Most medicinal mushrooms contain large, sugar-based molecules called polysaccharides that have demonstrated positive effects on components of the immune system and the ability to stand up to cancer cells—in test tube studies at least. More recently, preliminary research in people suggests that extracts from some of these fungi may also strengthen and balance immune response and may work alongside conventional chemotherapy drugs, in experimental protocols, to better attack a wide variety of cancers. Exciting news in the ongoing quest to find more effective cancer treatments.
In one review of five well-designed human studies, researchers concluded that adding a reishi extract to chemotherapy or radiation therapy improved effectiveness by 27 percent. Studies of a Japanese maitake extract suggesting it also helps, though cancer experts say more research is needed. A turkey tail extract called PSK, along with other treatments, seems to have helped people with cancers of the oesophagus, stomach, colon or breast to survive longer. And a polysaccharide from the shiitake mushroom, called lentinan, also seemed to improve quality of life and survival in people undergoing treatment for cancers of the colon, stomach and pancreas.
In an article entitled: “Edible Mushrooms: Improving Human Health and Promoting Quality Life” by Maria Elena Valverde, Talia Hernández-Pérez and Octavio Paredes-López, published online in the International Journal of Microbiology, the authors have created an exhaustively researched treatise on the enormous potential and value of medicinal mushrooms to human health: “A large variety of mushrooms have been utilized traditionally in many different cultures for the maintenance of health, as well as in the prevention and treatment of diseases through their immunomodulatory and antineoplastic properties. In the last decade, the interest for pharmaceutical potential of mushrooms has been increased rapidly, and it has been suggested that many mushrooms are like mini-pharmaceutical factories producing compounds with miraculous biological properties. In addition, the expanded knowledge of the molecular basis of tumorigenesis and metastasis has given the opportunity for discovering new drugs against abnormal molecular and biochemical signals leading to cancer.
“More than 100 medicinal functions are produced by mushrooms and fungi and the key medicinal uses are antioxidant, anticancer, antidiabetic, antiallergic, immunomodulating, cardiovascular protector, anticholesterolemic, antiviral, antibacterial, antiparasitic, antifungal, detoxification, and hepatoprotective effects; they also protect against tumor development and inflammatory processes.” 1