Mushrooms and Immunity
Dwayne N. Jackson, PhD
Our immune system is vital for survival. Without an immune system, our bodies would be open to attack from bacteria, viruses, parasites, and disease. Interestingly, our fungi friends must also deal with many of the environmental threats that are common to humans and have evolved a variety of biochemical properties against bacteria and viruses that colonize them, some of which also infect humans. This has led to many research studies investigating the immunity optimizing benefits of functional mushrooms.
Mushrooms to optimize immunity
Mushrooms are macro-fungi which have unique fruiting bodies, these can either be underground fruiting bodies (hypogeous) or they can have fruiting bodies above the ground (epigeous).
Through recent research, it is becoming well-known that functional mushrooms possess a plethora of biological and pharmacologically active molecules— many of which, when ingested, have been shown to interact positively with our immune system and provide immunity support.
Past research has shown that bioactive components and extracts derived from mushrooms exhibit strong anticancer, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory protection, and prophylactic effects for the liver. Thus, functional mushrooms have great potential for use as successful antiviral treatments with little to no risks of adverse side effects.
Functional mushrooms and their extracts have been studied for decades as potential immune modulators, including for immunotherapy, treatment of cancer and immune regulation in autoimmunity.
Functional mushroom extracts = concentrated bioactive medicinal compounds
Functional mushrooms contain polysaccharides (including β-glucans, a group of high-molecular-weight polysaccharides), polysaccharide–protein complexes, polyphenols, terpenoids, agaritine, ergosterol, and selenium.
In terms of immunity, the bioactive compounds in functional mushrooms have been reported to promote and/or support:
- Macrophage activity
- Cytokines associated with innate immunity
- Antibody production
- T lymphocyte production and prevention of decline
- Regeneration of bone marrow cells
- Secretion of human interferons
- Natural killer (NK) cell activity
- Aggressiveness of granulocytes against viruses
- Enhanced activity and production of helper T4 (CD4) lymphocytes
A growing body of international scientific and medical research continues to help define the precise biochemical pathways leading to improved physiological outcomes in those who consume functional mushrooms.
If you are looking to support your immune system, here are 5 functional mushroom extracts that contain high levels of bioactive compounds which support immunity:
1) Reishi mushroom contains triterpenes called Ganoderic Acids. Studies on these compounds demonstrate potent immune modulating and neuro-protective properties. They also optimize the endocrine system to help regulate hormonal activity in our bodies.
2) Lion’s Mane Erinacines have been found to promote neuroplasticity and brain health. These compounds stimulate macrophages, nerve growth factor (NGF) production in nerve cells, and protect nerves from inflammation. Lion’s mane mushrooms may enhance the immune system, partly by reducing inflammation and providing antioxidant protection for our cells.
Preclinical research suggests that lion’s mane mushrooms may boost the activity of the intestinal immune system through its positive effects on gut health, where lion’s mane mushroom extracts have been shown to promote the growth of beneficial gut bacteria that strengthen immunity.
3) Cordyceps Militaris contains Cordycepin an adenosine derivative, which is an immunomodulating compound. Extracts from cordyceps have been reported to have significant anti-influenza virus and anti-tumour activity.
4) Turkey Tail extracts contain polysaccharopeptides, which are protein-bound polysaccharides.
Krestin (PSK) and Polysaccharide Peptide (PSP) are two polysaccharopeptides found in turkey tail, which have been reported to inhibit the growth of tumours. PSP also acts as a prebiotic and modulates human intestinal microbiome composition, helping the gut regulate its balance of bacteria. Overall, the gut health benefits, antioxidant activity, and anti-inflammatory effects of Turkey Tail make this a great choice if you are looking to improve health and immunity.
5) Chaga extract gets its immunomodulating properties primarily from Betulinic acid. This natural pentacyclic triterpene sterol possesses antitumor, antifungal, and antioxidant activities. Another chemical compound discovered in chaga, 3β-hydroxy-lanasta-8,24-dien-21-al, has been of recent interest in immunity research because it activates a part of the immune system called the complement system. The complement system is the part of the immune system that enhances (i.e., complements) the ability of antibodies and phagocytic cells to clear microbes and damaged cells from an organism and attack the pathogen’s cell membrane to kill it.