The Health Benefits Of Medicinal Mushrooms
Dr. Trish Murray talks about the scientific research that supports the health benefits of medicinal mushrooms. She dives deep on how mushrooms affect the immune system in positive ways to benefit people with many different issues with their immune system, particularly allergies, autoimmune diseases, and even cancers. Dr. Trish also covers the multiple pharmaceutical effects of mushrooms and the variety of disease it can potentially cure. Vegan or not, this episode will encourage you to add more Oyster, Chaga, Reishi, or Shiitake mushroom to your daily diet to optimize your health.
Listen to the podcast here:
The Health Benefits Of Medicinal Mushrooms
I’m going to talk about mushrooms in general and then I am going to be having two purposes in this talk. First, one of the purposes will be to review a bit of the immune system with you. Mushrooms, one of their most powerful things is they’re immune modulators. They modulate our immune system to help us affect many different disease processes. They also then have that pharmaceutical-type effect, but they have numerous other pharmaceutical effects. The second part or aspect of this theme are the multiple different pharmaceutical effects of mushrooms that research has supported. Let’s get started. First of all, in general, there are estimated to be as many or even more than 140,000 different mushroom species. We humans are only familiar with about 10% of those mushroom species. 50% of the ones we are familiar with, we know are edible. Of those known, 700 species are known to possess significant pharmacological properties.
If you are a vegan or vegetarian, your issue is how are you going to get enough protein. Mushrooms contain up to 40% protein by dry weight. Those of us that want to cut back on our meat intake, but don’t want to drop our protein intake, mushrooms would be very high on the list to add into our diet. There’s a small amount of lipids or fats in mushrooms. They also carry or include many essential vitamins and minerals in them. These last three, lignans, polysaccharides and triterpenes, are the main things within mushrooms that I read in the many different research articles that are the beneficial items when you talk about the pharmaceutical aspect of mushrooms. We’re going to go over what are lignans, polysaccharides and triterpenes. Lignans and polysaccharides are both fibers, essentially. They are carbohydrate fiber material. Fiber and lignans are chemicals found in plants, but lignans are also a class of phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens are estrogen-like chemicals that also act as antioxidants. They are also anti-inflammatory and they can be anticarcinogenic or anticancer. Lignans is one of the major things in mushrooms that we’re touted in the research as their beneficial effects.
Polysaccharides, another fiber, are full of b-glucans. What is this? It’s a carbohydrate or essentially a sugar, a starch or a fiber or a carbohydrate molecule that’s composed of long chains. Polysaccharides, meaning so many saccharides, is a long chain of mono, one, saccharide units bound together. These lignans and polysaccharides are both fibers. They’re also both soluble fibers. Why is that important? It’s important because soluble fibers bind to bile acids in the small intestine. Bile is produced by your gallbladder and put into your gastrointestinal tract or the small intestines. What happens is soluble fibers will bind to these bile acids. Bile acids are fats and they make them less likely to then be absorbed into the bloodstream or into your body. This in turn lowers your cholesterol level in your bloodstream because lipids or fats are cholesterol. There’s your mechanism of decreasing cholesterol with the use of soluble fibers, whether they be mushrooms or even oatmeal.
Another effect is that soluble fiber also decreases or attenuates the absorption of sugar which therefore reduces the sugar response after eating, so your insulin doesn’t have to go up as high. You don’t absorb as much sugar into your bloodstream. If you are a diabetic or if you have metabolic syndrome, you absolutely should be considering increasing your fiber. Mushrooms are an excellent source of that. Finally, this third mechanism is when you eat fiber, we do not break down fiber well in our intestines. What happens is the fiber passes through our GI tract and gets to our colon. It’s the bacteria that we live in friendly relationship within our colon that either ferment or digest these fibers in our colon. When they ferment or digest these fibers in our colon, those bacteria then produce short chain fatty acids as a result of that fermenting process. The short chain fatty acids they produced feed our cells that line our intestines. Triterpenes, this third one, comes from either animals, plants or fungi, meaning mushrooms. All create triterpenes. They form the bases of almost all steroids, so the immune system is going to be affected as well as our structure.
Let’s talk about these pharmacological potentials of mushrooms. The very first one we’re going to talk about and the one that was touted the most in all of the books I read and all the research so far that I’ve been reading is number one, the immune-modulating properties of mushrooms. There’s a quote, “The therapeutic effects of mushrooms such as anticancer activity, suppression of autoimmune diseases and allergies have been associated with the fact that they’re able to modulate our immune system. Possible efficient treatment was listed in many different articles for asthma, food allergies, dermatitis, inflammation, rheumatoid arthritis, atherosclerosis is a vessel plaque that can lead to heart attack or stroke, hyperglycemia, HIV, tuberculosis, septic shock and even cancer.”
The Immune System
Let’s now talk about the immune system, and this is not a level 300 talk. This is a level 100. I’m going to introduce the basic concepts of the immune system and how the fibers and the things from mushrooms that we found in scientific research are affecting and modulating your immune system. What you need to understand here and what I want you to come away with is that our immune system has predominantly two different parts or phases to it. Even before we get into that, make sure you understand that your immune system is your defense system. It is your military, and its job is to defend you and protect you and keep you safe from foreign things that try and enter your body. The first part of your immune system is your innate immunity. That innate immunity takes effect in the first 0 to 96 hours of defense against any stranger danger or any bug that enters your bloodstream or gets on your skin or you chew or put in your mouth or in your sinuses or wherever it enters your body.
This innate immune system is nonspecific. It has a broad response to foreign-appearing agents. What’s foreign? You can talk about a pathogen molecular pattern, meaning any bug or virus or fungus that enters your body is going to have a molecular pattern. When your immune system sees it, it is going to recognize it as different from ourselves and different from our immune systems. It’s going to recognize that molecular pattern as a pathogen or a stranger and it’s going to react against it. Another type of foreign agent might be a damaged molecular pattern, AGE. It stands for Advanced Glycosylated End products. Glycosylated is sugar, so glycosylated end products are advanced sugar end products. What that means is first, I’ll give you an example. It’s summertime and you’re out cooking on your grill and you’re making hotdogs and hamburgers. How about those burnt hotdog or the burnt hamburger? Some of you out there I know love those. I hate to tell you this and burst your bubble, but the cells of that meat when they’re burnt are damaged molecular patterns.
When you eat them, they are going to turn on your innate immune system to attack them because your immune system looks at that burnt muscle cell in that meat as if it is a foreign agent. Examples of cells that are active in our innate immunity in a broad way, against any stranger or molecular pattern that comes into our body that’s looked upon is our white blood cells, macrophages and natural killer cells. What can these guys do? What do they do to kill the foreign agent or get rid of it? Phagocytosis, for example, a natural killer cell or a macrophage cell can engulf something that they think is foreign. They’ll go and engulf it and take it inside the cell and destroy it is one possibility. Another possibility is they can become an antigen-presenting cell. They might still phagocytize it, meaning take it inside themselves, but instead of killing it right then, that foreign thing inside that cell causes that cell to become an antigen-presenting cell. Meaning it’s going to put receptors on its cell membrane to go and tell other cells in our body that this bad thing is here and to become active against it. It’s going to go tell the adaptive immunity to get their act together and come help destroy this foreign agent, so it’s going to go get supportive backup guys to come help.
This is the acquired immune response. The acquired immune response as you can see takes time to develop. It takes anywhere from four to five days to be initiated. Those antigen-presenting cells from the innate immunity need to be activated and then they are going to go and tell other cells such as B cells or T cells to become activated and produce antibodies against the specific foreigner or they’re going to tell T cells to produce cytolytic cells. You’ll notice cytolytic is where lytic is lysis or destroy so different cells are going to become active now. You can create the adaptive immunities the way that we create long-lasting pathogenic-specific memory. For example, with the cold virus. We’ve all had a cold. We get a cold with the sore throat, cough, fever and things like that. It lasts anywhere from six to seven days and it runs through. If you’ve never been exposed to this particular cold virus that you get, then your innate immunity needs to try and attack it, but it can’t. It isn’t strong enough to destroy it and get rid of it completely, so they become antigen-presenting cells. If you want to cut back on meat intake, but still need protein, mushrooms should be very high on your diet list.”
They go tell B cells and T cells to come in and support them and they develop the memory for this specific cold virus. When your children have first started school, what do they come home with all the time? When they go to kindergarten or nursery school, they come home sick all the time. That’s because their adaptive immunity has not built up yet and developed any memory against these viruses that all the kids are being exposed to. They come home and they get sick a lot and their innate immunity then develops an attack and then they go tell their adaptive immunity to attack. Once their adaptive immunity has developed, we no longer are susceptible to that particular cold virus. When your children come home with an illness, you might get that virus or you might not. The viruses you don’t get means you’ve seen before and your adaptive immunity has long-lasting pathogen-specific memory against it, so you don’t get sick. The ones you do get sick with, you have not seen before, so you have to go through this process of a six or seven-day attack on this foreign agent or bug in order to destroy it.
I hope this has helped give you an overview of your basic immune system. This is a summary of what we’ve covered. Any immune response, you first are going to have a natural or innate immune response. The cells in your body that are most involved in are dendritic cells, neutrophils, monocytes, natural killer cells and so on. The processes that they can attack foreign things are with phagocytosis. That’s engulfing before an agent and trying to destroy it or they can engulf it and put receptors on their own cell membranes. B cells in the adaptive immunity then creates antibodies against that specific foreign agent, whether it be a virus, bacteria, fungus or whatever. Another process that the innate immunity can do is an oxidative burst. Oxidative burst is some toxic chemicals to kill a foreign agent. Finally, the process here with cytokine production. We produce cytokines that also then go to the specific adaptive immunity as a signal to T cells and the cytokine production tells macrophage activation, so T cells can then go after foreign agents and lyse them or destroy them.
Activation Of Adaptive Immune Response
Let’s get back and look at how the mushrooms or the medicinal fungus has an effect on different invasive things or how it modulates our immune system. One study talked about medicinal fungus water extract. It consisted of multiple different tinctures from different mushrooms. The turkey tail, the shiitake, the reishi are the three that were talked about in many different research articles. The dose of this particular tincture that’s listed here for you was 400 milligrams per kilogram in people and this extract was found to possess the ability to activate natural killer cells in your innate immunity to either directly kill tumor cells such as the cancer cells or to induce natural killer cells to secrete cytotoxic agents to elicit apoptosis of tumor cells. Let’s talk about apoptosis. Apoptosis is when any cell in your body, whether it be a tumor cell or one of your natural cells in your body that’s not cancerous, live out their life and die naturally. Meaning when a cell turns over or dies, that term apoptosis is the term for that process. What this is saying is that the natural killer cells can secrete cytotoxic agents to elicit the death, apoptosis, of cancer tumor cells.
These two things are showing you how the mushrooms and the different agents within the mushrooms can cause your immune system to start destroying tumor cells or cancer cells. Polysaccharides bind to innate immune cell receptors. They’re called Toll-like receptors, which activate number one, phagocytosis by macrophages and natural killer cells in the innate immune system. Two, activate dendritic cells which then become antigen-presenting cells which lead to the activation of your adaptive immune response. Another pharmacological effect of mushrooms is antimicrobial effect. Microbe is a bug, like bacteria or a virus. Your immune system is attacking these things. Mushrooms were very effective in the studies I read to help you against bacterial or viral infection.
From an antibacterial perspective, reishi, artist’s conk and shiitake were the top ones that were discussed. Some of these even showed inhibition of what’s called MRSA or Methicillin-Resistant Staph aureus. Methicillin-resistant Staph aureus is a bug that has become resistant to just about any antibiotic. To know that these different types of mushrooms would help you inhibit or become resistant for yourself against these bad bacteria, that’s awesome information if your immune system is at risk. Antiviral mushrooms, reishi, but also chaga, turkey tail, shiitake and maitake. These showed effect against herpes simplex virus, influenza. Herpes simplex virus can be when you get the blisters on your lip or cold virus. You can also get them genitally. It even showed effect against HIV.
Let’s talk about another pharmaceutical effect of mushrooms and that’s the anticancer effect. What I learned also throughout my research is that first of all, in the Asian countries such as China, Japan, Korea and other East Asian countries, that is where majority of the research on the medicinal aspect of mushrooms has been done. They’ve been using for over thirty years medicinal mushrooms in adjunct treatment of cancer, so that’s where a majority of the research information is from. They have found over many years of research that mushrooms exert antitumor activity by stimulating this hosts defense or immune mechanisms. They talked the most about the following mushrooms: maitake which has MD-fraction in it, shiitake, birch polypore and turkey tail which has PSK or Polysaccharide-K, oyster mushroom, chaga, and reishi.
What types of things did they find? First of all, stomach and colon cancer. They found that these mushrooms increase survival time and quality of life compared to those treated with chemotherapy alone. This can be an adjunct. You can use mushrooms along with chemotherapy and they’ve been found to be safe. Reishi mushroom was found to suppress cell adhesion, so the cells adhering to and cell migration of highly invasive breast and prostate cancer cells. Continuing with a different aspect of the research on anticancer, MD-fraction from maitake mushrooms, the method in which it works appears to repress cancer progression and primarily exerts its effects by stimulating natural killer cell activity to destroy the tumor. This maitake and MD-fraction has been approved here in the United States by the FDA as an investigational drug to conduct phase-two pilot study on patients particularly with advanced breast and prostate cancer.
Further anticancer information, polysaccharide-K, PSK, and polysaccharide peptide, PSP, both are derived from derivatives of turkey tail mushroom has been used in cancer treatment in Asia for over 30 years. It’s been used in adjunct treatment of gastric esophageal colorectal, breast and lung cancers. It again increased the host versus tumor response, so it’s affecting the innate and the adaptive immune system through natural killer cells and through lymphocyte activated killer cells to destroy the tumor cells. Inhibition of tumor cell proliferation ranged anywhere from 22% up to 84% by increased cell cycle arrest and apoptosis causing natural death of the tumor cells. This mushroom derivative had antimetastatic effects inhibiting enzymes that promote the spread of the cancer.
When cancers metastasize into the bloodstream, that means they can spread into other parts of our body and these mushrooms inhibited enzymes that promoted that spread stopped those enzymes. These derivatives of the mushrooms also act as antioxidants which neutralize free radicals or toxicity within our bloodstream. What’s absolutely amazing to me is that PSK and PSP have been developed as pharmaceuticals in Japan and have been commercially available worldwide since 1977. In 1985, this tincture from these mushrooms ranked nineteenth on the world’s commercially most successful drugs. Why do we not know this more in the United States? This is why I’m doing these talks. This is why I’m trying to express this information.
Let’s move on to antiallergy effects of mushrooms. The mushrooms that I talked about in the articles I read so far are reishi and Tricholoma populinum. They inhibit histamine release in rat mast cells. Histamine is what causes allergy responses in people with asthma and people with skin allergy responses or sinus reactions with histamine. You’ve heard of drugs called antihistamines and you use them if you have a lot of allergies. Reishi, for example, is a mushroom that would be helpful to you to stabilize your histamine and therefore not have as many allergic reactions.
Antiatherogenic And Antiatherosclerotic
Next and the fifth pharmaceutical effect of mushrooms, antiatherogenic. Atherosclerosis is the buildup of plaque in your arteries that can then lead to heart attack or stroke. What I want you to understand is that your total cholesterol number, if it is not astronomically high, is not what causes heart attacks and strokes. What causes heart attacks and strokes is if your cholesterol or your lipids and the fats in your bloodstream are inflamed and toxic.
They cause damage to the cells that line your arteries, cause an injury to the inner lining of your artery, get in behind those cells and inside the wall of your arteries and that’s when plaque starts to develop. What this is saying about oyster mushrooms is that oyster mushrooms decrease cholesterol and inhibited lipid peroxidation. Lipid is fats and peroxidation is the inflammation or the oxidation or the toxicity of those fats. That therefore is what leads to the development of the plaques. If you’re going to inhibit that with the oyster mushroom, then you’re going to decrease your possibility of developing plaques and decrease your risk of heart attack or stroke. You notice in this study, oyster mushroom decreased the size of atherosclerotic plaques that were being followed in the rabbits in the research study. The other thing that’s amazing is that oyster mushroom has a compound in it that is lovastatin-like.
You’ve heard of lovastatin or statins. Statins are the most common prescribed medication for people with high cholesterol or high triglycerides. Oyster mushrooms naturally have a lovastatin-like compound in them. That’s an effect of how they can be atherosclerotic. Meaning antiatherogenic or anti-atherosclerotic. Reishi, shiitake and maitake mushrooms are also anti-cholesterol or anti-atherosclerotic. They act as antioxidants. They inhibit platelet aggregation. Meaning keeping your blood thin so you don’t build up plaques. They inhibit LDL oxidation or inflammation. That’s what really causes plaques. They block the monocyte adhesion to endothelial cells. Your endothelial cells or the cells that line your arteries, they block the damage or the cells that are going to cause damage and adhere to those cells and cause damage. They inhibit cholesterol absorption as fiber by binding to the bile acids.
Hypoglycemic Or Lowering Blood Sugar
The sixth pharmaceutical effect of mushrooms is hypoglycemic or lowering blood sugar. Fermented chaga or reishi, turkey tail, shiitake and maitake mushrooms, and many of these mushrooms have different pharmaceutical effects. In the studies that I read on these mushrooms, not only did they decrease someone’s appetite and decrease the overall food intake but they also increased their serum insulin levels and decreased their overall blood sugar levels or glucose levels. One of the example studies had 71 patients with type 2 diabetes which is adult-onset diabetes. These patients took 1,800 milligrams of polysaccharide fractions from reishi for twelve weeks and they demonstrated statistically-significant reductions in postprandial, after eating, glucose levels compared to those that did not take any of the reishi fraction. There’s an evidence-based study, random controlled, showing positive effect of using reishi mushroom tincture to decrease blood sugar in diabetics.
Reishi protected mice against hepatic necrosis caused by chloroform in one study. In another study, multi-centered, double-blind randomized control trials, these are the top-type studies to be done on humans with hepatitis B. 33% treated patients had normal liver enzymes and 13% cleared hepatitis B surface antigen from their serum completely. None of the control group had this level of an outcome. What did they take? They took 600 milligrams of reishi tincture three times per day over a twelve-week period to have this effect. The eighth pharmaceutical effect of mushrooms is pain control and one mushroom that they talked about predominantly was lion’s mane. Lion’s mane is highly selective against opioid receptors and they have an anti-pain activity, but not the same side effects as morphine, brain fog, fatigue and constipation. The lion’s mane didn’t have that effect so that can be very beneficial to people with chronic pain. Other mushrooms that were discussed with pain effects were birch polypore and artist’s conk. They also had selective inhibitors of certain enzymes that can help decrease pains similar to opioids.
In summary, mushrooms are an excellent source, first of all, of protein. They are full of many vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, meaning nutrients from plants. Two, they affect the immune system in positive ways to benefit people with many different issues with their immune system, particularly allergies, autoimmune diseases and even cancers. Third, they have also numerous other pharmaceutical or pharmacological effects such as lowering blood sugar, lowering cholesterol, liver protection and even pain control. I sure hope this helps. Take care.