The mighty mushroom is something that I believe will one day save the world. Sounds dramatic, but did you know that mushrooms can literally eat the plastic waste that’s overwhelming our oceans and landfills? The scary truth is that no one knows quite how long it takes plastic to break down in the environment. It could be anywhere from hundreds to thousands of years; at any rate, it’s proven to be longer than the roughly 150 years that man made plastics have existed.
The same way that mushrooms clean up waste in our land, they are also able to fight cancer cells and waste inside of our bodies. As above, so below! This powerful medicinal food can boost immunity (hello T cells!), help destroy tumors, and mediate allergic reactions that contribute to body-wide inflammation.
1. Cordyceps sinensis
The earliest people to discover the benefits of this mushroom initially observed their animals eating the wild fungus – and growing stronger in the process! Farmers and herders began to use it themselves to make energy tonics and teas. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, C. sinensis is sweet in nature and tonifies the spleen’s ability to fight infection. It is said to replenish the kidney meridian, soothe the lungs (used for many respiratory disorders such as asthma and bronchitis), and eliminate phlegm (which can be seen in Western terms as heaviness and fatigue). It is indicated in the Chinese pharmacopeia for fatigue, cough, reduced sexual function, and kidney disease.
Studies & Uses
- IMPROVES OXYGEN INTAKE IN CELLS – In one study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, researchers reported that middle aged athletes who took 4.5 grams of cordyceps daily for six weeks had almost double the rate of oxygen intake as those in the placebo group. The fungus dilates the airways in the lungs, resulting in increased oxygenation of the blood.
- IMPROVES FATIGUE – Cordyceps contain adenosine, a type of nucleic acid that is needed to make ATP (and has thus been shown to increase levels by up to 28%!) ATP is the body’s energy supply source – our battery, so to speak – and is required for all enzyme processes. Double blind human studies have also shown improved lactate clearance, which lessens muscle fatigue.
- BOOSTS IMMUNITY – Cordyceps is an adaptogen loaded with immune supporting polysaccharides (such as beta-glucans and tumor-inhibiting CO-1). It also contains a compound called “cordycepin,” which has the ability to inhibit DNA synthesis in cancerous cells, thus inhibiting tumor growth while expediting apoptosis. In studies conducted in China, Cordyceps boosted Natural Killer (NK) cells in normal individuals as well as leukemia stricken individuals.
- INCREASES ENERGY IN ELDERLY PATIENTS – A double blind, placebo controlled investigation showed a marked reduction in fatigue in elderly patients when they were given three grams of Cordyceps daily. In another study, Cordyceps sinensis improved shortness of breath and reduced fatigue in patients suffering from chronic heart failure.️
Possibly one of the most infamous mushrooms on the scene right now, reishi is blowing up thanks to its cancer-fighting, immune-stimulating abilities. A 2011 study found that reishi’s bioactive compounds (including ganoderic acid & other triterpenes) may actually seek out & destroy existing cancer cells in the body! One of the lesser-known benefits is reishi’s antihistamine, allergy-reducing effect, which is due in part to its liver detoxification properties.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, liver distress and sluggishness is said to cause allergies to food and environmental substances (as well as a wide range of symptoms, including headache, irritability, menstrual difficulties and hypertension). The liver deals with a vast amount of pollutants, including drugs, pesticides, chemicals, alcohol, food additives, and toxins released by bacterial infections. If the liver is congested or overburdened, it will not be able to do another one of its important tasks: clear the blood of leftover histamine! This leads to hypersensitivity (think of people who are bothered by perfume, dust, etc) and allergic conditions. The most common allergic disorders are hay fever, asthma, eczema and hives. Because reishi is both a powerful liver tonic AND functions as an antihistamine, it is able to make a huge impact in these conditions. Studies show that in hepatitis patients with elevated liver enzymes, reishi was able to restore levels to normal range.
Because reishi also balances & stimulates the immune system, it is helpful for people with leaky-gut syndrome, Epstein-Barr, chronic bronchitis and other infectious diseases. Although it is an edible fungus, it’s one of the best possible substances to help the immune system fight candida as it has been shown to inhibit fungal growth up to 58% in 5 different species.
3. Turkey Tail
This is something every cancer patient should have in their arsenal (with a doctor’s approval of course), whether it’s to help fight current tumors or prevent relapse in the future. Turkey tail possesses strong antiviral, antimicrobial and antitumor properties, which are attributed to its two main polysaccharides: polysaccharide-K (PSK) and polysaccharide-P (PSP).
The Japanese government approved the use of PSK in the 1980s for treating several types of cancers, and it is currently used along with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. PSK has been shown to significantly extend survival at five years or beyond in cancers of the stomach, colon/rectum, esophagus and lung in Japanese trials since 1970. What makes these mushroom compounds so unique and useful is that they can be combined with conventional treatments like chemo. Both PSK and PSP boosted immune cell production and alleviated chemotherapy symptoms in double-blind trials performed in China.
Since pharmaceutical companies can only patent isolated compounds (recreated in a lab) from healing plants like mushrooms, studies in the U.S. on turkey tail had no funding up until a few years ago. This is unfortunate, since out of the top 150 prescription drugs, at least 118 are based on natural plant sources! A child suffering from leukemia in 1960 faced a 10% chance of remission; but by 1997, this chance was increased to a whopping 95% thanks to two drugs derived from a wild plant native to Madagascar. It’s frustrating that the FDA still denies the efficacy of alternative medicine!
In a landmark $2 million dollar study, the NIH found turkey tail mushrooms increase levels of tumor destroying NK cells in cancer patients.
To fill the research gap left by pharmaceutical companies, the NIH established a separate fund for complementary medicine to look at turkey tail in breast cancer patients. The multi-year study found that Natural Killer (NK) cells, which kill tumors and viruses and usually plummet after radiation therapy, were dramatically increased with supplementation of turkey tail mushrooms. Both NK and CD8+T cells shot up over the 9 week trial and researchers concluded that breast cancer patients’ health can be greatly improved after radiation treatment if turkey tail is given to quickly attack any remaining cancerous cells.
I hope you learned a lot about mushrooms (and maybe you’re even inspired to add more in your cooking!) There’s so much plant medicine on this earth, and these 3 are just scratching the surface. The 3 superstar mushrooms I’ve highlighted above are available in our ImmuneShroom mushroom blend (along with 2 others – shiitake and agaricus!)