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6 Anti-Inflammatory Mushrooms that Boost Your Immune System

Agaricus blazei

Mushrooms are rich sources of disease-fighting compounds. Here are some you can capitalize on to boost your immunity and stay strong

Men started to consume mushrooms as food and medicine more than 2,000 years ago. Besides being a potent anti-inflammatory food, we know that many of the fungi we use today contained active compounds that have anti-cancer, anti-hypertensive, blood sugar-lowering, and other potentially valuable therapeutic properties.

Edible mushrooms are also great sources of proteins, antioxidants, minerals, fibers and trace elements that are comparable to some leafy greens. But unlike other produce, fungi require much lesser water, soil and space to mass cultivate.

Not convinced? Below are highlights of some fascinating medicinal mushrooms to open your eyes to the kingdom of fungi!

Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)

Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) Why this Medicinal Mushroom?
Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum, or Lingzhi in Chinese) has been revered as the mushroom of immortality in many parts of Asia for centuries. Ancient people used it to enhance qi (life force), sharpen memory, calm the mind, and promote longevity. This kidney-shaped mushroom comes in a few different colors — green, purple, red, yellow and black — but red reishi is the most commonly used.

Health Benefits of Reishi:
Laboratory tests revealed that bioactive compounds derived from reishi have anti-tumor, anti-inflammatory, anti-aging and immuno-modulatory properties. Several reishi-derived substances are also antibacterial and anti-viral, exerting direct inhibitory actions against human herpes viruses, influenza virus, vesicular stomatitis as well as HIV in the lab.

What’s interesting to note is that polysaccharides from reishi and other medicinal mushrooms, do not kill viruses and cancer cells directly. Instead they activate the body’s own immune cells to attack harmful cells (an action termed as immuno-modulation), thereby increasing the body’s defense against infections and cancer.

Reishi also contains ganoderic acid which could confer protective effects on the liver, and other yet-to-be-identified components that help to reduce radiation-induced damages and side effects caused by chemotherapy.

How to Get and Use Reishi:
Wild reishi mushrooms are rare, and when available, are costly. Thankfully, reishi mushroom has been successfully cultivated which helps to bring its prices down. Due to its bitter taste, reishi is seldom used in cuisines. It’s more commonly used in dried form as Chinese medicine, or in convenient reishi extract capsules which do not require lengthy preparation.

Caterpillar Fungus (Cordyceps Sinensis)

Caterpillar Fungus (Cordyceps Sinensis)Why this Medicinal Mushroom?
Unlike other fungi which grow in soil or on trees, caterpillar fungus grows out of the body of an underground moth larva. So the complete fungus actually consists of a dried caterpillar with the fruiting body of the mushroom protruding from its head. Caterpillar fungus is known by many names: Dong Chong Xia Cao (which literally means winter worm, summer grass in Chinese), Cordyceps sinensis, or more accurately, Ophiocordyceps sinensis.

Health Benefits of Cordyceps Sinensis:
Caterpillar fungus is a highly valued medicinal ‘mushroom’ in traditional Chinese and Tibetan medicine, though it is strictly speaking not a mushroom. It’s prescribed to “replenish the kidney and soothe the lung, and for the treatment of fatigue.” Traditional Chinese physicians use it to treat a broad range of conditions, including night sweating, sexual dysfunction, high blood sugar, respiratory disease, kidney dysfunction, irregular heartbeat and other heart and liver disease. (Source)

Several preliminary data also suggested that extracts of Cordyceps sinensis could be useful against cancerous tumor, chemical-induced kidney damages, diabetes, inflammation, radiation-induced bone marrow and intestinal injuries, high blood cholesterol, and oxidative damage. In addition, it may also help to boost exercise endurance, increase energy levels and even lift depressive moods. In Taiwan and China, Cordyceps sinensis is used to stimulate the immune system to fight cancer cells and to reduce kidney transplant complications.

How to Get and Use Cordyceps Sinensis:
Wild Cordyceps sinensis, consisting of the whole caterpillar and the attached fruiting body, cannot be grown artificially the way we can grow other medicinal mushrooms. That’s why the price of wild-harvested Cordyceps sinensis is prohibitively high and continues to go up.

Fortunately, we can fall back on cultivated Cordyceps sinensis which is mainly sold as cordyceps dietary supplement rather than as a form of food. Although cultured cordyceps fungi are reproduced without the use of any larva as host, they appear to have similar potency as wild-harvested ones according to this study as well as most of the research hyperlinked here.

Bamboo Fungus (Phallus Indusiatus)

Bamboo Fungus (Phallus Indusiatus) Why this Medicinal Mushroom?
Bamboo fungus (Phallus indusiatus) is a tropical mushroom belonging to the stinkhorn family that sports a bell-shaped cap and a long, elaborate net-like skirt.

Also called veiled lady mushroom, Zhu Sun or Dictyophora indusiata, it contains seven essential amino acids and 12 metallic ions, and is rich in vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, calcium and phosphate.

Health Benefits of Bamboo Fungus:
Early studies found that it may help to reduce low-density lipoprotein (‘bad’ chlesterol) and excessive acid in the body fluids, while increasing high-density lipoprotein (‘good’ cholesterol) and overall immunity. (Source)

Research also found that bamboo fungus shares some of the therapeutic properties as other medicinal mushrooms, including anti-cancer, anti-inflammation, anti-hyperglycemic and antimicrobial.

How to Get and Use Bamboo Fungus:
Bamboo fungus used to be a delicacy prized by the Chinese. Before mass cultivation of the fungus is possible, it used to occur only in the wild and thus, is hard to come by.

But now, dried cultivated bamboo fungus can easily be found in many Asian stores. To use it, simply soak it in water until it’s soft and then wash it thoroughly to remove grit and dirt.

By itself, bamboo fungus is tasteless but has an almost crunchy and tender texture. Its long, sponge-like stalk (stipe to be exact) means it can readily soaks up any flavoring or gravy that you dip it in, making the fungus a versatile ingredient to use. The Chinese also believe that adding Zhu Sun in their cooking can help to prevent food from spoiling easily.

To date, capsule or powder form of phallus indusiatus is not common.

Maitake (Grifola Frondosa)

Maitake (Grifola Frondosa) Why this Medicinal Mushroom?
Maitake (Grifola frondosa, or hen of the woods) is a culinary as well as medicinal mushroom widely used in Japan and increasingly, in other parts of the world. Literally called ‘dancing mushroom’, maitake grows in clusters and can grow to a large size, reaching 20 inches in diameter and weighing up to 100 pounds.

Health Benefits of Maitake:
A bioactive extract derived from maitake’s beta-glucan known as maitake D-fraction has been a subject of many research studies. The interest comes mainly from the extract’s ability to modulate the immune system and inhibit tumor cell growth.

Several improved maitake extracts were later developed. One of them, maitake MD-fraction, has reportedly received positive results in the treatment of a few cases of leukemia, liver and lung cancer.

How to Get and Use Maitake:
Fresh, and sometimes dried, maitake can be bought from large supermarkets and Asian stores.

But if the idea of eating fungi every day is hard to stomach, there is always maitake capsules to make the swallowing easier.

Almond Mushroom (Agaricus Subrufescens)

Almond Mushroom (Agaricus Subrufescens) Why this Medicinal Mushroom?
Almond mushroom (Agaricus Subrufescens) is a famous fungus with a big identity crisis. According to Wikipedia, several popular fungi and their derivatives that were marketed under the names like Agaricus blazei murrill and Agaricus brasiliensis in the last few decades should really have been Agaricus subrufescens instead.

Health Benefits of Almond Mushroom:
Almond mushroom has attracted the attention of scientists and consumers alike due to its potential anti-cancer, immuno-regulating, anti-viral, anti-inflammatory and anti-diabetic effects. Based on a 2005 survey, it was reportedly the most popular complementary and alternative medicine used by cancer patients in Japan.

How to Get and Use Almond Mushroom:
Fresh and dried Agaricus subrufescens are available in well-stocked supermarkets and Asian stores. The fresh mushroom has a delicate almond-like aroma and taste, while the dried version acquired a stronger fragrance and a chewier texture.

However, note that mushrooms from the Agaricus family, including Agaricus subrufescens, do contain a tiny amount of natural occurring carcinogen agaritine. Cooking usually destroys most of the agaritine in the mushroom and should not be a concern. But if you’re planning to take raw, powder form of the fungus for long-term, choose one that has agaritine removed.

Lion’s Mane (Hericium Erinaceus)

Lion’s Mane (Hericium Erinaceus)Why this Medicinal Mushroom?
Also known as monkey’s head mushroom, lion’s mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus) is a unique looking fungus that has hair-like ‘teeth’ and some serious brain-boosting compounds.

Health Benefits of Lion’s Mane:
Other than enhancing the immune system and zapping cancer cells like other medicinal fungi, extract of yamabushitake (the Japanese name for lion’s mane mushroom) appears to have some beneficial effects on brain functions and autonomic nervous system.

A research conducted in Japan found that subjects who took cookies containing yamabushitake powder for four weeks were less depressed and anxious than those who took placebo cookies. An animal test also showed that Hericium erinaceus extract slowed cognitive impairment in mice which had chemically-induced dementia, while an in vitro experiment found it stimulated nerve growth factor (NGF). Inadequate NGF is believed to play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

In addition, lion’s mane extract may also improve lipid metabolism, cut blood lipid levels, reduce cell mutation and protect nerve tissue according to some preliminary reports.

How to Get and Use Lion’s Mane:
Like the bamboo fungus, monkey’s head mushroom used to be one of the eight fungus delicacies enjoyed by the ancient Chinese. Nowadays, it’s still a popular choice for important Chinese dinners.

Dried monkey’s head mushrooms are more common than fresh ones, and they can often be found in Asian specialty stores.

Extracts of Hericium erinaceus can also be found at the click of the mouse and in brick-and-mortar health stores.

Source:

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The Wondrous Maitake Mushroom

The Wondrous Maitake Mushroom

Maitake Mushrooms have been shown to help treat viruses, bacterial infections, cancers, and a plethora of issues. The Japanese call it Maitake, but it goes by a variety of other names such as Hen of the Woods, Sheep’s Head, and Ram’s Head. The proper name is Grifola frondosa. These mushrooms can be found growing in clusters at the bottom of trees. It is native to both North American and Japan, but is mostly known throughout Japanese herbology as a way to take body systems that are out of balance and put them into balance. Many find this mushroom to be quite appetizing, although some individuals may experience an allergic reaction, but this is very rare.

It is actually the underground tubers that the mushroom grows out of that is used in traditional Japanese and Chinese medicine. They are used to enhance the immune system. Research has also suggested that taking in whole Maitake has the capability of regulating glucose levels, blood pressure, and insulin. It may also be useful for weight loss because of the regulation of cholesterol, liver lipids, phospholipids, and triglycerides.

What makes Maitake Mushrooms so unique is the fact that they are rich in minerals such as calcium, potassium, and magnesium and they contain vitamins such as D2, Niacin, and B2. There are also certain fibers and amino acids that are essential for proper body function. Fortunately, just like many other mushrooms that are known to boost the immune system, Maitake contains polysaccharides, or complex sugars, that are needed to fight disease.

Deterring Cancer

Something that is particularly interesting about Maitake Mushrooms is that they are literally eaten as a food. It is their extract that is marketed in both Japan and the United States as a supplement. This is because of the beta-glucan that is included within it that is essential to sustain the immune system. This is a long chain sugar, which is called a complex sugar. It is a polysaccharide.

Tests have been conducted on lab animals that show the incredible immune boosting effects. Amongst these immune boosting effects is an impact against cancer. There has not been any thorough evidence that suggests that Maitake has a significant effect on cancer in humans, but there is human research underway. It is believed that there should not be any reason in which Maitake wouldn’t have a positive influence on someone battling cancer. It contains a plethora of other benefits that involve the introduction of vitamins and the immune boosting sugars.

It has also been suggested that the reversal of tumor growth is a possibility. There have been some cases in which this effect has been evaluated. Also, a person undergoing chemotherapy may experience less nausea, reduce pain, reduce hair loss, and feel relief from some of the other side effects of chemo. There have not been tests on humans to support these claims, but studies have been started.

Nevertheless, it is not dangerous to take in Maitake Mushrooms because there are no significant side effects except for allergic reaction in very few individuals. This is not something that is experienced by many and there may be other factors involved such as the use of certain medications while taking Maitake. There is also the fact that individuals should consult with a doctor regarding the ingestion of anything that is considered herbal to help health conditions.

As for research that has been conducted, it began in the 1980s in Japan and involved the D-fraction extract that is believed to have the biggest influence on cancer. This research has just spread to the United States. The evidence states that D-fraction contains that beta-glucan, which has already been mentioned as being a complex sugar with a lot of influence on the immune system. The beta-glucan is believed to stimulate the immune system so that it can fight off cancer and influence the growth of T-cells.

The Immunity Factor

Not only does Maitake Mushrooms possibly fight cancer, but the immune system effects are believed to fight off other diseases as well. Being that there are essential vitamins that occur naturally within the mushrooms, a person can receive some of their necessary nutrition. The immunity boost that is received can fight off many bacterial infections and anything that can interfere with the integrity of the immune system. By strengthening T-cells, the cells responsible for fighting off disease, Maitake is a great way to live a healthier lifestyle.

So if you’re looking for a way to feel better all around, improve body functions, have a positive influence on your heart, and increase your immune system, Maitake mushrooms is a great way to do that. They are readily available in both the United States and Japan. Although there is not scientific research yet available that etches the effects on cancer in stone, the nutritional benefits are worth making Maitake a part of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.

The Power Within the Mushroom
By Omid Jaffari