Updated: Jan 7
Mushrooms are one of those foods, along with tomatoes, black licorice, and head-cheese, just to name a few, which have either an intense dislike, or almost fanatical love.
We love ‘em or leave ‘em, there doesn't seem to be a lot of middle ground. Mostly, it seems the dislike is due to the texture of the food, rather than the taste. Just the thought … ugh!
by author, Pacific NW, October 2012
Today, we know that tomatoes are a major dietary source of the antioxidant lycopene, and licorice is well known to help soothe gastric distress. But mushrooms? Yes, mushrooms have been used for millennia as medicine, not just food.
Most of what I know about mushrooms I’ve learned from Paul Stamets. Paul writes,
“Scientists have only recently confirmed what ancient cultures have know for centuries: mushrooms have within them some of the most potent medicines found in nature.”
Got Beta-glucans? The medicinally active compounds in mushrooms are called polysaccharides. In very simple terms they are precursor-nutrients, waking the immune system to activate macrophages, a type of white blood cell, and cytokines, such as interleukins and interferons. The mushroom polysaccharides, which have drawn the most attention for their immune-enhancing and or tumor-retarding properties, are the β – glucans or Beta-glucans. Mushrooms contain many different compounds, but when it comes to stimulating both our innate and adaptive immunity, Beta-glucans are considered the mushrooms most single bio-active component. (Cortez)
Of interest lately are three popular mushrooms, Chaga, Maitake, and Shiitake.
Chaga Mushroom (Inonotus obliquus)
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote in his novel The Cancer Ward, “He could not imagine any greater joy than to go away into the woods for months on end, to break off this chaga, crumble it, boil it up on a campfire, drink it and get well like an animal.” This crazy polypore mushroom is Chaga and has been used in Russian folk medicine since at least the 16th century.
Recent research confirms Chaga, like many polypores, is a strong immune-modulator, regulating cytokine and interleukin response pathways. This mushroom has been shown in various studies to have anti-viral activity against a wide range of viruses, including various forms of influenza, herpes, hepatitis C, HIV, and more. (Cortez)
Maitake Mushroom (Grifloa frondosa)
Maitake mushrooms, sometimes called Hen of the Woods, are polypore type mushrooms, native to the northern hardwoods forest around most of the world, and are a delicious and nutritional treat. Maitake has been traditionally used in Japan and China as part of the diet, and to treat diabetes and hypertension. Like other medicinal mushrooms, it contains Beta-glucans.
Studies on the medicinal properties of Maitake mushrooms show that the Beta-glucans (1,3/1,6 β – glucans ) stimulate cytokine production, triggering the immune system to respond. Just as exciting are the studies that show Maitake has the potential for lowering and moderating glucose levels. (Stamets)
Shiitake Mushroom (Lentinula edodes)
Shiitake mushrooms are gilled type mushrooms, native to the far east, and have many active constituents, including the beta-d-glucan “lentinan”.
Dr. Jack Ritchason N.D., writes “the Shiitake mushroom contain an antiviral substance, known as lentinan, that stimulate the immune system, as well as activating the T-helper cells and the macropahges”. He also writes “the Shiitake stimulates the immune system to produce more interferon, a natural compound that fights viruses.” (Ritchason)
Paul Stamets says that some of the medicinal properties of Lentinula edodes “include immuno-modulating (increases natural killer (NK) cell action and interferon), anti-viral, and liver fortifying”. “It has been studied extensively for its cholesterol reducing, immunostimulating, anti-bacterial, and anti-viral properties.” (Stamets)
But wait, there’s more!
We all know that healthy gut microbiota is important to overall wellness. Mushrooms, and Beta-glucans, can also serve as a pre-biotic, nourishing your gut microbiome. Studies are beginning to show that these pre-biotic compounds support a healthy gut lining, help regulate metabolism, reduce harmful inflammation, and more. (Cortez) This is an complex subject, and good topic for another article, so I think I’ll stop while I'm ahead!
A word of caution here. The above information is presented for educational purposes only! Please talk to your trusted health care provider before taking any dietary supplement. Mushrooms are generally well-tolerated, and are a well-studied, potent natural medicine supporting your health, but mushrooms do have their own risks. They can interact with some common medications, causing potentially harmful effects.
For example, mushrooms could pose risks for people on insulin or those with diabetes due to its impact on blood sugar.
Some also contain a protein that can prevent blood clotting. Therefore, if you are on blood-thinning medications, have a bleeding disorder or are preparing for surgery, consult with your doctor before taking any mushroom supplement.
Other research suggests that mushrooms may help reduce inflammation, but might cause your immune system to become more active. So people with autoimmune diseases should seek medical advice before first!
If mushrooms spark your interest, I encourage you to dig deeper into the fascinating world of mycelium. As Paul Stamets says "Mushrooms can help save the world."
A Moveable Feast stocks most of the Host Defense line (developed by Paul Stamets) of mushroom supplements, as well as our own AMF Signature line of mushroom supplements. Most are available in capsule or tincture form. So next time your visit our store, please check our our mushroom supplements. Also, check out my friend Jason at Feral Fungi, who makes some cool tinctures. We stock his Turkey Tail and his Myco-Clairity spagyric tinctures.
Blessing to all my readers! Be healthy, happy, and as always, spread wellness!