Medicinal mushrooms have received much praise relatively recently as a direct result of scientific studies into their efficacy, confirming ancient traditional uses and also highlighting new applications in some instances. Compounds called polysaccharides, large complex branched chain like molecules built from many smaller units of sugar molecules have been studied in detail since the 1950s – these have shown to possess antitumour and immunomodulating properties. Human kind culturally has benefited from mushrooms for perhaps as long as 7,000 years.
We humans have around 30 per cent of our DNA in common with mushrooms and another similarity that we and they inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, unlike the plant kingdom. One mycologist has likened the internet to the mycelial network filaments of mushrooms around the planet, so crucial are they to biodiversity and subtle information exchange between species. They sustain and work in symbiosis with all life forms both directly and indirectly on a concurrently living and decaying planet, thus helping in its survival and transformation. Mushrooms were of the earliest forms of life to begin inhabiting the Earth.
They are adaptogens in that they encourage the body to adapt to many varied environmental and psychological stresses having an all round supporting effect on all the major human systems, for example the nervous/immune system, hormonal system and blood sugar system regulation. Their beta glucan component also helps with immune modulation, medicinal mushrooms can increase macrophage and killer cell activity – this can help protect against colds, flu and infections of all kinds.
As an aside mushrooms are coming into their own in their ability to clean up toxic earth environments, human kind has not as yet tapped into their full potential of employing specific mushroom agents in dispersing and cleaning up all manner of natural and man made disasters. In Japan much headway has been made in pioneering use into medicinal mushrooms and cancer treatment. There is great potential benefit in their use with individuals suffering from HIV/AIDS, heart disease, compromised immune systems, supporting eyes and digestion and a whole array of skin ailments etc.
Medicinal mushrooms vary in their nutritional profile depending on species and various factors such as maturity during different harvesting stages. They contain a wealth of important nutrients such as protein, carbohydrates, amino acids, vitamins and minerals. Mushrooms are a good source of thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, biotin and vitamin C. Beta carotene can also be found in some species. The mineral content of phosphorus, sodium, and potassium being balanced and satisfactorily high whilst iron and calcium are lower in amounts. Obviously an individual’s given level of digestive capacity (effectiveness of digestive enzymes) will influence the bodies ability to uptake essential nutrients present in medicinal mushrooms.
Immunological changes triggered by mushroom polysaccharides:
- Immune cell activation of: macrophages, neutrophils, monocytes, NK cells or Natural Killer Cells and dendritic cells
- Antibody production increases
- Interferon production increases
- Immune system activity increased against a range of cancers
- Tumour metastasis inhibition
- Pro-inflammatory cytokines reduction
- Prostaglandin synthesis inhibition