Medicinal mushrooms have some of the most potent remedial compounds found in nature, and they are starting to be recognized in Western society for their great wellness properties. Interestingly enough, humans are more closely related to fungi than to any other kingdom, including plants, protozoans, and bacteria, and we have developed similar defenses against mutual disease-causing enemies. The idea is that because fungi and animals suffer from many of the same diseases, fungal medicines are active against many of the organisms that infect humans. Though ancient cultures have known this for centuries, scientific studies have only confirmed their incredible healing powers within the past few decades.
The results of these studies are numerous and overwhelmingly positive. To name a few, Dr. Ikekawa, who studied a huge population in Nagano Prefecture from 1972 to 1986, found that the cancer rates were reduced by 65% for men and 43% for women who consumed Enoki mushrooms regularly. Then, in 1994, the first clinical study in the US revealed a multifold increase of natural killer cell activity, a reduced rate in cancer markers, and increased survival rates among cancer patients supplementing with mushroom extracts.
Since then, research on medicinal mushrooms has exploded. Scientists have also verified antimicrobial and anti-fungal activity. Different species of mushrooms have shown to inhibit the growth of yeasts and bacteria that cause staph and various E. coli infections, diarrheal diseases, TB, listeriosis, strep throat, rashes, and impetigo. Notable scientific articles have identified various mushroom species as stress reducers, sexual performance enhancers, nerve, liver, and kidney tonics, cholesterol reducers, cardio-vascular enhancers, blood sugar and blood pressure moderators, anti-oxidant, and anti-tumor.
Medicinal mushrooms have become increasingly valued and exploited for their promising anti-tumor and immune-enhancing properties. The active compounds responsible are beta-glucans, polysaccharides found in the cell wall of the mushroom. These beta glucans stimulate the immune system, activating macrophage and cytokine expression. These macrophages and cytokines are our disease-fighting cells and mediators of immune responses. However, because these compounds are found within the cell walls, which are made of chitin and indigestible to us, it is very important to buy only hot water extracts of the mushrooms; otherwise, the benefits of these beta glucans are lost. That is not to say eating a mushroom does not have any value, it does, however, the true medicinal properties and immune enhancing properties are from the beta glucans that are stored in the cell wall of the mushroom. The Chinese have known this since the beginning of time and use hot teas to extract the active ingredients of mushrooms and herbs. So it is important that you read your labels when buying mushrooms. The majority of mushroom supplements being sold today are ground up mushrooms, or what they call mycelium biomass, so would have the same benefit as eating the mushroom. The ground-up biomass does not have the therapeutic beta glucans because you can not digest the cell wall of the mushroom where the beta-glucans are stored. Given this just buy the mushroom at the grocery store and eat it. It is a lot cheaper way to get the whole food benefits of the ground up mushroom. If you want the therapeutic benefits of the beta glucans you need to buy the mushroom extracts. The product will say on the label what percent of beta-glucans it has if it is an extract and should say extract in the supplement facts section of the label.
One of the six guiding principles of Naturopathic medicine is to, first do no harm. In contrast to pharmaceuticals, mushrooms have a very low toxicity, even at high doses, which becomes important for cancer patients weakened by their chemotherapy and radiation. The fact that mushrooms can treat a broad range of diseases without harming human host cells makes them one of the most useful and exciting cancer treatments as seen by multiple studies. Through centuries of use and recent scientific studies, medicinal mushrooms have proven to be a powerful, safe treatment for a variety of diseases, and they are finally receiving recognition in the West as powerful, safe, natural tools.