It’s a rare day when I don’t consume a medicinal mushroom (or two or three) in some form or another. Lately, I’ve been ingesting them in the form of dual-extracted tinctures (first in alcohol, then in hot water, and finally combined), but I also eat them, create hot water decoctions, and will consume supplemental capsules as well.
Why are mushrooms a staple of my health protocol? After spending years reviewing the scientific literature, in addition to studying the traditional uses amongst different cultures, I’d be doing my body a great disservice by ignoring the information I’ve hunted and gathered.
Medicinal mushrooms, it turns out, have been shown to possess anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and immunomodulatory properties. I discipline myself to stay up-to-date with the current research, and I’ve recently discovered three separate studies that analyzed the anti-tumor effects of three different medicinal mushrooms.
Let’s take a look at them:
Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)
Also known as lingzhi, reishi mushroom is highly revered in Chinese medicine. It is one of the most beautiful mushrooms, donning hues of lacquered red, orange, and yellow, and can be found growing as an annual polypore on hardwoods, especially oaks.
A new study looked at the effects of certain compounds derived from reishi mushroom on tumor inhibition in mice with Lewis lung carcinoma (1). The compounds administered to the mice were beta-glucans, which are polysaccharides found in fungal cell walls. The mice were divided into 4 groups: a control group (no treatment), radiation only group, beta-glucan only group, and a beta-glucan/radiation combination treatment group.
The results were rather remarkable. Compared to the the control and radiation-only treatment groups, the groups administered reishi beta-glucans had significant decreases in the volume of primary tumors, as well as less hair loss and less severe wounds. They also displayed less incidence of metastasis, which is the spread of cancer from one part of the body to another, and demonstrated significantly longer survival time compared to the groups not receiving reishi mushroom beta-glucans.
Overall, the most inhibitory effects were seen in the mice that received both reishi beta-glucans and radiation therapy, suggesting that reishi mushroom could potentially be a very important complementary treatment to the way conventional medicine currently manages cancer.
Cordyceps (Cordyceps militaris)
Cordyceps has to be one of the most fascinating fungi. Its mycelium colonizes the pupa or larva of a butterfly or moth, eventually expelling forth the reproductive structure (mushroom) directly from the insect. Past research has elucidated its aphrodisiac, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties, and new research has discovered that Cordyceps may suppress tumor growth of human malignant melanoma cells.
Published in the International Journal of Oncology, this new study found that an extract of Cordyceps militaris suppressed tumor growth by inducing programmed cellular death on human malignant melanoma cells, a process known as apoptosis (2). Additionally, the extract displayed anti-angiogenic properties. Angiogenesis is the process whereby new blood vessels are formed from the preexisting vascular system. While this is a normal part of the wound healing process, angiogenesis is also involved in tumor progression from the benign to malignant state, and inhibition of this process – for example, through Cordyceps administration – could potentially be a viable way to mitigate cancer progression.
Antrodia salmonea is a medicinal mushroom used in traditional Taiwanese medicine to treat diarrhea, hypertension, and liver cancer. While there is not a substantial body of evidence documenting the medicinal properties of Antrodia salmonea, a few studies have previously analyzed the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of this fungus.
New research published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology studied the anti-tumor activity of Antrodia salmonea on human promyelocytic leukemia cells (3). The researchers discovered that administration of the mushroom in vitro and in vivo reduced tumor growth in the cells by inducing apoptosis (programmed cellular death). In addition to testing their hypothesis on human cells, the researchers performed additional experiments on mice, and found that Antrodia salmonea was effective in delaying tumor incidence by reducing the size of the tumor. This is the first study to confirm the anti-tumor activity of Antrodia salmonea against human promyelocytic leukemia, a cancer of the white blood cells.
Reishi, Cordyceps militaris, and Antrodia salmonea are certainly not the only fungi that possess anti-tumor properties, as many more members of the fungal kingdom certainly do. True, the aforementioned studies were not performed on humans, but the results are still promising and warrant further experimentation.
Isn’t it surprising, though, that with all the great research performed around the world, and with documented traditional applications amongst several cultures, mushrooms still have not been accepted as part of conventional Western medical treatment?
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Thanks for the info, this is wonderful. As to why mushrooms have not been accepted as treatment in western medicine, I suspect it’s because it’s hard to properly dose and know which compounds are causing undesirable side effects, if you administer the entire mushroom rather than the isolated compounds. Many meds used in western medicine are specific compounds (whether isolated or synthesized) that were initially discovered in nature (plants, bacteria, fungi, etc.). So I suspect that the compounds you mention will eventually be used in isolation (or synthesized in the lab), when/if they have been adequately studied to ensure that risks due to side effects outweigh the potential benefits. And probably after they have been synthesized in the lab, so we don’t need to destroy wild populations in order to use those chemicals.
Hi Janet, thanks for the reply! You make great points. While mushrooms haven’t been fully accepted as standard Western medical cancer treatment, it is reassuring to see clinical trials approved and conducted using whole mushroom extracts (for example, Turkey Tail in the treatment of breast cancer). Results (on human patients) are promising, and hopefully this will spur more research, unraveling the “magic” behind our fungal friends. Best wishes!
Great write up.. Reishi is one of my top herbs for sure. I cannot believe I have never herd of Antrodia! I know what my days research will be on. Thank you for introducing a new ally into my world. Keep up the good work
Thank you, I appreciate the comment! I harvest Reishi from my local environment and use it quite regularly. Antrodia does seem promising from the few studies I have read, and it’ll be interesting to see what the future holds for this powerful mushroom (perhaps being marketed as a supplement?).
I am wondering about the jackolantern mushrooms. Are they good in any medicinal ways? Or are they just poisonous? I found a big bunch of them and thought they where good to eat until I looked them up.
I Really Appreciate your Information about The Mushrooms, I have been trying to Educate Myself About This and Other Food’s , Medicine’s , ECT.
I Live In The Big Thicket National Forrest, In East Texas. I have Enjoyed Learning about The Different Types , Uses and How To Identify , Find , Harvest and Properly Prepare All That Grows In The Forrest I Live In .
Thanks Again For All Your Hard Work on The Site and Sharing Your Experience and Knowledge About This With Me