The Healing Magic of Medicinal Mushrooms

| September 25, 2015

Maitake-MushroomPerhaps no other plant has such a spectrum of diversity as mushrooms. With over 10,000 species within the kingdom of fungi, some are a culinary delight and contain the power to heal, while others possess deadly poisons and the power to kill.
Thousands of years ago, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) doctors discovered many with magical medicinal properties. Today, research confirms that dozens of species hold various compounds that mount an impressive defense against many deadly diseases, including cancer. Let’s take a closer look at just a few that are particular potent.

The Maitake Mushroom—Tumor-Cell Assassin

For more than 2,000 years, maitake mushrooms have been part of the pharmacopeia in Japan.  Hidden within this enchanting fungus is a powerful army of therapeutic chemical weapons against cancer.

Maitake mushrooms (Grifola frondosa) grow in clusters on hardwood trees and are indigenous to the Northern Hemisphere. In Japanese, “maitake mushrooms” means “dancing mushrooms.” As legend has it, the name comes from how the ancients danced for joy when they found these extremely valuable mushrooms.
Research shows that the cancer-fighting chemicals in maitake mushrooms arrest the growth of tumors, cause them to shrink, and prevent them from spreading to other areas of the body. Maitake mushrooms al

so stimulate and boost the immune system by increasing the number and function of two important cells in the immune system—macrophages and T cells.
Most of the medicinal effects of this mushroom are thought to come from a special polysaccharide (a type of sugar). Found in what scientists call the “D fraction” in the maitake mushroom, the polysaccharide contains a substance called “beta-glucans,” which, research shows, stimulates the immune system.
Maitake mushrooms’ cancer-fighting effects go far beyond just boosting the immune system. This fungus can also kill tumor cells. In a laboratory study from Japan published in the journal Molecular Biology in 2002, liquid extracts of maitake mushrooms killed 95 percent of prostate cancer cells within twenty-four hours. In a human study, patients diagnosed as having stage 2, stage 3, or stage 4 breast cancer were given a combination of whole maitake powder and the “D fraction” of maitake mushrooms. Tumors shrank and symptoms improved in 68.8 percent of the patients. Researchers found that the mushrooms helped to shrink cancers of the liver and lung too.

Other Cancer-Fighting Mushrooms

Reishi mushrooms (Ganoderma lucidum), or the “mushroom of immortality,” have been used as a medicine in China, Japan, Korea, and other Asian countries for as long as the maitake. Over 400 different bioactive chemicals have been identified which are responsible for reishi’s extraordinary medicinal benefits. Some of those properties include empowering the immune system, dowsing inflammation, relieving pain, promoting sleep, protecting against diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and killing bacteria, viruses, and cancer cells.

Reishi mushrooms pack a particular punch against breast cancer using an arsenal of approaches. For example, they stimulate many cells in the immune system including B lymphocytes, T lymphocytes, dendritic cells, macrophages, and natural killer cells. They also can shut off new blood vessel growth to tumors, and suppress cell adhesion and migration. These qualities mean that reishi mushrooms not only inhibit the growth of tumors, but they may also reduce the ability of a tumor to invade into both surrounding and distant tissues. Researchers at UCLA found that an alcohol extract of reishi mushroom spores stopped the growth of breast cancer cells in a dose-dependent manner. That means that the higher the concentration of the reishi mushroom extract, the more breast cancer cells it can kill. Therefore, reishi mushrooms may be a valuable dietary supplement for women who already have breast cancer. These mushrooms can also improve the killing effects of chemotherapy and radiation while diminishing many of their side effects.

Researchers at Bastyr University published a study in Oncology Reports in February 2006, which found 3 different mushroom extracts—Coprinus comatus (CCE), Coprinellus sp. (CME), and Flammulina velutipes (FVE)—inhibited the growth and killed through apoptosis, both estrogen receptor positive and negative breast cancer cells. When these mushroom extracts were applied to MCF-7 breast cancer cells in a petri dish, CCE and CME reduced cell growth by 60 percent and FVE by 99 percent!

The most commonly eaten mushroom—button mushrooms—mount a good defense against breast cancer too. In a study published in December 2006 in the journal Cancer Research, researchers tested 10 different mushroom extracts for their ability to interfere with the aromatase enzyme, which is involved in the manufacturing of estrogen. Half of the mushrooms that were tested—Portobello, crimini, shiitake, white button, and baby button—inhibited the aromatase enzyme. Of these five, the common white button mushroom had the strongest effects. White button mushrooms (Agaricus bisporus) combat breast cancer in two additional ways: they strengthen the immune system, and directly stop tumor cells from growing and dividing. Researchers recommend 100 grams a day of white button mushrooms to help prevent tumor growth. Shiitake mushrooms (Lentinus edodes) are another delicious medicinal mushroom with strong anticancer properties. Research shows that women, who eat mushrooms regularly such as shiitake, have a lower risk of breast cancer.

If you don’t like the taste of mushrooms or can’t imagine eating them every day, you’ll be glad to know that eating them isn’t your only option for enjoying their benefits. In fact, the medicinal powers in supplements and extracts of mushrooms are usually much greater than what you can get by consuming them in your meals. For example, hundreds of studies document that an extract made from the mycelium (roots) of certain shiitake mushrooms, called “active hexose correlated compound” (AHCC), has greatly enhanced medicinal properties.

AHCC fights cancer in many different ways, including activating the cells in the immune system that help to destroy cancer cells, stopping tumors from growing and causing them to shrink, decreasing the risk of metastasis and recurrences, enhancing the effectiveness of chemotherapy while protecting against many of its harmful side effects, and improving survival. In fact, AHCC is prescribed in hospitals in Japan to cancer patients, because the survival statistics are significantly improved.

AHCC has been shown to be beneficial for not only cancers of the breast, but also of the prostate, colon, liver, stomach, thyroid, ovaries, testicles, tongue, kidney, and pancreas. The recommended dose for patients with cancer is three grams daily.

Exciting new research conducted at the University of Texas (UT) Health Sciences Center Medical School in Houston tested AHCC against the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) which is known to cause cervical cancer. Of note is that there are currently no effective Western medical treatments that eradicate the HPV virus. Researcher Dr. Judith A. Smith conducted a pilot study in which ten women with persistent HPV cervical infections were given AHCC. The primary objective of this study was to determine how long a person would need to take AHCC in order to eradicate the HPV infection. Patients were treated from five weeks up to six months. Preliminary results found a total of five patients who achieved a negative HPV test after 6 months of taking AHCC. The AHCC treatment was then stopped and four of these patients have remained clear of the HPV virus. Dr. Smith is now conducting a randomized placebo-controlled study on a larger group of women to see if AHCC is effective at eliminating the HPV virus after six months of treatment. The subjects will then be followed for an additional twelve months to see if they remain clear of the HPV virus.

Modern research has confirmed what the ancient Asian physicians knew: The healing power within medicinal mushrooms is so extraordinary, it truly is magical. I believe that taking a supplemental mushroom formula is an important aspect to maintaining good health. Whether you are currently in cancer treatment, or are simply interested in prevention, medicinal mushrooms can offer tremendous benefits. As with all supplements, mushroom formulas can vary in their quality. AHCC is the formula I personally take and recommend because it is backed by hundreds of studies. Before you purchase any nutritional supplement, it is always a good idea to first check the web site for Consumer Labs which conducts independent testing  ( ) to make sure you are getting one of high quality.

christinahornerBy Christine Horner, M.D.
Christine Horner, M.D. is a board certified and nationally recognized surgeon, author, expert in natural medicine, professional speaker and a relentless champion for women’s health. She is the author of Waking the Warrior Goddess: Dr. Christine Horner’s Program to Protect Against and Fight Breast Cancer, winner of the Independent Book Publishers Award 2006 for Best Book in Health, Medicine, and Nutrition.

Category: Nourish

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