The Marvels of Medicinal Mushrooms

By Teresa Garden, DVM

Many cultures throughout the world have known and revered mushrooms for their medicinal powers for hundreds of years. Modern research can now explain what the ancient healers already knew through practical experience. Studies indicate medicinal mushrooms contain polysaccharides (beta glucans), lysozymes, and triterpenes, which have antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-tumor properties. Mushrooms can stimulate the immune system and assist in healing liver, heart, and kidney tissue. Medicinal mushrooms are Qi (life energy) tonics and can support the body in the treatment of edema, diarrhea, urinary tract infections, prostate problems, kidney disease, and inflammation. The most common use of these mushrooms may be for cancer. Clinical trials in Japan showed mushrooms not only inhibited tumor growth and regeneration but also minimized side-effects from chemotherapeutic drugs. Beta glucans, one of the active constituents of medicinal mushrooms, were shown to stimulate macrophages and T-lymphocytes. Whole mushroom extracts contain compounds that modulate carcinogenesis at different stages. A few of the more popular medicinal mushrooms are Reishi, Shitake, and Maitake.

Reishi Mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum) is known as “the herb of immortality”. Animal studies have confirmed numerous pharmacological activities and effects of this mushroom upon the body. Polysaccharides contained in Reishi demonstrated anti-tumor and immunostimulating activity. Polysaccharides stimulate macrophages to produce more tumor necrosis factor(TNF-alpha) and a number of interleukins. Reishi’s polysaccharides were shown to increase RNA and DNA synthesis in bone marrow. The Japanese government officially listed Reishi as an adjunct herb for cancer years ago.

Reishi contains more germanium than any other plant or mushroom. Germanium increases oxygen utilization of the blood. This can help with heart disease and altitude sickness. Lysozymes in Reishi are antibacterial against Staph, Strep, and Bacillus pneumoniae bacteria. Triterpenes in Reishi can help with allergies by inhibiting histamine release. Triterpenes also have antioxidant activity and protect the liver. Other healing effects of Reishi are: enhances bone marrow proliferation, regenerates bronchial epithelium, increases white blood cells, protects against ionizing radiation, and provides analgesia and muscle relaxation.

Shitake Mushroom (Lentinula edodes) is considered an “elixir of life” in Japan. Polysaccharides extracted from the fruiting bodies of this mushroom showed anti-tumor and immunostimulating activities by increasing phagocytic activity of the peritoneal macrophages. One of the polysaccharides contain a peptide complex (KS-2) which strongly inhibited tumor growth in animals when given orally. Powdered Shitake taken orally inhibited the growth of sarcoma 180 and mon-46 tumor by 40%. If fed to animals after tumor implantation, the tumor inhibition rate increased by 54%. Powdered whole shitake fruiting bodies given orally to animals with tumors improved macrophage phagocytosis which plays a role in tumor-inhibiting activity. Lentinan, another component of Shitake, produces an anti-tumor effect by activating natural killer cells which cause tumor suppression.

Shitake contains 30 enzymes, 10 aminoacids, and are high in many minerals. Recent studies show Shitake mushrooms can lower blood pressure, decrease cholesterol, prevent heart disease, and fight cancer. The Japanese believe Shitakes can enhance vital energy and cure colds. This mushroom has been shown to stimulate white blood cells, antibodies, and interferon.

Maitake Mushroom (Grifola frondosa) is known as the “dancing mushroom” in Japan and the “chicken of the woods” in the West. In animal studies, powdered Maitake was shown to enhance the activities of macrophages, natural killer cells, and cytotoxic T-cells, inducing an 86% tumor growth inhibition. Their polysaccharides have both anti-tumor and immune-enhancing effects in animals. One component, b-1,6-glucan, was shown to stimulate interleukin which may be responsible for its anti-tumor action. The fruiting bodies of Maitake contain a polysaccharide called D-Fraction. D-Fractions demonstrated efficacy in inhibiting tumor growth and restoring immune functions that had been suppressed due to growing cancers. Other health benefits of Maitske include: lowering blood pressure, decreasing cholesterol, protecting liver tissue, and decreasing blood glucose.

Medicinal mushrooms are powerful healers that can help with many diseases afflicting dogs, cats, and people. Combining two or more of these mushrooms together results in synergistic activity. Medicinal mushrooms are safe and without contraindications for use. No interactions with drugs have been reported. At Animal Health & Healing, we employ these mushrooms first and foremost to treat our cancer patients. Other patients that can benefit from their use are those with liver disease, cardiac problems, geriatrics with weakness and muscle atrophy, cats with Feleuk, FIV, or chronic URI, and weak puppies and kittens with severe parasitism. These are but a few of the marvelous healing benefits of medicinal mushrooms.

Dr. Teresa Garden is chief veterinarian/ owner of Animal Health & Healing, a full-service holistic and conventional veterinary practice in the Maplewood/Richmond Heights area. phone: 314-781-1738. AnimalHealthandHealing.com.