Editor’s Note: As with any treatment — even natural ones — please check with your physician before trying it out.
With COVID-19 still lingering and another flu season approaching, now would be a good time to punch up our immune system and some of the most powerful immune boosters are members of the mushroom family. An article in BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies notes, “Of importance for the understanding of medicinal mushrooms for human consumption, fungal hyphae also secrete a wide variety of defense compounds to deter predators and pathogens. Secreted defense compounds allow the fungi to maintain their territory and evade invasion by bacteria and molds. These compounds may be evolutionarily conserved and offer biological effects for other species such as humans. The medical significance of this is apparent in the famous example of the first antibiotic—penicillin, isolated from the Penicillium chrysogenum mold.”
There are six types of fungi that contain the antiviral and immune-boosting properties we need to help keep us going.
Agaricus (Agaricus blazei). This medicinal mushroom with anti-tumor and anti-viral activity is widely used by cancer patients in Brazil and Japan. It also shows efficacy in biological models against cerebral malaria (CM), a debilitating and sometimes fatal viral disease. One study “strongly suggests that the administration of A. blazei (aqueous extract or fraction C) was effective in improving the consequences of CM and may provide novel therapeutic strategies.”
Chaga Mushroom (Inonotus obliquus). The latest research on chaga has come from a team of Russians since this medicinal fungus is far more well-known there than here. Nevertheless, the mushroom is gaining a tenuous foothold in the US, thanks to its introduction by nutrition companies and findings of lowering blood sugar and cholesterol along with its fight against inflammation.
Maitake (Grifola frondosa). An edible mushroom known as “hen of the woods,” maitake resembles the fluffed tail feathers of a nesting hen. In addition to its antiviral and immune-enhancing properties, maitake may also reduce blood pressure and blood sugar and reduces gastrointestinal inflammation. It can be found dried or fresh in Japanese markets, gourmet stores or upscale supermarkets.
Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum). Too woody and bitter to eat as food, reishi mushrooms are available in tea bags, capsules, and liquid extracts. Animal studies have shown that reishi improves immune function and inhibits the growth of some malignant tumors. It is also an anti-inflammatory agent able to marshal your white blood cells to meet the enemy right away and detoxify the body.
Shiitake (Lentinula edodes). This meaty-tasting mushroom is available fresh or dried in grocery stores and Asian markets. Shiitake mushrooms have one of the highest amounts of natural copper, a mineral that supports healthy blood vessels, bones, and immune support, and contains cholesterol-reducing properties. Certain extracts of shiitake mushrooms are used in Japan as adjunctive therapy to strengthen the immunity of cancer patients during chemotherapy and radiation.
Turkey Tail Mushroom (Coriolus versicolor) is shown to robustly stimulate the immune system and slow viral attacks. There are many health benefits of turkey tail mushrooms, including the prevention of colds, providing support during chemotherapy, managing diabetes, reducing inflammation, lowering cholesterol, and more.