Updated: May 11, 2021
Article by Ronald Grisanti D.C., D.A.B.C.O., D.A.C.B.N., MS of The Functional Medicine University.
One food source that has been thoroughly researched in its role in immune stimulation and cancer are Medicinal Mushrooms. This amazing food has the ability to complement chemotherapy and radiation therapy by countering several of the side effects of these modalities, including nausea, bone marrow suppression, anemia, and lowered resistance. The following mushrooms have shown powerful immune-boosting and anticancer activity, including blocking the formation of tumors. These mushrooms contain polysaccharides, substances that increase immune defense by enhancing the function of macrophages and natural killer (NK) cells.
A seven-year clinical study funded by the National Institutes of Health and jointly conducted by the University of Minnesota and Bastyr University in Seattle found that freeze-dried turkey tail mushroom had a dramatic impact in boosting immune function for women with stages I, II, and III breast cancer and also contributed to tumor shrinkage."
This mushroom, also 'known as hen of the wood' has been found to inhibit tumor growth in human clinical trials. It has also been found to increase the production of interleukins, neutrophils, T cells, and macrophages while decreasing side effects of chemotherapy.
A 2015 University of Florida study showed increased immunity in people who ate a cooked shiitake mushroom every day for four weeks." By comparing blood tests obtained both before and after the experiment, researchers saw better functioning immune cells and reductions in inflammatory proteins.
Reishi ("Mushroom of Immortality")
Reishi mushrooms contain beta glucans, a type of polysaccharide that has demonstrated anti-tumor and immuno-stimulating activity. Recent findings indicate that reishi mushrooms may increase NK cell cytotoxicity against cancer cell lines. They may also protect against radiation damage.
Lion's mane mushrooms have been demonstrated to stimulate NK and macrophage activity and also to inhibit angiogenesis (the development of new blood vessels), contributing to reduction of tumor size. It was also discovered that when the mushroom was combined with the chemotherapy drug doxorubicin, an otherwise drug-resistant human liver cancer became treatable.
Evidence shows that cordyceps is an immune modulator with potentiating and suppressive effects on both innate and adaptive immunity. It enhances the activity of NK cells and has been found to initiate T cell responses against microbial pathogens and tumors."
As you can see from the above, Medicinal Mushrooms should be included in everyone's diet to enhance immune function and has promise in the management of cancer.
A note from Dr Georgina...
A couple of good (non-practitioner only) options of medicinal mushroom supplements include Solgar's Reishi Shiitake Maitake Mushroom Complex and LifeExtension Reishi Extract Mushroom Complex. The LifeExtension product contains cracked spores which are apparently more prized than the reishi itself.
Winters Nasha, Kelley Jess, The Metabolic Approach to Cancer, Chelsea Green Publishing, 2017
Seema Patel, Arun Goyal, Recent developments in mushrooms as anti-cancer therapeutics: a review, 3 Biotech. 2012 Mar; 2(1): 1–15.
Torkelson CJ, Sweet E, Martzen MR, Sasagawa M, Wenner CA, Gay J, Putiri A, Standish LJ., Phase 1 Clinical Trial of Trametes versicolor in Women with Breast Cancer.
Alena G. Guggenheim, Kirsten M. Wright, and Heather L. Zwickey, "Immune Modulation from Five Major Mushrooms: Application to Integrative Oncology" Integrative Medicine 13, no. 1 (February 2014): 32-44
Xiaoshuang Dai, Joy M. Stanilka, Cheryl A. Rowe, Elizabethe A. Esteves, Carmelo Nieves, Samuel J. Spaiser, Mary C. Christman, Bobbi Langlcamp-Henken, and Susan S. Percival, "Consuming Lentinula edodes (Shiitake) Mushrooms Daily Improves Human Immunity: A Randomized Dietary Intervention in Healthy Young Adults," Journal of the American College of Nutrition 34, no. 6 (2015): 478-87,
Patel and Goyal, "Recent Developments in Mushrooms as Anti-Cancer Therapeutics: A Review."
Bao-qin Lin and Shao-ping Li, "Cordyceps as an Herbal Drug," chap. 5 in Benzie and Wachtel-Galor, eds., Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects.
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