In many cultures mushrooms have been used for ages to prevent and to treat various health problems. It is only lately that western science has started to discover and validate health-supporting properties of mushrooms. The primary biologically active and immune supporting components in mushrooms are called beta glucans and proteoglycans. Beta glucans are chain of polysaccharides whereas proteoglycans are special proteins. These components are found in the mushroom fruit bodies as well as in mycelia. Other bioactive compounds found in mushrooms include alpha glucans, antioxidants, enzymes, pectins, ribonucleases, ubiquitin-like proteins, peptides as well as lectins.
Mushroom derived beta glucans have the ability to support immune system by binding to receptor points on cells important to the immune system. Each individual mushroom species provides different beta glucan molecular structures. Thus by combining different mushroom species you can multiply the number of immune cell receptor sites that may be activated.
Below presented mushrooms are perhaps the most common ones that have been used in traditional medicine in various cultures. They all provide immune supporting effects that can benefit you when you want to boost your immune system in order to prevent a common cold or fight a cold.
Currently there is very little scientific knowledge about Cordyceps. Nevertheless it is believed to be one of the most potent and health improving herbs in the world. There are numerous species of Cordyceps, but Cordyceps sinensis and Cordyceps militaris are the most famous ones due to their healing properties. Power of Cordyceps was first discovered by the Chinese many centuries ago and has since been used by traditional herbalists to cure various diseases in humans. It has been believed that Cordyceps is a cure-all herb, able to fortify all systems in the body as well as to provide immune boosting, anti aging and strength increasing effects. It has been said that Cordyceps has similar effect on humans than famous herb ginseng.
Various Chinese studies suggest that Cordyceps can:
- boost immune system by increasing the number of natural killer cells responsible for the defense against viruses and bacteria
- improve sexual function in men by stimulating the production of sex hormones
- improve physical performance
- provide anti aging effects
- reduce fatigue
- improve respiratory function
- enhance cellular oxygen intake
- improve vascular system by regulating blood pressure, strengthening heart muscle and improving blood circulation
- protect liver and kidneys
Cordycep’s ability to improve respiratory function is certainly beneficial when trying to fight cold. Cordyceps has shown good results in fighting against cough, chronic bronchitis and asthma by relaxing bronchial walls and due to anti-inflammatory properties it holds.
Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) mushroom, also known as Ling Zhi, has a long history in Chinese and Japanese traditional medicine. Reishi has been believed to have superior power to give strength and provide long life. Thus it is no wonder that Reishi has been used for more than 2000 years to treat all sorts of ailments ranging from liver problems to high blood pressure.
There is an adequate amount of scientific research done in Asia and in the West that proves many of the Reishi’s medicinal applications. One of the most interesting components found in Reishi is called beta-1,3-D-glucan and it has been shown to boost the immune system by raising the amount disease fighting T-cells. Like Cordyceps, also Reishi is a potent antioxidant, protecting the body from effects of free radicals. As an adaptogenic herb, Reishi can promote normal response to stress as well as promote restful sleep. Reishi has also been shown to lower cholesterol, lower high blood pressure and help to support optimal cellular energy.
Maitake (Grifola frondosa) can be classified as a medicinal mushroom as well as an adaptogen. As an adaptogen Maitake helps the body to resist all forms of stress, mental and physical. Maitake also helps normalizing bodily functions. Maitake has similar immune boosting properties as Reishi; beta glucans in Maitake stimulate the immune system by increasing the activity of T-helper cells.
Maitake has been used to reduce pain, nausea and hair loss of patients receiving chemotherapy. Maitake holds strong antiviral properties and has been shown to kill HI viruses in lab tests. Besides beta glucans, Maitake is packed with nutrients. These nutrients include eg. vitamins B and C, iron, zinc, potassium, selenium, amino acids and fiber. Maitake is also loaded with potent antioxidant called ergothioneine that helps protect the cells and reduces risk of getting sick with chronic diseases. The downside of many medicinal herbs is that they don’t taste very good and thus you need to take them as capsules. Maitake is different as it actually tastes good and can be used in cooking. This makes Maitake an excellent herb when you want to boost the immune system of yourself or your family during the cold and/or flu season.
Shitake (Lentinula edodes) is a well known mushroom and often used in Asian cuisine but also valued for its health promoting benefits. Shitake has been cultivated for over thousand years and the use of Shitake in Chinese traditional medicine can be dated back to 100 AD.
Like Maitake, also Shitake is full of powerful antioxidants like vitamins A, C and E, selenium and uric acid. These antioxidants help the body to fight the damage of free radicals and reduce inflammation. Shitake also contains substance called Lentinan that has the ability to increase production of beneficial killer cells. Because of its Lentinan content, Shiitake has been in the treatment of various forms of cancer as well as in the treatment of AIDS. Polysaccharides in Shiitake give it a powerful immune enhancing effect and adaptogenic properties help to promote normal response to stress.
How to use medicinal muhrooms?
Easiest way to use medicinal mushrooms is to purchase mushroom capsules. You can also find many of the medicinal mushrooms in the form of powders or as tinctures. One option is to use mushrooms like Reishi and Maitake in cooking. As medicinal mushrooms can have powerful effects on some, it is recommended that you discuss with your health care provider before using any medicinal mushroom supplements.