Hanging with Fungi Increases Your Odds of Survival
We’re more closely related to fungi than we are to any other kingdom. We share the same pathogens, meaning bacteria and viruses. As a defense against bacterial invasion, fungi have developed strong antibiotics, which also happen to be effective for us humans. Penicillin, streptomycin, and tetracycline all come from fungal extracts.
The predominant mushrooms displaying antiviral activities are the polypores, sometimes called bracket fungi or woody conks, tough and fibrous fungi characterized by many tiny holes on the underside of their caps. Polypores have been dubbed the “frontier” of new medicines and are thought to be the ancestors to most of the gilled mushrooms. Interestingly, there are no known poisonous polypores, whereas there are more than one hundred poisonous gilled mushrooms.
Paul Stamets recently discovered that a very rare polypore called Agaricon is effective against the poxviruses—including smallpox. This has the Department of Defense very interested, as smallpox is one of the most feared bioterrorism agents. Agaricon was also found to be effective against flu viruses.
History tells us that living in cooperation with fungi will increase our odds of survival. After major extinction events, it was the fungi that thrived because they didn’t need light and lived on dead organic matter. Organisms pairing with fungi flourished, and those that didn’t fared poorly.
Many of the mushrooms valued for strong medicinal properties grow on trees, as opposed to the ground dwellers you’ve likely seen.
These tree fungi concentrate the unique elements that the host tree has absorbed over its lifetime, which may be ten or twenty or even HUNDREDS of years. Many of these mushroom species are long-term residents of Old Growth Forests and play an essential role in nutrient recycling by decomposing old trees. The mushroom wraps itself around these special nutrients, capturing them in the fruiting body of the organism and turning it into a little medicinal powerhouse. Maybe it’s time for us to embrace the mushroom and harness it’s medicine the way the Asians have done for thousands of years.
Blends of Mushrooms are More Effective Than any One Mushroom Alone
It is therapeutically best to utilize a blend of several mushroom species, because “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” For one thing, it is easier for pathogens in your body to adapt and become resistant to one mushroom than to several. Secondly, each mushroom species has a unique arsenal of anti-infective and immunomodulating agents.
These special agents include:
- Ergosterols (steroid-like compounds that create vitamin D in sunlight)
You might have heard the term “beta glucans.” The agents listed above are precursors to the more complex compounds, beta glucans. It is the synergism between ALL of these elements that makes mushrooms so medicinally powerful when consumed as a whole food—mycelium included.
Because mushrooms have such powerful immune-boosting effects, it isn’t surprising that some have great potential for battling cancer. Mushrooms with anti-tumor activity appear to increase the number and activity of killer T and natural killer (NK) lymphocytes, with no toxicity to healthy cells. Cancer cells are notorious for “hiding” from chemo agents. New research has shown that certain mushroom extracts help chemotherapy drugs better locate and identify cancer cells by “uncloaking them,” thereby making chemo more effective.
This is getting some open-minded oncologists very excited! Medicinal mushrooms also strengthen your immune system if you are undergoing chemo, so cancer patients get a double benefit. The list of health benefits science is revealing to us about mushrooms is still growing, but thus far includes the following:
||Improved blood flow
||Cholesterol and blood sugar normalization
|Liver protection, including protection from adverse effects of alcohol consumption
||Antiviral (including HIV), antibacterial, and antifungal properties
|Destruction of cancer cells; improved outcomes for people receiving chemo and radiation
||Improved respiratory illnesses, including asthma
||Reduced risk for heart disease, decreased platelet aggregation and improved blood flow
|Nerve regeneration (Lion’s Mane mushroom)
||Improved skin and hair
||Increased sexual function and athletic ability
It’s important to eat ONLY organically grown mushrooms. Remember, what makes mushrooms so potent is that they absorb and concentrate whatever they grow in—good OR bad. Mushrooms are known to concentrate heavy metals, and air and water pollutants.
Now that you have the overview, let’s take a look at a few of my favorite health-enhancing mushroom species. We’ll start with a delicious little mushroom you have probably seen on your dinner plate or at your local market—the shiitake.