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Medicinal Mushrooms

Many of the top-selling pharmaceutical products are derived from mushrooms and other fungi. Most mushrooms offer health benefits, with extracts from over 650 mushrooms showing immunological activity and epidemiological evidence pointing to a correlation between increased mushroom intake and reduced risk of serious illness, including cancer.


(from Medicinal Mushrooms – The Essential Guide by Martin Powell) . Mushrooms are part of the fungal kingdom. As such they are more closely related to humans and other members of the animal kingdom than to plants and, partly because of this relative evolutionary closeness, a large number of the compounds they produce show physiological activity in humans as well as other animals. Indeed many of the top-selling pharmaceutical products are derived from mushrooms and other fungi, including the major antibiotics as well as statin-class compounds such as Lovastatin and Simvastatin. Of course mushrooms do not produce these compounds for our benefit but rather to give themselves an advantage in the competition with other micro-organisms for food and resources and as such many show anti-microbial activity, either as antibiotics or as anti-fungal agents (4).

As well as specific anti-microbial compounds, mushrooms cell-wall components (beta-glucans, proteoglycans and related polysaccarides) have also been shown to induce widespread immunological changes. The facts that these are found in all mushrooms means that to one degree or another most mushrooms offer health benefits, with extracts from over 650 mushrooms showing immunological activity and epidemiological evidence pointing to a correlation between increased mushroom intake and reduced risk of serious illness, including cancer (1, 3).

The ability of our immune system to recognise and respond effectively to the presence of mushroom cell-wall components is due to the widespread presence of specific receptors on major classes of immune cell as a result of the the evolved ability of the immune system to recognise fungal pathogens (6).

Active compounds from medicinal mushrooms thus fall into two categories:

  • Immunologically active polysaccharides and related compounds found in all mushrooms
  • Anti-microbial compounds and other secondary metabolites which differ from species to species

Binding of mushroom polysaccharide to the receptors triggers widespread immunological changes with increases in activity of key categories of immune cells, helping to restore healthy immune function and facilitating an effective immune response to pathogenic fungi, other micro-organisms or cancer cells (7).

Immunological changes triggered by mushroom polysaccharides include:

  • Activation of immune cells such as: macrophages, neutrophils, monocytes, natural killer cells and dendritic cells
  • Increased antibody

References :
1. Medicinal mushrooms: their therapeutic properties and current medical usage with special emphasis on cancer treatments. Smith J, Rowan N, Sullican R. May 2002. Report for Cancer Research UK.

2. Cancer Risk Reduction by Intake of Mushrooms and Clinical Studies on EEM. Ikekawa T. Int J Med Mush. 2005;7(3):347 .

3. Medicinal mushroom science: history, current status, future trends and unsolved problems. Wasser S.P. Int J Med Mushr. 2010;12(1):1-16.

4. A review on antimicrobial activity of mushroom (Basidiomycetes) extracts and isolated compounds. Alves MJ, Ferreira IC, Dias J, Teixeira V, Martins A, Pintado M. Planta Med. 2012 Nov;78(16):1707-18.

5. The effects of β-glucan on human immune and cancer cells. Godfrey Chi-Fung Chan, Wing Keung Chan and Daniel Man-Yuen Sze31. Journal of Hematology & Oncology 2009, 2:25.

6. Medicinal mushrooms as a source of antitumor and immunomodulating polysaccharides. Wasser S.P. Appl. Environ Microbiol. 2002;60:258-274 .

7. Antitumor activity of mushroom polysaccharides: a review. Ren L, Perera C, Hemar Y. Food Funct. 2012 Nov;3(11):1118-30


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