Medicinal mushrooms are known for their nutritional and healthful value and for the diversity of the bioactive compounds they contain. Mushrooms have a cross-cultural history of medicinal use spanning many millennia. In Asia, South America, Africa and throughout Europe, mushrooms have been used medicinally and as food, while others have been used in rituals to awaken consciousness. Fungi and mushrooms are extremely abundant worldwide and show diversity. The number of mushroom species on earth is currently estimated at 150,000-160,000, yet maybe only 10% are known.
Medicinal mushrooms comprise a vast and yet largely untapped source of powerful new chemical and pharmaceutical products. They represent an unlimited source of nutrients and compounds with antitumor and immuno-stimulating properties. The chief medicinal uses of mushrooms discovered so far are as antitumor, immunomodulating, antioxidant, radical scavenging, cardiovascular, antiviral, antibacterial, antiparasitic, antifungal, detoxicating, hepatoprotective, and antidiabetic effects. The best usage of medicinal mushrooms has been in preventing and treating immune disorders, especially in immunodeficient and immunosuppressed patients. They are also used for patients under chemotherapy or radiotherapy; in different types of cancers, chronic bloodborne viral infections of Hepatitis B, C, and D, different types of anemia, the human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS), Herpes simplex virus (HSV), chronic fatigue syndrome, Epstein-Barr virus; for patients with chronic gastritis and gastric ulcers caused by Helicobacter pylori; and for patients with dementia (especially for Alzheimer’s disease).
In traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, mushrooms’ legendary effects on promoting health and vitality and in fighting tumors have been extensively validated in numerous studies. Mushrooms have also played an important role in the treatment of ailments affecting the rural populations of eastern European countries. Modern clinical practice in Japan, China, Korea, Russia, and several other countries also utilize mushroom-derived preparations. There is also a long history of traditional use of mushrooms as curatives in Mesoamerica (especially for species of the genus Psilocybe), Africa (Yoruba populations in Nigeria and Benin), Algeria, and Egypt. A very special role of Amanita muscaria is found in Siberia and Tibetan shamanism, Buddhism, and Celtic myths.
Studies suggest that specific mushrooms are strongly immunologic and can help us maintain physiological homeostasis, restore physical balance, and improve our natural resistance to disease. More than 270 recognized species of mushrooms are known to have specific immunotherapeutic properties. Numerous studies have demonstrated that certain components present in medicinal mushrooms have been responsible for the modulation of cellular and physiological changes in the host. It is for this reason that mushrooms are often used in numerous illnesses, in part as cancer therapeutic agents. In fact, medicinal mushrooms probably hold one of the greatest immunological promises for the future of oncology treatment.
Mushrooms contain unique chemicals: polysaccharides, lectins, lipids, hericenone,
erinacol, erinacine, terpenoids and numerous others. Mushroom polysaccharides in particular prevent oncogenesis, show direct antitumor activity against various allogeneic and syngenetic tumors, and prevent tumor metastasis. Polysaccharides from mushrooms do not attack cancer cells directly, but produce antitumor effects by activating different immune responses in the host. These substances are regarded as biological response modifiers. This basically means that: (1) they cause no harm and place no additional stress on the body; (2) they help the body adapt to various environmental and biological stresses; and (3) they exert a non-specific action on the body, supporting some or all of the major systems, including nervous, hormonal, and immune systems, as well as regulatory functions.
The mushrooms credited with success against cancer and various diseases belong to the genus Phellinus, Pleurotus, Agaricus,
Ganoderma, Clitocybe, Antrodia, Trametes,
Cordyceps, Xerocomus, Calvatia,
Schizophyllum, Flammulina, Suillus, Inonotus,
Inocybe, Funlia, Lactarius, Albatrellus, Russula, and Fomes. The anticancer compounds play a crucial role as reactive oxygen species inducer, mitotic kinase inhibitor, anti-mitotic, angiogenesis inhibitor, and topoisomerase inhibitor, leading to apoptosis, and eventually checking cancer proliferation.
Studies show medicinal mushrooms exhibit no chronic or acute toxicity. Cell nucleus studies show no detrimental effects and DNA has shown no mutations. Pregnant animal studies have demonstrated there is no detriment to fetal development, and no LD50 (a measure of toxicity). Medicinal mushrooms apparently produce no harmful side effects.
The following are selected articles on medicinal mushrooms. An attempt has been made to categorize articles by specific medicinal mushroom types: Agaricus blazei, Cordyceps sinensis, Coriolus versicolor, Grifola frondosa, Ganoderma lucidum, Hericium erinaceus, Inonotus obliquus, and Lentinus edodes.