There are thousands of known mushroom species in the world but only a few have been scientifically evaluated. And while only a small percentage of these have been studied for medicinal use, many that have been reviewed have shown a great capacity to stimulate the immune system.
Shitake: Known in Chinese as Xiang Fu, or “Fragrant Mushroom”, is a tender and delicious mushroom easily included in many meals. Shitakes are prized as a delicacy and a powerful medicinal. Shitake mushrooms contain a glucan named AHCC (Alpha Hextrose Correlated Compound) that has been shown to enhance the T-killer cells and cytokines activity, two important chemicals in the fight against cancer. Glucans are a type of polysaccharide. Lentinan, another polysaccharide found in shitake mushrooms, has been isolated to make anti-cancer drugs that stimulate the immune system. Clinical studies have associated lentinan with a higher survival rate, higher quality of life and lower recurrence of cancer.
Maitake: Known in Chinese as Hui Shu Hua, or “Grey Tree Flower”, is another culinary delight. Originally used in Japanese cuisine, it is becoming more popular but remains rare here in the United States as well. Studies have shown that maitake mushrooms effect both innate and adaptive immunity, meaning they boost rapid immune response to infections and also improve long-term immunity. Maitake mushrooms are also rich in antioxidants, protecting cells and decreasing the inflammatory factor COX2 enzyme so prevalent in cancer physiology. Maitake mushrooms inhibit the proliferation of cancer cells, reducing the likelihood of them metastasizing.
Cordyceps: Dong Chong Xia Cao, which translates as “Summer Bug Winter Grass due to it’s interesting lifecycle, is not a culinary mushroom. It is one of the most commonly used mushrooms in anti-cancer formulas in Chinese Medicine. Cordyceps stimulate the immune system by increasing both Killer T-Cells and Natural Killer Cells. Cordyceps have been shown to prolong the life of white blood cells allowing them more time to attack cancers. It has demonstrated anti-tumor properties and also protects the kidneys from chemotherapy and bone marrow from irradiation. Beyond its anti-cancer properties, cordyceps also increases ATP production and improves energy and endurance.
Reishi: Know in Tradition Chinese Medicine as Ling Zhi or “the Mushroom of Immortality”, this mushroom has long been thought to increase longevity and increase vitality. Reishi enhances the immune response and benefits anyone suffering from weakened immunity. The glucans present in reishi mushrooms encourage immune cells to bind strongly to tumor cells, effectively destroying them. Another substance in reishi mushrooms, called canthaxanthin, slows tumor growth. Despite the FDA’s unwillingness to evaluate natural medicines, other countries like Japan classify Reishi as an anti-cancer medicine.