Mushrooms are Magical: Immune Support for Lifelong Health Part 2

medicinal mushrooms for immunity

By Georgia Tetlow, MD and Jill Maddock

Biochemistry and Healing Powers

As mentioned in last week’s post, mushrooms are a key element in an integrative approach to a healthy immune system. Lise Alschuler, FABNO at the Arizona University Center for Integrative Medicine describes in her article on “Immune Enhancement with Mushrooms” that mushrooms contain a non-digestible carbohydrate called polysaccharides. The type of polysaccharides they contain are immuno-active compounds called beta-glucans--specifically, that contain protein - proteoglycans. The particular proteoglycan in mushrooms is unique in that the beta glucans are found as a triple helix, meaning it is 3 times as potent as the beta glucans derived from other sources. Mushrooms also contain high quantities of other components such as ergosterol that has anti-cancer actions and converts to vitamin D2. They also contain triterpenes, a preliminary form of steroids that lower blood pressure, and are also antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory! Thank you mushrooms!

Available Forms

Choosing which mushrooms or mushroom based supplements to consume can be overwhelming. It is important to work with a healthcare provider to determine what will best serve your personal health goals. Medicinal mushrooms are most commonly extracts. In “PSP extracts”, the polysaccharides are extracted  from the mushroom’s fruiting body and contain the proteoglycans and triterpenes, mentioned above. Another form of mushroom extract is PSK, which is extracted in a slightly different way and not available in the United States. The third and most commercially available extract is mycelium biomass extract. Mycelium is the vegetative part of a fungus, consisting of a mass of branching, thread-like hyphae. This is a dried and converted into powder to use in capsules or tablets. These products do contain enzymes, immunoactive ingredients and antibiotics, however the therapeutic effect may be questionable compared to extracts. The last and most recently discovered form is called a full spectrum product. The full spectrum mushroom product is also a dried form, but unlike the other forms, it contains extracellular compounds that offer antioxidative, antimicrobial and antitumor actions. Checkout next week’s blog, part 3, to read about the most common types of medicinal mushrooms and their specific applications.

The Result

Upon consumption, the mushroom polysaccharides are fermented by our own intestinal flora and bind to the receptors on our immune cells that are internalized and in turn trigger immune defense. The fermentation and absorption occurs within 24 hours of consumption. Mushrooms stimulate our cytokine production - the mediators of our immune response. The outcome of this cytokine activity depends on the pathway and pattern. For example, a beneficial immune response in cancer is created by cytokine pattern called TH1. TH2 pattern is associated with allergies and asthma. When considering mushrooms for immunomodulatory use, those that decrease inflammation may have also decrease anxiety, fatigue and other symptoms by decreasing inflammatory cytokines.

Check out this relaxing video, of mushrooms growing from the Fantastic Fungi Team!

Note: It is important that you discuss any medicinal uses of mushrooms or other supplementation with your healthcare provider.

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