The Real Science behind the Benefits of Mushrooms

From scientists, not farmers.

Mushrooms are hella trendy nowadays, but how do they even work? From powders in your coffee to vitamins with mushrooms added, the shroom-boom continues to mushroom — but as a skeptic of, well, everything, I needed to know how exactly these immune-boosting fungi work.

#1: Turkey Tail

Scientific: Trametes versicolor (coriolus versicolor)
English: Turkey tail
Japanese: Kawaratake
Chinese: Yun Zhi

How it works:

Turkey tail mushrooms activate an immune response that can be exploited for global health purposes. Turkey tail mushrooms are rich in 2-specific types of sugars (in the beta-glucan family) called polysaccharide-k (PSK) and polysaccharide peptide (PSP). Both PSK and PSP are of beta-glucans and are recognized by the body’s immune system and trigger an immune response. Importantly, this immune response is not too potent and can be harnessed to support tissue repair and naturally increase your body’s immune activity.

#2: Cordyceps

Scientific: Cordyceps sinensis and militaris
English: Caterpillar fungus
Japanese: Tochukas
Chinese: Dong Chong Xia Cao

How it works:

In addition to beta-glucans and triterpenes, Cordyceps contain several nucleoside analogs (the building blocks of DNA/RNA) including cordycepin that interrupt DNA/RNA synthesis in humans. Inhibiting DNA/RNA synthesis (aka cellular division and protein synthesis) and reverse transcription (incorporating RNA into the genome in the form of DNA) is particularly useful in helping your body flight viruses (including Corona) and can be helpful in inhibiting the growth of cancer.

#3: Reishi

Scientific: Ganoderma lucidum
English: Reishi
Japanese: Reishi or Mannetake
Chinese: Ling Zhi

How it works:

Reishi mushrooms contain complex sugars known as beta-glucans and the building blocks for essential oils called triterpenes. Lab studies suggest that beta-glucans can stimulate the immune system to became more active. Limited data from clinical studies suggest reishi can strengthen immune response in humans. Similarly, triterpenes (specifically ganoderic- and lucidenic- acids) found in reishi mushrooms may have blood pressure-lowering and anti-allergy effects.

#4: Lions Mane

Scientific: Hericium Erinaceus
English: Lions Mane
Japanese: Yamabushitake
Chinese: Hou Tou Gu

How it works:

In addition to polysaccharides, Lions Mane mushrooms are rich in diterpenes that stimulate nerve growth factor (NGF). NGF is necessary for neuronal survival and synaptic development, the name given when neurons connect arms with one another. Hericenones and erinacines are two of the diterpenes found in Lions Mane that can cross the blood-brain-barrier (BBB) — a protective membrane used to shield the brain from the body — to support brain health and potentially increase connectivity, which is paramount for improved cognition (memory…). Further, Lions Mane was shown to increase myelin sheath formation, aka the insulation used in nerve cells to increase the strength of their messages.

#5: Chaga

Scientific: Inonotus Obliquus
English: Chaga
Japanese: Kabanoanatake
Chinese: Bai Gua Rong

How it works:

Chaga mushrooms are high in beta-glucans and a specific triterpene called betulinic acid. Betulinic acid has anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties and likely has synergistic effects with the naturally occurring beta-glucans. Interestingly, betulinic acid was once placed onto the National Cancer Institute’s cancer institute’s (NCI) Rapid Access to Intervention Development program for its promising results in managing cancers via direct inhibition of DNA maintenance enzyme topoisomerase and/or its activation of CB1 and CB2 (similar to cannabis). Inotodiol is another triterpene found in Chaga mushrooms and inhibits the expansion of several cancer cell lines via the mitochondria (caspase 3 mechanism).

6. Shiitake

Scientific: Lentinus Edodes
English: Shiitake
Japanese: Shiitake
Chinese: Xiang Gu

How it works:

Shiitake mushrooms contain a specific type of beta-glucan called Lentinan. In laboratory tests, lentinan did not kill cancer cells directly. Instead, it enhances the immune system, which may aid in slowing the growth of tumors. Lentinan was also shown to have direct kill power against viruses and microbes in a lab setting. Additionally, shiitake mushrooms contain a class of organic molecules called purines (similar to Reishi and likely all mushrooms). Specifically, they contain:

  • Eritadenine — Competitive inhibitors of HMG-CoA reductase, the statins (Lipitor®), are produced in a large scale as cholesterol reducing pharmaceuticals. Unlike the statins, eritadenine does not inhibit the biosynthesis of cholesterol in the liver but enhances removal of blood cholesterol. The exact mechanism by which eritadenine elicits its hypo-cholesterol-emic action is not yet fully understood

#7: Maitake

Scientific: Grifola Frondosa
English: Hen of the Woods
Japanese: Maitake
Chinese: Hui Shi Hua

How it works:

Maitake mushrooms contain numerous polysaccharides that are highly bioactive. Specifically, maitake mushrooms contain an alpha and beta-glucans that modify immune response and insulin sensitivity:

  • Maitake-D-fractions (MDF [beta glucan]) — Is an orally effective beta-glucan that stimulates the activity/activation of immune cells including macrophages, dendritic cells, and natural killer cells. Further, it induces the activation of the Th-1 dominant responses.
  • Maitake Z-fractions (MZF [beta glucan]) — Stimulates TNF-a and IL-12 secretion by dendritic cells (DC) that causes inflammation (which is synonymous with the recruitment of blood vessels that bring more immune cells, building materials and repair signals). Further, it upregulates biomarkers that are used to activate and sustain active T4 immune cells.
  • GFPBW1 (beta glucan) — Stimulates TNF-a and IL-6 secretion by macrophages, a first line defense immune cell, that can aid in immune cell recruitment and/or tissue remodeling. (2mg/kg)
  • GRN — Stimulates macrophages to product chemical inflammatory/repair signals called cytokines in addition to NO via the complement system2. (2mg/kg)

#8: Oyster

Scientific: Pleurotus Ostreatus
English: Oyster
Japanese: Hiratake
Chinese: Ping Gu

How it works:

Oyster mushrooms contain a variety of compounds with an array of benefits:

  • Pleurostrin — is an antifungal peptide that is found in the fruiting bodies of oyster mushrooms.
  • Ostreolysin — is a cytolytic protein isolated from oyster mushroom, caused bradycardia, myocardial ischemia and ventricular extrasystoles following intravenous injection in mice.
  • Pleurotus ostreatus lectin (POL) — A lectin isolated from the fruiting bodies of oyster mushroom may contain anti-tumor activity in mice bearing sarcoma and hepatoma. The mechanism of action involves interactions with phosphatases, but the details are currently unknown.
  • Pleuran — a beta-glucan isolated from oyster mushroom may reduce the risk of upper respiratory track infection.

#9: Agarikon

Scientific: Laricifomes officinalis

How it works:

F. officinalis produces a variety of secondary metabolites, a majority of which exert promising biological activities, from antiviral to anti-inflammatory, (including topically!); its methanolic extract was able to reduce the production of nitric oxide (NO), which is implicated in several inflammatory diseases including asthma.

  • Lanostane-type triterpenoids — possess antitumor properties as well as antimicrobial. Specifically, fomitopsin D showed activity against herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1)

Operations Director & Project Mgmt at bicoasting MIA & SF

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