MEDICINAL MUSHROOMS AND AUTOIMMUNITY
Medicinal mushrooms have been used for centuries in traditional medicine, particularly in Asian cultures like Chinese and Japanese. They are valued for their potential health benefits, which are primarily attributed to their bioactive compounds. These fungi have gained significant attention in modern times for their various health-promoting properties.
Medicinal mushrooms have been recently discussed for their potential to modulate the immune system, which is very important in the context of autoimmune conditions. Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system attacks the body’s own tissues, leading to inflammation and damage. Common autoimmune conditions are Psoriasis, Multiple Sclerosis, IBD, Rheumatoid arthritis, and Vitiligo.
Mushrooms come in different formats, such as extracts, powders or capsules, and can be found as single mushroom or as a combination of two or more. Selecting the right mushroom and dosage is key to support the body’s natural healing process and avoid side effects.
PROPERTIES OF MEDICINAL MUSHROOMS
While medicinal mushrooms cannot cure autoimmune diseases, some of them may help in managing symptoms and supporting immune system balance. Here’s how they can potentially assist with autoimmune conditions:
- Immunomodulation: Many medicinal mushrooms are believed to possess immunomodulatory properties. They can help regulate the immune response by promoting balance between different immune cells. In autoimmune diseases, this balance is disrupted, and mushrooms may assist in restoring it.
- Anti-Inflammatory Effects: Chronic inflammation is a hallmark of autoimmune diseases. Certain medicinal mushrooms contain compounds that have anti-inflammatory properties. By reducing inflammation, they may alleviate some symptoms associated with autoimmune conditions.
- Enhanced Immune Surveillance: Some mushrooms contain polysaccharides like PSK and PSP that have been studied for their potential to enhance immune surveillance. This could help the immune system better identify and target abnormal cells or pathogens associated with autoimmune diseases.
- Stress Adaptation: Lion’s mane and other adaptogenic mushrooms can help the body adapt to stress. Stress is known to exacerbate autoimmune symptoms, and by reducing stress levels, these mushrooms may indirectly support individuals with autoimmune conditions.
- Antioxidant Protection: Medicinal mushrooms are often rich in antioxidants, which can help protect cells from oxidative stress. In autoimmune diseases, oxidative stress can contribute to tissue damage. Antioxidant-rich mushrooms like reishi and shiitake may help mitigate this damage.
- Improved Gut Health: The gut plays a crucial role in the immune system’s function, as around 80% of the immune cells are found there. Some mushrooms have been associated with improved gut health, potentially supporting individuals with autoimmune disorders
WHICH MEDICINAL MUSHROOMS ARE BEST?
When considering medicinal mushrooms, some of them seem to be more appropriate for individuals that suffer from autoimmune conditions, while others should be avoided.
The most common medicinal mushrooms that could potentially be used for autoimmune conditions are:
Reishi Mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum): Known as the “Mushroom of Immortality,” Reishi is known for its immunomodulatory effects. It can help regulate the immune system thanks to bioactive compounds such as beta-glucans and triterpenes, potentially calming an overactive immune response seen in autoimmune disease. When the immune system is overactive and mistakenly attacks the body’s own tissues, reishi’s immunomodulatory properties may help bring about a more balanced immune response. It contains antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds that may help reduce inflammation, which is a common feature of autoimmune conditions. Reishi is also considered an adaptogen, which means that supports the body in adapting and managing stress.
Lion’s Mane Mushroom (Hericium erinaceus): Lion’s mane mushroom is a unique medicinal mushroom known for its specific health benefits, particularly for the nervous system and cognitive function.
While it doesn’t directly target autoimmunity, its effects on overall health may indirectly support individuals with autoimmune conditions. It contains compounds known as hericenones and erinacines, which may stimulate the production of nerve growth factor (NGF). NGF plays a role in the growth, maintenance, and repair of nerve cells. This property may be relevant to individuals with autoimmune conditions that affect the nervous system, such as multiple sclerosis.
Shiitake Mushroom (Lentinula edodes): It is a very popular mushrooms that can be commonly found in most supermarkets. Shiitake mushrooms contain a compound called lentinan, which has been studied for its immune-enhancing properties. Lentinan may stimulate the production of white blood cells and other immune components, potentially helping to boost immune system function. In autoimmune conditions, immune system balance is crucial. While the immune system is overactive in autoimmunity, it may still benefit from support to function optimally and protect against infections. Shiitake mushrooms contain also other bioactive compounds, including beta-glucans and ergosterol, which have anti-inflammatory properties.
Shiitake mushrooms are a good source of essential nutrients such as vitamins (e.g., vitamin D and B vitamins) and minerals (e.g., selenium and zinc), which are important for overall health and immune function. Vitamin D, in particular, plays a role in immune regulation, and its deficiency has been associated with certain autoimmune conditions. Note that even if mushrooms contain vitamin D, its levels can vary depending on how they are grown and prepared.
WHICH MUSHROOMS WE SHOULD AVOID?
Some medicinal mushrooms have the potential to overstimulate the immune system, which is something that we definitely want to avoid in an autoimmune condition. Cordyceps and Chaga are the ones that I currently do not recommend if you suffer from an autoimmune condition.
Please note that as research is constantly exploring the effects of medicinal mushrooms on health, the information in this article might be updated over time.
It’s important to note that the effects of medicinal mushrooms on autoimmune conditions can vary from person to person. Different autoimmune conditions present with different mechanisms and each person have a unique set of symptoms and health history. While they are promising as complementary therapies, they should not replace conventional treatments prescribed by a healthcare professional. Always consult with your doctor or nutritionist before incorporating medicinal mushrooms into your treatment plan, especially if you have an autoimmune condition, as interactions with medications or other treatments can occur.
Bhardwaj et al. (2014). Suppression of inflammatory and allergic responses by pharmacologically potent fungus Ganoderma lucidum. Recent patents on inflammation and allergy drug discovery, 8(2), DOI: 10.2174/1872213×08666140619110657.
Diling et al. (2017). Extracts from Hericium erinaceus relieve inflammatory bowel disease by regulating immunity and gut microbiota. Oncotarget, 8 (49), doi: 10.18632/oncotarget.20689.
Zhao et al. (2020). Immunomodulatory Effects of Edible and Medicinal Mushrooms and Their Bioactive Immunoregulatory Products. Journal of fungi, 6 (4), doi: 10.3390/jof6040269.