What are medicinal mushrooms (or also called “medicinal mushrooms”) actually?
The term medicinal mushrooms refers to those types of mushrooms that are believed to have a healing effect and that have been scientifically well studied. Of the approximately 1.5 million species of mushrooms that we know of, there are about a dozen mushrooms that currently fall into this category.
Medial mushrooms have been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for over 5,000 years. But even in conventional medicine in Japan and China, some medicinal mushrooms have been an integral part for almost 40 years, especiallya as part of cancer therapy.
What substances are contained in medicinal mushrooms?
All medicinal mushrooms contain numerous trace elements and minerals (e.g. potassium, which lowers blood pressure) and fiber (especiallya Beta-glucans).
Beta-glucans are responsible for the positive effect on the immune system (see. following section), but also have an antibacterial, antioxidant effect in many parts of the body and can close holes like “paste”, which, for example, is relevant in the context of leaky gut or other diseases in the gastrointestinal tract, and which will be discussed in detail below.
Triterpenes, essentially the essential oils of medicinal mushrooms, are also very important. Reishi probably contains the highest proportion of triterpenes, although they are found in all medicinal mushrooms. These are messenger and defensive substances in the mushrooms that have an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting effect in the human organism.
Other ingredients include statins, which inhibit excessive cholesterol formation, and glycoproteins and lectins, which are among the strongest immune modulators found in nature.
Vital mushrooms as immune-modulating adaptogens
Mushrooms have always had the same enemies as humans.
What we know as a mushroom is the so-called fruiting body. The actual tree is underground – the so-called mycelium. The mycelium has a huge surface area, is sometimes only one cell layer thick and therefore has a very large attack surface against pathogens. Therefore, fungi have developed strong defense mechanisms over the course of evolution. When we consume mushrooms, these substances can do the same things in the body as in the mushroom.
Mushrooms can bring our immune system back to its biological optimum, restore balance and thus have an immune-modulating effect. Medicinal mushrooms are therefore also referred to as adaptogens: d.H They do exactly what the body is missing: restore basic immunity when the immune system is weakened. In the case of allergic reactions, autoimmune diseases, etc., they reduce the immune reaction.
How can this adaptogenic effect of medicinal mushrooms be explained biochemically?
All mushrooms contain branched fiber, the so-called Beta glucans These are high molecular weight polysaccharides that the body does not know exactly whether it is food or a pathogen, so our body puts the immune system on “ready” and makes it competent. DH Medicinal mushrooms train the immune system: not too weak, but not so strong that it overreacts in the form of autoimmune reactions or severe inflammation. This small stress stimulus, which ultimately results in the body being stronger than before, is called “hormesis” and means nothing other than the hypothesis formulated by Paracelsus that small doses of pathogenic substances can have a positive effect on our body.
The positive effect of beta-glucans on the immune system has now been proven by numerous studies. See also https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33322069/ “β-glucans also have immune-modulating effects, leading to their investigation as adjuvant agents for cancers (solid and hematological malignancies), for immune-mediated conditions (e.G, allergic rhinitis, respiratory infections), and to enhance wound healing. The therapeutic potential of β-glucans is evidenced by the fact that two glucan isolates were licensed as drugs in Japan as immune-adjuvant therapy for cancer in 1980.”
Furthermore, for example, shows This study from 2017 shows the positive influence of beta-glucans on upper respiratory tract diseases in older people: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28606567/
Specifically, the immune system is stimulated via so-called “Toll-like receptors” (TLR), in which primarily.a the TLR-2 is relevant for the beta-glucans from mushrooms. TLRs are part of our innate immune system and are used to recognize pathogen structures (structures that occur on or in pathogens), so that the body can distinguish between its own and foreign substances. If such structures are recognized, the TLRs control the activation and modulation of the antigen-specific (so-called “acquired”) immune system.
This function of medicinal mushrooms has also been proven by scientific studies. In people who regularly take medicinal mushrooms, a higher number of leukocytes and these were also found to be highly differentiated (see. e.g. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25866155/). After taking a handful of shiitake mushrooms every day for four weeks, for example, a doubling of NK cells (natural killer cells) or 60% more T cells can be detected.
There are also promising studies on myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), which includes a number of bone marrow diseases in which too few functioning blood cells are produced - including:a on the immune-modulating effect of Maitake: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25351719/ “Maitake was well tolerated. Enhanced in vitro neutrophil and monocyte function following treatment demonstrate that Maitake has beneficial immunomodulatory potential in MDS.“
There are also numerous studies on Agaricus blazei on its immune-modulating properties. A very recent in vivo study on humans shows, for example, the improvement of liver values in hepatitis B patients is close: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18370584/ “The mushroom Agaricus blazei Murill extract normalizes liver function in patients with chronic hepatitis B.“
There are also numerous studies on beta-glucans from yeast, especially for virus defense: The mucous membranes and the immune system around the mucous membranes are particularly active thanks to the beta-glucans and can fight off viruses well.
Vital mushrooms for gastrointestinal diseases
In order to understand the effect of medicinal mushrooms on the gastrointestinal tract, let's first take a closer look at them:
Toxins and pathogens always arrive first with the epithelium, i.e.H the top layer of the mucosal tissue. The epithelium in the gastrointestinal tract is primarilya very thin in the small intestine. It has to keep pathogens out but at the same time absorb micronutrients and is therefore a very sensitive system that can easily become unbalanced.
The epithelium in the gastrointestinal tract is covered with a layer of mucus, the so-called mucus layer, which, on the one hand, represents a mechanical barrier, but also contains certain substances (antibodies, defensins, immune proteins) that prevent infection of the epithelium should avoid.
Let's start our journey through the gastrointestinal tract at the top of the esophagus. Inflammation of the esophagus that affects the epithelium usually comes from the stomach. It should be noted that heartburn can come from both an over-acidic stomach and an under-acidic stomach: In the case of hyperacidity, the stomach wants to get rid of the excess acid. In the case of hypoacidity (which often occurs in autoimmune sufferers), the effect is as follows: stomach acid protects us from pathogens. Due to a lack of stomach acid, you have around 1000 times more bacteria in your stomach, which can...a Food components ferment, creating gases that rise from the gastric juice into the lower esophagus, burst, and cause heartburn.
If we travel from the esophagus through the gastrointestinal tract into the stomach, we have to talk about a small bacterium that about every second person has in them (as a small child you often stretch with your parents or often also a cat): the Helicobacter pylori. If the immune system is intact, this bacterium usually doesn't cause any major problems. But if the immune system is weakened or if the stomach is too acidic or too acidic, it settles in the mucous membrane of the stomach and irritates it (gastritis = inflammation of the stomach lining). It drills through our mucus layer into the stomach lining like a corkscrew and leads to holes in the stomach wall. It encapsulates itself in a shell made of urea and thus protects itself from stomach acid, but also from the immune system and antibiotics.
If stomach acid drips through these holes onto the layer of tissue underneath, serious ulcers and even stomach cancer can develop. After all, stomach acid is about as acidic as a car battery!
Which medicinal mushrooms should be used for diseases of the stomach and esophagus?
Reishi and Hericium in combination are the first choice for diseases of the stomach and esophagus:
Reishi increases the production of antibacterial substances in the mucus layer in the esophagus and stomach, especially.a of soluble IgA (immunoglobulin, which is present in mucous membranes and protects the epithelium from pathogens) and defensins. See also: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16798741/ “Reishi polysaccharides induce immunoglobulin production through the TLR4/TLR2-mediated induction of transcription factor Blimp-1”
Hericium has a number of specific triterpenes that can thicken the mucus layer again by increasing the production of mucins (the structuring, protective component of mucus) and carbohydrate structures and thus stimulating the intestinal epithelium to grow (hence also important in leaky gut ) = “patch the hole”. See also: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29455967/ “Gastroprotective activity of polysaccharide from Hericium erinaceus against ethanol-induced gastric mucosal lesion and pylorus ligation-induced gastric ulcer, and its antioxidant activities”
Hericium can also selectively kill the Helicobacter bacteria without affecting other “good” bacteria. Hericum also inhibits the attachment of Helicobacter to the stomach wall. See also: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30806251/ “In Vitro and In Vivo Inhibition of Helicobacter pylori by Ethanolic Extracts of Lion's Mane Medicinal Mushroom, Hericium erinaceus (Agaricomycetes)”
The small intestine follows the stomach. It is 6-7 meters long, very thin (thinner than a hair) and when unfolded it is the size of half a football field. This large surface is necessary to absorb nutrients, but - especially because it is so thin - it represents a large attack surface for pathogens.
A typical disease of the small intestine that medicinal mushrooms can help with is the so-called “Leaky Gut.” These are microscopic holes in the intestine. Small intestinal cells only have an average lifespan of about five days because they are always exposed to toxins, pathogens, etc., so they have to regenerate quite frequently. Some materials even have a lifespan of just approx. down two days. If then, for example The micronutrients required for the regeneration of the small intestinal villi are missing and substances such as Gluten breaks the connection between the cells, then undigested food proteins or toxins can enter the body through these microscopic holes, which promotes various chronic diseases, such as: Autoimmune diseases, diabetes, allergic diseases, high blood pressure. Autoimmune diseases in particular are often linked to leaky gut.
Analogous to the gastric mucosa process already described, Hericium can also accelerate the regeneration processes in leaky gut by stimulating the intestinal epithelium to grow. However, with leaky gut it takes significantly longer, around 6-8 months, than in the stomach for the mucous membrane to be “patched” and regenerated.
It is always important not to just rely on the mushrooms, but to always keep an eye on all micronutrients: For example, If the intestinal cells lack building substances and growth factors due to a vitamin D deficiency, the diet or lifestyle changed orin this case vitamin D supplemented and e.g. Gluten should be eliminated from the diet.
Another typical small intestinal disease is fungal infection caused by Candida albicans, which can cause flatulence, abdominal pain or diarrhea. Colonization of the small intestine by bacteria or Candida is usually related to colon dysbiosis, i.e.H an imbalance in the intestinal flora, or with hypoacidity in the stomach, so that pathogens enter the small intestine via the stomach.
In these cases, shiitake is the first choice because it is a natural antibiotic and can effectively remove pathogens from the small intestine. As a result, many people show a detoxification reaction when taking shiitake in large quantities or concentrated as an extract, which is often misinterpreted as intolerance.
See also the antimicrobial effect of shiitake https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15773410/ “The juice of this mushroom at a concentration of 5% from the volume of the nutrient medium was found to produce a pronounced antimicrobial effect with respect to C . albicans, S. aureus, E. faecalis, E. coli O-114 and to stimulate the growth of E. coli M-17. Bifidobacteria and lactobacteria exhibited resistance to the action of L. edodes juice.“
Let's come to the end of the gastrointestinal tract, the large intestine. This is not as long as the small intestine, but is very wide. There are a few trillion microorganisms in the intestinal flora that live in harmony with one another. When the immune system no longer properly monitors what is happening in the large intestine (impaired communication with the intestinal flora), or when one type of microorganism becomes dominant and displaces others, an imbalance occurs.
The intestinal flora can then be brought back into balance with medicinal mushroom extracts. And Hericium and Reishi are again the first choice in the large intestine, because there too the mucus layer and the epithelium must be constantly regenerated and the immune system must receive the right training. But we also know that the polysaccharides of the mushrooms can bring the intestinal flora back into balance - see. for example:
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32693144/ “Moreover, mushroom polysaccharides also act as prebiotics and modulate the composition of gut microflora; and thus, can reduce insulin resistance. The present review discusses the pathophysiology of diabetes and, elaborates some potential mushroom species that are known to have antihyperglycemic activities. Different mushroom polysaccharides modulating the composition of gut microflora in diabetic animal models have also been discussed.”
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33322069/ “β-glucans have metabolic and gastrointestinal effects, modulating the gut microbiome, altering lipid and glucose metabolism, reducing cholesterol, leading to their investigation as potential therapies for metabolic syndrome, obesity and diet regulation, gastrointestinal conditions such as irritable bowel, and to reduce cardiovascular and diabetes risk.”
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28885559/ “Mushrooms act as a prebiotics to stimulate the growth of gut microbiota, conferring health benefits to the host. In the present review, we have summarized the beneficial activities of various mushrooms on gut microbiota via the inhibition of exogenous pathogens and, thus, improving the host health.”
There are also specific studies on Reishi and Maitake that show that they improve the intestinal flora (e.g.a in type 2 diabetes) were able to regenerate in an animal model:
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26102296/ “Our results indicate that G. lucidum and its high molecular weight polysaccharides may be used as prebiotic agents to prevent gut dysbiosis and obesity-related metabolic disorders in obese individuals.“
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31712153/ “Intake of Ganoderma lucidum polysaccharides reverses the disturbed gut microbiota and metabolism in type 2 diabetic rats”
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30826407/ “Hypoglycemic activity and gut microbiota regulation of a novel polysaccharide from Grifola frondosa in type 2 diabetic mice”
When the intestinal flora then works with us again and not against us, it also produces substances that are needed elsewhere in the body. E.g. Almost all happiness hormones are located in the intestine (99.9% of our total serotonin content), and the large intestine is connected to the brain via the vagus nerve. Vitamins and short-chain fatty acids are also synthesized in the intestine.
This connection could also explain the positive influences of Hericium on depressive moods or sleep quality:
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20834180/ “we investigated the clinical effects of H. erinaceus on menopause, depression, sleep quality and indefinite complaints, using the Kupperman Menopausal Index (KMI), the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D), the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI), and the Indefinite Complaints Index (ICI ). Thirty females were randomly assigned to either the H. erinaceus (HE) group or the placebo group and took HE cookies or placebo cookies for 4 weeks. Each of the CES-D and the ICI score after the HE intake was significantly lower than that before. In two terms of the ICI, "incentive" and "palpitation", each of the mean score of the HE group was significantly lower than the placebo group. "Concentration", "irritating" and "anxious" tended to be lower than the placebo group.”
First studies also suggest a positive influence on neurodegenerative diseases and improvement of cognitive abilities through Hericium, such as: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31413233/ “In this study, we tested a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled parallel-group comparative study to evaluate the improvement of the cognitive functions by taking supplements containing fruiting body of H. erinaceus for 12 weeks. […] showed that oral intake of H. erinaceus significantly improved cognitive functions and prevented from the deterioration.”
Vital mushrooms in accompanying cancer therapy
Only around 5% of all cancers have clear genetic causes (source: https://www.aerzteblatt.de/archiv/61809/Erbliche-Krebserkrankungen). The rest is due to lifestyle such as stress, lack of micronutrients, environmental toxins such as heavy metals or electromagnetic radiation, obesity, chronic infections such as Ebstein-Barr virus or Lyme disease, alcohol, etc.
This is also proven by migration studies, for example Residents of a small town in Nigeria who have around 70% fewer cancer cases than in our western, “modern” societies. It should be noted that the medical care in this small town is so good that it can be ruled out that these are simply undetected illnesses. Do these Nigerians then migrate to the USA; they suddenly have the same risk of cancer as the American average. There are comparable studies with the same results, for example. also for Japanese migrating to Hawaii (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1287741/ ).
How does a healthy cell become a cancer cell?
In order to turn a healthy cell into a cancer cell, various stages must be passed through - and medicinal mushrooms can intervene effectively at each of these stages:
DNA damage, e.g. Triggered by infections, inflammation, toxins, radiation, etc., must first trigger certain mutations that prevent the cell from activating the suicide program, known as apoptosis. As the process progresses, the cell's metabolism is changed and switches to anaerobic lactic acid metabolism. The cancer cell begins to grow uncontrollably. Normally the body has built-in “brakes” for this uncontrolled growth, but these brakes are also bypassed. At this point there is a small, degenerated tumor cell, about 1 mm in size. Almost every person has this so-called after a certain age. Microtumors within themselves. And the point at which this microtumor develops into a malignant cancerous tumor is a process called angiogenesis: the tumor sends out messenger substances and encourages the body to form blood vessels from pre-existing blood vessels to supply it with oxygen and nutrients. The tumor can then continue to grow and form metastases through the blood in the body.
Every day approx. 20 tumor cells in the body, but i.dR recognized and eliminated by our immune system. An intact, strong immune system is therefore a crucial factor in cancer prevention.
How can medicinal mushrooms help in prevention and therapy?
Mushrooms actively protect cells from environmental toxins, viruses, radiation, etc., but also cause the immune system to recognize and eliminate degenerated cells more quickly. They also have an influence on the power plants of our cells, the so-called mitochondria, and can help ensure that the metabolism does not go into an anaerobic state, where it only ferments and no longer produces energy properly.
The effect of medicinal mushrooms in the context of angiogenesis is crucial: through the formation of certain messenger substances, they prevent blood vessels from being recruited and the tumor from growing. Here, for example, Shiitake with its specific beta-glucan “Lentinan” plays a relevant role: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30373628/ “Lentinan inhibits tumor angiogenesis via interferon γ and in a T cell independent manner”
See also https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15234192/ “Fungal polysaccharopeptide inhibits tumor angiogenesis and tumor growth in mice”
For example, a 2009 study on breast cancer risk in a rural region of China found: showed that women who drank an average of one cup of green tea a day and ate 4 g of dried or 40 g of fresh mushrooms a day had a 60% lower risk of breast cancer than the comparison group. See: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19048616/ “Dietary intakes of mushrooms and green tea combine to reduce the risk of breast cancer in Chinese women”
In China and Japan, some mushrooms are already approved for conventional cancer therapy, e.g. Maitake and Shiitake extracts as an infusion.
The following medicinal mushrooms, which have also been best researched, are also used in complementary cancer therapy in the West: Reishi, almond mushroom, Maitake, Coriolus and Shiitake (v.a in breast and colon cancer).
Reishi for example. According to a scientific study, it can increase the response rate to chemotherapy by around 40%. See also:
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29141563/ : “Evidence from in vitro and in vivo studies has demonstrated that GLP possesses potential anticancer activity through immunomodulatory, anti-proliferative, pro-apoptotic, anti-metastatic and anti-angiogenic effects.“
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27045603/ “G. lucidum could be administered as an alternative adjunct to conventional treatment in consideration of its potential of enhancing tumor response and stimulating host immunity. G lucidum was generally well tolerated by most participants with only a scattered number of minor adverse events. No major toxicity was observed across the studies.”
All o.G Thanks to their (pentacyclic) triterpenes, mushrooms also have antitumor and chemoprotective effects and strengthen the immune system.
There are numerous studies on shiitake and maitake in particular to strengthen basal immune competence during chemotherapy, i.e.H The basic immune activity can be maintained by administering the medicinal mushrooms mentioned. E.g: Maitake: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14977447/ “Maitake D-Fraction prevented metastatic progression, lessened the expression of tumor markers, and increased NK cell activity in all patients examined. Thus maitake D-Fraction appears to repress cancer progression and primarily exerts its effect through stimulation of NK activity.“
There are also reviews about almond fungus (Agaricus blazei) and maitake that show that chemotherapy-related side effects could be alleviated by 70-80%, so that the quality of life was somewhat preserved.
The butterflies (Coriolus) contain two glycoproteins (proteins with sugar content), namely PSP and PSK. Studies have shown that the survival rate increases significantly (up to 40%) when this fungus is given in parallel with chemotherapy (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32466253/).
A very recent review from 2020 with a focus on Reishi and Coriolus also shows their positive effects in the context of accompanying cancer therapy: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33685191/
Finally, it should be noted that scientific studies in the Western world have already been able to confirm many of the positive effects that medicinal mushrooms are said to have - some on people, many so far only on animals. Due to these promising results, the number of studies has increased dramatically for almost 3 years, so it can be assumed that the importance and use of medicinal mushrooms will also increase significantly in the West in a few years.
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