The Power of Medincinal MushroomsThe Power of Medicinal Mushrooms

By Frances Lam, L.Ac., Certified TCM Nutritionist

Medicinal mushrooms have been valued in the East for their health-promoting and therapeutic effects for thousands of years. Commonly used as an adjunct to conventional cancer care in Asia, there is an extensive body of research that shows their capacity for immunomodulation, stimulating the production of natural killer (NK) cells and T-cells, improving patient survival rates and quality of life, and mitigating adverse effects associated with radiation and chemotherapy.

A rich array of beta glucans and polysaccharides (a bioactive carbohydrate) are unique and important constituents in medicinal mushrooms. Beta glucans and polysaccharides can trigger receptors in the immune system, boosting it when it's low and strengthening it when faced with a pathogenic response.

These are the top three medicinal mushrooms you need to know about:

Turkey Tail/Trametes versicolor or Coriolus versicolor

Named for its colorful appearance, the Turkey Tail mushroom is one of the most researched mushrooms in the world because of its immunomodulatory properties.

Research shows that it possesses natural killer cells and antiviral properties that target oncoviruses such as the human papillomavirus (HPV), which can lead to cervical cancer, and hepatitis C, which can lead to liver cancer.

The active constituents in this mushroom are polysaccharide K (PSK) and a more potent strain called polysaccharopeptide (PSP). Studies have shown that PSK can improve survival rates in patients with gastric and colorectal cancer, and that it can lead to improvement in immune strength in patients with lung cancer. Most notably, a breast cancer study reported an increase in patients' natural killer cells after chemotherapy or radiation treatment.

Lingzhi/Reishi/Ganoderma Lucidum

Lingzhi was first mentioned by the Chinese herbalist Shen Nong more than 2400 years ago. The active constituents in Lingzhi include both beta-glucan polysaccharides and ganoderic acids that are triterpenes. Polysaccharides cause an increase in natural killer cells which can induce apoptosis (a form of programmed cell death) and slow metastasis.

Triterpenes, like steroids, inhibit inflammation. Research published in 2017 found that Ganoderma Lucidum inhibited the growth of prostate cancer cells, suppressed their migration and invasion, and induced apoptosis. Another study published in 2017 found that its bioactive compounds have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties that affect melanoma and triple-negative breast cancer.

Maitake/Grifola Frondosa

Maitake is both a medicinal and culinary mushroom. Maitake and the Maitake D-Fraction contain the beta glucan D-Fraction, which has been suggested to exhibit anti-tumor activity by activating the macrophages and T-helper cells. Studies have shown that Grifola Frondosa polysaccharides can induce human breast cancer cell apoptosis, and have provided experimental evidence to support the use of Grifola Frondosa as a potential treatment for breast cancer, as reported in the International Journal of Molecular Medicine in 2017.

Medicinal mushrooms are very safe to consume, but because they do affect the immune system, be sure to let your medical doctor know that you are using mushrooms as a part of your cancer management protocol. Working with a licensed acupuncturist is important since the quality and dosage of medicinal mushrooms vary.

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