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How Functional Mushrooms Benefit Our Immune System

By Reishi Strauss, B. Sc. in Herbal Sciences

You may love mushrooms like we do or have heard about their incredible health benefits. In this blog, we want to draw attention to the scientific basis for how Functional Mushrooms can benefit our immune system.

Mushrooms are not plants but part of the Fungi Kingdom which also includes yeasts and molds. Fungi make up some of the most healing forces in nature. Whether through decomposing biomass in the soil to make nutrients and minerals bioavailable for plants or through various constituents that support human health, fungi are a profoundly healing and symbiotic force for both ecosystems and human beings alike. 

Mushrooms have been used for thousands of years in human society, perhaps starting with Traditional Chinese Medicine. Functional Mushrooms were written about in the Shennong_Ben_Cao_Jing during the 28th century BCE, one of the oldest and most reverential written texts of ancient Chinese Medicine (1). In ancient Egyptian cultures, the anti-bacterial compounds produced by mold-covered bread and grains were highly-regarded as treatments for infections. Today, one of modern medicine’s most essential antibiotics -- Penicillin --  derives from the fungi mold Penicillium. 

"When we eat functional mushrooms, we also consume those compounds that can help protect us from bacteria, harmful fungi, and microbes."

Just like humans, mushrooms are organisms that need to respond to the potential threats of their environment, such as bacteria, other fungi and microbes. In response,  they secrete potent anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-microbial compounds to defend themselves against their environments’ hazards. When we eat certain functional mushrooms, we also consume those compounds that can help protect us from bacteria, harmful fungi, and microbes. Each mushroom contains its own unique set of elements, but a few constituents are present in all species of functional mushrooms. Let’s dive into them!

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Beta-Glucans

Beta-Glucans are a type of carbohydrate found in all functional mushrooms that activate various cells in our immune system, such as macrophages, Natural Killer cells, T-cells, and other white blood cells (2). This immune system activation can help fight off pathogenic (bad) bacteria, microbes, and fungi in the human body. You can think of Functional Mushrooms as one of the way's Mother Nature helps our body and immune system function correctly. As a point of interest, there’s a higher amount and diversity of beta-glucans found in the fruiting bodies of mushrooms than in the mycelium (3), although both can benefit humans. 

"You can think of Functional Mushrooms as one of the way's Mother Nature helps our body and immune system function correctly." 

 One of the best-studied beta-glucans is called Lentinan, which is produced by the Shiitake Mushroom.  It mobilizes our immune system to increase the production of particular types of immune cells called helper T-cells and macrophages, which amplify immune system response, particularly against  viruses, and bacterial infections (4) (5). Even though each Functional Mushroom contains unique beta-glucans, they all function to restore and encourage optimal immune function. 

"It mobilizes our immune system to increase the production of particular types of immune cells called helper T-cells and macrophages, which amplify immune system response, particularly against viruses, and bacterial infections (4) (5)."

Terpenoids

Also shared with cannabis, terpenoids are fat-soluble chemical compounds with proven anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties. The amount and type of terpenoids present in various mushroom species can vary widely. In general, they are anti-inflammatory and immuno-modulating, meaning they can help calm an overactive immune system while not overly suppressing it from doing its job of protecting the body (3). This property is called immuno-modulation, which helps balance the body’s inflammatory response to ensure that white blood cells are still allowed to increase, but not to the extent of chronic inflammation.

"This property is called immuno-modulation, which helps balance the body’s inflammatory response to ensure that white blood cells are still allowed to increase, but not to the extent of chronic inflammation."

We are fortunate to have functional mushrooms’ power to bolster our immune response and protect our bodies against dangerous bacteria and harmful fungi. Through the constituents of beta-glucans and terpenoids these mushrooms help our immune system function properly to address potential threats from bacteria, molds and viruses. We recommend integrating functional mushrooms daily to help support a healthy immune response.  

If you have questions or comments, please follow us and comment in one of our platforms Instagram and Facebook

Stay Healthy!

P.S. For a great source of medicinal mushrooms, check out our Wisdom Mushroom Superfood Protein Powder and our Wisdom Immune Support Daily Supplement. Use the code BLOG0121 to save 20% on your order. 

 Bibliography

  1. Khalili, M. et al. (2014) Antihypoxic Activities of the Golden Chanterelle Mushroom, Cantharellus cibarius (Higher Basidiomycetes). International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms International. Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms, 16(4), 339-344.
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3762275/
  3. “‘The Pharmycopeia.’” Radical Mycology, by Peter McCoy, Spore Liberation Front, 2010, p. 175. 
  4. https://www.scirp.org/html/1-2701100_47339.htm
  5. https://virologyj.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1743-422X-9-37
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