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Medicinal Mushroom Study by Cancer Research UK

medicinal mushrooms

A major study of medicinal mushrooms by Cancer Research UK is the most comprehensive ever undertaken and was very positive.

The popular and wide spread use of medicinal mushrooms in Asia left the researchers wondering why we are not making better use of them in the West. They note, “The huge world wide sales of such products, can testify to the beliefs of many, of their efficacy.”

The Cancer Research UK team were impressed by “the remarkable ability of many of these non toxic compatible compounds to reduce the debilitating effects of traditional chemo-therapeutic drugs.’

Mushrooms have been treasured as remedies for disease and as natural health supports for thousands of years and are an incredibly popular food in most countries. Actually, world trade in mushrooms is as big as the trade in coffee.

The Cancer Research UK report continues, “These compounds have been shown to be safe when taken over long periods of treatment and significantly, these compounds appear to reduce the adverse effects of radiotherapy and chemotherapy. These results are in marked contrast to the well documented adverse side effects associated with most chemo therapeutic compounds and also to a lesser extent, certain immuno therapeutics.”

More remarkable still they found, “There are also many examples where the use of these compounds allows the reduction in dose level of the toxic chemo therapeutic compound without reduced efficacy.”

Recent studies in New Zealand show that a combination of Reishi and Cordyceps extracts had beneficial effects on the quality of life for some advanced cancer patients. Researchers believe that a mixture of the active ingredients from different mushrooms maximizes the immune response by providing multiple stimuli to the body’s natural defenses.

A fully functional immune response is critical to the recognition and elimination of tumor cells. The increased incidence of spontaneous tumors in immunosuppressed individuals indicates that the immune system provides a significant mechanism for resistance against cancer. Several major immune stimulating substances have been isolated from Reishi that have extraordinary effects on the maturation, differentiation and proliferation of many kinds of immune cells. Reishi is a proven potent activator of interferon, interleukins, tumor necrosis factor (TNF), natural killer cells (NK), T lymphocytes, tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL’s) and lymphokine activated killer cells (LAK). The spontaneous regression of some tumors is usually explained as a phenomenon of the individual’s own immune system attacking the tumor burden.

Radiotherapy and chemotherapy invariably damage or weaken the patient’s immunological defenses which may also have been damaged by the cancer itself. Although responding favorably, cancer patients are in danger of opportunistic infections that can invade their systems because unfortunately the therapy designed to kill the pathogenic cells also kills their protective immune cells. Cancer Research UK confirm that the active compounds in Reishi cause a marked increase in the action of macrophages, thus there is a heightened response to foreign cells, whether bacteria, viruses or tumor cells. The study points out, ‘It was evident from clinical trials that Reishi extract significantly enhanced the immune systems of the elderly people taking it’.

Fungi affect humans so profoundly and are such good sources of medicinally useful products because on a cellular level fungi and animals have more in common with each other than they have with higher plants. The potent ability of medicinal mushroom bioactive compounds to modulate so many important immune cells may be due to their structural diversity and variability. Polysaccharides from medicinal mushrooms have the greatest potential for structural variability and the highest capacity for carrying biological information, e.g. the number of possible permutations for four different polysaccharides is 35,560 unique tetrasaccharides, whereas four amino acids can only form 24 different permutations.

Reishi has been rated the top medicinal herb in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for over 2000 years with Ginseng in second place and so highly treasured it was traded for its own weight in gold and only available to Emperors. It is still the most important herb in the Orient and the most thoroughly researched. The results of many hundreds of scientific and medical studies are supporting traditional health claims. It contains over 200 active ingredients and unique compounds that are the most biologically active obtainable from any plant source. In order to obtain maximum benefit Reishi is best taken as an extract because it is a very tough, woody mushroom and the raw biomass is very difficult to digest. Its dynamic antioxidant action and immune stimulating effects are why Reishi is so highly valued as a longevity herb and called ‘The Long Life Herb’, ‘The Great Protector’ and even ‘God’s Herb’.

Cordyceps is not as well researched as Reishi but Cancer Research UK suggests that, ‘Cordyceps may be useful for cancer patients due to its enhancement of cell-mediated immunity, oxygen free radical scavenging and support for cellular bioenergy systems’.

Medicinal mushrooms have latent cancer preventative properties. Studies in Japan and Brazil strongly suggest that regular consumption over prolonged periods significantly reduce the levels of cancer incidence. Cancer Research UK also found increasing experimental evidence that medicinal mushrooms can have a cancer preventative effect, demonstrating both high anti-tumor activity and restriction of tumor metastasis. A 14-year survey in Japan revealed cancer rates of workers at medicinal mushroom farms were 1 in 1000 compared to 1 in 600 for the general population.

Howell Lewis
+44 0 1296 425744

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The Turkey Tail Mushroom

The Turkey Tail Mushroom (Trametes versicolor), aka Yun Zhi, Kawaratake, Coriolus versicolor

Turkey Tail Close Up

Turkey Tail mushrooms are one of the most researched and respected of the medicinal mushrooms. They are also one of the most common in the northern forests of world, from Europe to China and Japan, from Siberia to the US and Canada.

This member of the polypore family has longest history of medicinal use in China and Japan, where it is known as Yun Zhi and Kawaratake, respectively.

Turkey Tails are tough and chewy, so they are generally consumed by drinking the tea made by boiling them for a prolonged period. However, the eminent herbalogist Christopher Hobbs likes to chew the fresh fruitbodies like gum when walking in the woods.

Turkey Tail mushrooms are medically significant for many reasons (as the monograph below details) but they are most popularly known as being the natural source of the anti-cancer polysaccharide PSK. PSK (polysaccharide K) is a high molecular weight carbohydrate found in the fruitbodies and (in higher concentrations) in the mycelium of Turkey Tails. (See Spawn for a description of mycelium.) Check out this link, for more information on PSK as a cancer treatment.

Bastyr University has been involved in a recent clinical study using Turkey Tail extracts in conjuction with chemotherapy and radiation. Click here (and here) to read an article about the study and go here to read Bastyr’s complete monograph of Turkey Tails, which they primarily call Coriolus versicolor. (I have no idea why some scientists call it Trametes versicolor and others call it Coriolus versicolor. You would think they could all agree on one name.) Here are the highlights:

β-glucan-proteins (Coriolan, PSK): anti-tumor, antiviral, immunomodulating.
– Polysaccharide K (PSK) is 30% polysaccharides, 6% nitrogen, and 15% protein (3).
Ergosterol (provitamin D2) derivatives: antitumor
Polysaccharopeptide (PSP): antiviral

Anti-tumor, Anti-microbial, Immunomodulating, Anti-oxidant.
Also recently discovered to be anti-malarial (6).

Indications and Effects
Cancer (cervical, breast, lung, gastric, colon, sarcoma, carcinoma, esophageal, etc.) (4), Immunodeficiency (4), Hepatitis B and C (2), and Malaria (6).

Turkey Tails on Birch

PSK fights cancers and tumors by inhibiting the growth of cancer cells and
by “stimulating a host mediated response.” Natural Killer cells are
also promoted to enhance the immune system. It is often used in
conjunction with chemotherapy to increase cancer survival rates. PSP is
being proposed as an inhibitor of HIV replication based on an in vitro study (4).

PSK has also demonstrated itself to activate interferon production (2). Coriolus has also been found to regenerate damaged bone marrow, increase energy levels and offer pain relief in cancer patients (1).

Some highlights:

“In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Turkey Tail is used to clear dampness,
reduce phlegm, heal pulmonary disorders, strengthen the physique,
increase energy and benefit people with chronic diseases (Yang &
Yong, 1989, Ying et al., 1987). Chinese medical doctors consider it a
useful treatment for infection and/or inflammation of the upper
respiratory, urinary and digestive tracts. Turkey Tail is also regarded
as curative to liver ailments (including hepatitis B and chronic active
hepatitis) and is used to treat general weakness of the immune system
(Ying et al., 1987)

Krestin (PSK), a proprietary anticancer drug approved in
Japan, is extracted from the Turkey Tail mushroom and accounted for
25.2% of the total Japanese national expenditure for anticancer agents.
Nakazato et al. (1994), reported that 262 gastric cancer patients
treated with PSK as an adjunct to chemotherapy showed a decrease in
cancer reoccurrence and a significant increase in disease-free survival
rate. Kobayashi et al. (1995) reported that the protein-bound
polysaccharide PSK reduced cancer metastasis. Sakagami et al. (1993)
reported that PSK stimluted interleukin-1 and interferon production in
human cells. Other researchers have reported that PSK appears to be a
scavenger of free-radical oxidizing compounds. Unlike many conventional
anticancer drugs, PSK produces few, if any, side effects and shows no
immunosuppressive activity.”


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“Wildman” Steve Brill Releases Wild Edible App

Naturalist, author, and environmental educator Wildman” Steve Brill, America’s go-to guy for foraging, has just released a master series of foraging apps, WildEdibles, that will give iPhone users the in-depth information they need to identify, ecologically harvest, and use 165 of the best wild edible and medicinal plants of North America, plus essential details of 52 look-alikes. The focus will be on eastern species, but half the plants and many more very similar close relatives that are also edible grow across the country.

“This takes foraging beyond what’s in any book or other app,” said the popular freelance naturalist, author, and environmental educator. “Taking full advantage of this newly developing media technology, I pair each plant with up to eight detailed pictures. My 718 photos, paintings, and drawings present all aspects of these tasty, nutritious, in-demand renewable resources in all their seasonal forms, something simply not cost-effective with print media.”

Plants are easily searchable by a number of different criteria (season, habitat, etc.) and arranged alphabetically for quick access in the field. Each herb, green, shoot, fruit, berry, nut, seed, root, or seaweed listed contains detailed identification info, a checklist of critical features, how to spot it, scientific and common names, parts used, food uses, seasons, range, habitats, poisonous and non-poisonous look-alikes, related species, cautions, and clarification of anything that may cause confusion.

“Wildman” provides his practical tips (and quips) for harvesting and using the plants (“Never pull out a cattail if there’s an animal rights activist watching!”), as well as details about preparing them. 162 scrumptious, healthful, vegan recipes, from simple ones such as Garlicky Chickweed with Penne to elaborate creations such as Black Forest Cake with Wild Cherries, grace this app’s electrons. “Wildman” has been recognized as America’s top foraging expert for decades, and his Brill-iant innovations with wild and vegan whole food dishes will be appreciated as soon as you try his Wild American Persimmon Ice Cream, or his unbelievably realistic Cow Parsnip Meatless Loaf (but not if you taste them both at the same time!).

The medicinal uses of the wild plants also get full coverage, from practical home remedies in use for centuries, to explanations of the latest cutting-edge pharmacological and nutritional research.

A big advantage of having this massive amount of information in an app is that you can use it whatever way works best for you. You can look up plants alphabetically, by season, or by habitat, or find the best toxic species to gather in case the boss drops over for dinner. WildEdibles is completely interactive, so you can switch around or find anything in it whenever you choose.

You can use the app as a cutting-edge vegan cookbook for wild foods or store-bought alternatives, or just sit back and browse through the modern botanical paintings and drawings that rival anything created by 19th-century naturalists. And there’s also a detailed introductory section, plus a glossary of botanical terms as close as a tap of the finger.

If you’re a beginner who finds the huge number of plants a little too imposing, a variety of smaller versions, including a flashcard-style studying tool, should suit your needs. A lite version with the most common, widespread, edible lawn “weeds” is free; the full app costs $7.99; and other smaller versions run from $0.99 to $3.99 each. Upgrades will become available as the app continues to blossom and grow.

This app series, created as a collaborative project, was crafted by skilled designers and programmers from the Detroit-based group WinterRoot.

WildEdibles, “Wildman” Steve Brill’s master foraging app series, is now available for all iOS 4.2 devices, with a customized iPad version soon to follow. Android and other smartphones will also be supported by future releases. Please contact “Wildman” at (914) 835-2153 for further information, and visit him at


Contact: “Wildman” Steve Brill, (914) 835-2153