Medicinal mushrooms have been used for centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine. (TCM) to treat immunity and for cancer prevention and treatment.
Cordyceps, Coriolus, Shiitake and Reishi are some of the most widely studied and clinically proven medicinal mushrooms.
In TCM, cordyceps is used for strengthening the immune system and to manage respiratory disorders. It also acts as a stimulant, a tonic and an adaptogen, being used to increase energy, enhance stamina, and reduce fatigue. It has also been used to remove phlegm, as an antiviral and antibacterial, and for infections in general. Based on traditional evidence and modern research, the recommended dosage for dried cordyceps is 2 to 5 grams.
Ganoderma lucidum (Reishi) is used in to enhance immune activity in people with low immunity, who suffer from frequent or chronic infections; it is also used for preventing fatigue. Standard therapeutic doses of dried Reishi are usually 3 to 5 grams daily, although doses of up to 15 grams per day are not uncommon for serious illnesses. The active constituents have been scientifically proven to have antioxidant, immune modulating, antiviral and antibacterial effects.One constituent, triterpenes, can reduce allergies and histamine reactions linked to asthma.
Trametes (Coriolus) versicolor (kawaratake, turkey tail, cloud mushroom) has been used traditionally for immune enhancement, and a growing body of scientific literature now supports this. Therapeutic doses used in studies are between 3 and 6 grams daily. The major active ingredient of Trametes is a type of peptidomannan called polysaccharide K or PSK. PSK has been widely researched and is used in Japan for cancer treatment, recovery after surgery and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).
Infection has long been proposed as a driver of cancer and in more recent years this has been validated by research, with approximately 18% of cancers worldwide being related to infectious diseases.. This proportion varies in different regions of the world from high of 25% in Africa to less than 10% in the developed world. Certain infections have been found to generate an initiating event which predisposes to tumour development. Viruses are the usual infectious agents that cause cancer, but bacteria and parasites may also have an effect. A virus that can cause cancer is called an oncovirus. Therefore, management of these infections may help prevent carcinogenesis indirectly, as was demonstrated in a recent study on Coriolus.
Viruses Associated Cancer
Human papillomavirus (HPV) & cervical carcinoma Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) & nasopharyngeal carcinomas, Burkitt’s lymphoma & Hodgkin’s disease
Human herpes virus 8 (HHV-8) & Kaposi's Sarcoma and primary effusion lymphomas
Hepatitis B and C viruses & hepatocellular carcinoma
Bacteria and Parasites Helicobacter pylori & Gastric carcinoma
Schistosoma haematobium & squamous cell carcinoma of the bladder
It is common to see more than one exposure, often people have had Pneumonia repeatedly as well as Glandular fever and Ross river. This chronic exposure and demand on our immune system has long term consequences to our overall health.
Immunosurveillance and Cancer Prevention
The immune system plays an important role in protecting against cancer initiation and/or progression. It has three primary roles in the prevention of tumours:
1. The immune system can protect the host from virus-induced tumours by eliminating or suppressing viral infections.
2. The timely elimination of pathogens and prompt resolution of inflammation can prevent the establishment of an inflammatory environment conducive to tumorigenesis.
3. The immune system can specifically identify and eliminate tumour cells on the basis of their expression of tumour-specific antigens or molecules induced by cellular stress. This third process is referred to as immunosurveillance, whereby the immune system identifies cancerous and/or precancerous cells and eliminates them before they can cause harm. The immune system plays a central role in the resistance against tumour development and suggested that cancer development is associated with an impairment or decline in the surveillance capacity of the immune system.
Medicinal mushrooms may also be beneficial for supporting immunity due to their antioxidant effects. One of the primary mechanisms of action of the immune system is via inflammation. An inevitable consequence of this process is the generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS). ROS can then increase inflammation, creating a self-perpetuating cycle on inflammation and oxidative damage. Antioxidant effects are therefore vital when addressing any chronic immune condition. All the discussed medicinal mushrooms have proven antioxidant effects and can therefore help to minimise ROS-induced damage.
It would seem that the humble fungi has much to offer us in treatment of chronic diseases and cancer prevention. In clinical practice it is rare to see a patient with a chronic illness who does not have a long term exposure to some of these virus/ bacterial infections.
As with all natural products make sure you seek medical advice if you are currently taking medications as mushrooms may affect your medication efficacy.