to kill cancer cells without harming healthy cells. These mushrooms are also used to fight and stop the growth of tumors. They contain Beta-D-Glucans, which help the immune system and normalize cholesterol levels and blood sugar. Chaga mushrooms have also been shown to reduce inflammation as well as protect the liver. It contains melanin which gives it one of the highest antioxidant levels in all mushrooms.