Oriental Medicine, African Medicine, Indigenous American Medicine and Traditional Western Medicine have always made use of mushrooms to cure a variety of ailments. But only recently have we found that the ancients were on to something. Scientific studies now demonstrate that many a medicinal fungus is highly effective in treating a surprising range of diseases, from cancer to hepatitis and AIDS.
In animal studies, Grifola frondosa (hen of the woods) taken orally stopped tumour growth (J Naturopathic Med, 1993; 4: 10-5).
Injecting lentinan, a protein free polysaccharide of Lentinula edodes (shiitake mushroom), has been shown to kill breast cancer cells in humans and animals (Excerpta Medica, 1985; 690: 138-50).
In another animal study, sarcoma (connective tissue tumour) was inhibited by 95 per cent using a polysaccharide from Pleurotus ostreatus (oyster mushroom) (Chem Pharm Bull, 1972; 20: 1175-80).
'Krestin', comprising both PSK, a polysaccharide, and PSP, a polysaccharide peptide, from the fungus Coriolus versicolor is such a successful alternative cancer treatment that it is rated among the world's best selling cancer drugs (and among the world's best selling drugs overall).
In a large study of hundreds of postoperative stomach and colorectal cancer patients, those treated with alternating doses of Krestin plus a standard chemotherapy had a much higher survival rate than those given the orthodox drug alone or nothing at all (Gan To Kagaku Ryoho, 1986; 13: 308-18). In addition, the Krestin patients fared significantly better after seven years (Gan To Kagaku Ryoho, 1987; 14: 2758-66).
In patients with acute leukaemia given Krestin, immune function was significantly enhanced, remission rates were higher and survival times were longer compared with those who received chemotherapy alone (Tokai J Exp Clin Med, 1981; 6: 141-6).
In another study, Krestin also prevented the lowered resistance to infection usually experienced by cancer patients exposed to the chemotherapy drug fluorouracil (Cancer Chemother Pharmacol, 1987; 20: 198- 202). Another study showed better survival times among patients given Krestin plus fluorouracil than in those receiving chemotherapy alone (Gan To Kagaku Ryoho, 1989; 16: 2563-76).
A protein bound polysaccharide from Lentinula edodes mycelia (LEM) has demonstrated benefit in chronic hepatitis sufferers. LEM protects the liver, improves liver function and helps produce antibodies to hepatitis B (J Beijing Med University, 1987; 19: 93-5; Gastroenterol Jpn, 1987; 22: 459-64; Kantansui, 1987; 14: 327-35).
Bronchitis and bronchial asthma
Ganoderma lucidum (reishi mushroom) has a beneficial effect in bronchial conditions by inhibiting the release of histamine, responsible for the swelling in allergic reactions. In a study of 2000 patients with chronic bronchitis, 60-90 per cent given the mushroom improved significantly, with older patients benefitting most (Chang HM, But P-H, Pharmacology and Applications of Chinese Materia Medica, vol 1, Singapore: World Scientific, 1986, pp 214-5).
HIV and AIDS
Mushrooms have also been shown to help HIV/AIDS patients improve immune function. In one patient with a low T4-cell count and symptoms of AIDS given shiitake mushroom tea (LEM) to drink (6 g/day), his T4-cell count more than doubled after two months and his symptoms greatly improved. Also, in lab studies, LEM extract was shown to inhibit the production of HIV particles by infected T4 lymphocytes while boosting immune function [Shokin Kogyo Co Ltd, European patent application EP370,673 (CL.35/84) 30 May 1990].
If you wish to take mushrooms therapeutically, always work with a knowledgeable herbalist. With shii take mushrooms, for instance, large doses of more than ten times normal can lead to immune suppression.
Harald Gaier is a registered osteopath, naturopath and homoeopath.