Mushrooms and Immunity

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 fungal friends also have to deal with many of the environmental threats common to humans and have they have evolved a variety of biochemical properties against the bacteria and viruses that colonize them, some of which also infect humans. This has led to many research studies investigating the benefits of functional mushrooms for optimizing immunity.

Mushrooms to optimize immunity

Mushrooms are macro-fungi that have unique fruiting bodies, these can either be underground fruiting bodies (hypogean) or have fruiting bodies above ground (epigean).

Through recent research, it has become known that functional mushrooms possess a wealth of biologically and pharmacologically active molecules—many of which, when ingested, have been shown to positively interact with our immune system and provide immune support.

Previous research has shown that bioactive ingredients and extracts derived from mushrooms exhibit strong anti-cancer, antiviral and anti-inflammatory protection and prophylactic effects on the liver. Thus, functional mushrooms have great potential for use as successful antiviral therapies with little to no risk of unwanted side effects.

Functional mushrooms and their extracts have been studied for decades as potential immunomodulators, including immunotherapy, cancer treatment, and immune modulation in autoimmunity.

Functional mushroom extracts = concentrated bioactive medicinal compounds

Functional mushrooms contain polysaccharides (incl β-glucans, a group of high molecular weight polysaccharides)polysaccharide-protein complexes, polyphenols, terpenoids, agaritin, 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
  • Production of T lymphocytes 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 that lead to improved physiological outcomes in those who consume functional mushrooms.

If you want to support your immune system, here are 5 functional mushroom extracts that contain high levels of bioactive compounds that support immunity:

1) Reishi

The mushroom contains triterpenes called ganoderic acids. Studies on these compounds demonstrate strong immunomodulatory and neuroprotective properties. They also optimize the endocrine system to help regulate hormonal activity in our bodies.

2) Lion’s Den

Erinacins 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 can boost the immune system, in part by reducing inflammation and providing antioxidant protection to our cells.

Preclinical research suggests that lion’s mane mushrooms can boost intestinal immune system activity through their positive effects on gut health, where lion’s mane mushroom extracts have been shown to promote the growth of beneficial immune-boosting gut bacteria.

3) Cordyceps Militaris

contains Cordycepin an adenosine derivative, which is an immunomodulatory compound. Extracts from Cordyceps have been reported to have significant anti-influenza virus and anti-tumor activity.

4) Turkey tail

The extracts contain polysaccharide peptides, which are protein-bound polysaccharides.

Krestin (PSK) and Polysaccharide Peptide (PSP) are two polysaccharide peptides found in turkey tail that have been reported to inhibit tumor growth. PSP also acts as a prebiotic and regulates the composition of the human gut microbiome, helping the gut to regulate its bacterial balance. Overall, the gut health benefits, antioxidant activity, and anti-inflammatory effects of Turkey Tail make it a great choice if you’re looking to improve your health and immunity.

5) Chaga

The extract receives its immunomodulatory properties mainly from Betulinic acid. This natural pentacyclic triterpene sterol has anticancer, antifungal and antioxidant activity. Another chemical compound discovered in chaga, 3β-hydroxy-lanasta-8,24-dien-21-al, is 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. supplements) the ability of antibodies and phagocytic cells to clear germs and damaged cells from an organism and attack the pathogen’s cell membrane to kill it.

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