I have always liked mushrooms as a food choice. Not until the last several years have I appreciated them for their medicinal value. In fact, I find that I am using them more and more in my practice.
Mushrooms can grow just about anywhere there is moisture and are considered the great recyclers of the planet. They take in toxins from wood, soil, dead organisms and even cow dung and return important nutrients back to the earth. Knowing what their role is, it is no surprise that they have therapeutic benefit to us.
Medicinal mushrooms have been used for thousands of years in Asia. Now they are finding a place here in America. I would like to give a few examples of those I use most often. But first, let me explain a little about why they need to be prepared properly.
Mushrooms have cell walls that are made up of a substance called chitin, something that we humans are unable to digest. Chitin contains the substances of medicinal value. So before we can utilize mushrooms, the chitin needs to be broken down and extracted. In medicine the medicinal substances are put into a form that is a concentrated and bio-available -- usually, a capsule. To get the substances from food, the mushrooms need to be cooked.
Here are my favorite mushrooms:
Rich in B vitamins and amino acids, these mushrooms have an immune-boosting effect on cancer fighting cells and also have anti-inflammatory action. They help to decrease nausea after chemotherapy.
This is a mushroom that develops inside insect larvae. It kills and mummifies them and then pops out of the ground as a fruiting body. It is known as a tonic and is good for increasing energy. It also is an immune booster with anti-cancer properties. It may lower cholesterol (although I have not seen this in my patients taking it) and may increase libido. I recommend it for the 3 pm fade that happens to many of us on a regular basis.
This is a very cool mushroom. First, it has an awesome appearance. As its name implies, it looks just like a lion’s mane. It contains 20 percent protein and when prepared properly it tastes like lobster. What it does is even cooler. It aids in the regeneration of nerves, can boost memory and helps post-menopausal women to feel good, with reduced anxiety and depression and improved concentration. I prescribe it for people with back or nerve injuries and those with memory issues, and of course for postmenopausal women.
Used as chemotherapy in Japan, turkey tail mushrooms have been found to augment the treatment of breast cancer (chemotherapy and radiation therapy) by boosting cancer killer cells. Researchers believe that it also helps prevent cancers that are connected to viruses such as cervical cancer (caused by HPV) and liver cancer (caused by hepatitis C).
Mushrooms are amazing. The more I read and watch as I use them in my practice the more impressed I become. It is nice to know that there are foods available that work to augment the therapies that we have and that may be used as stand-alone treatments in the future.
But the most important thing to remember when using mushroom products is that they can accumulate heavy metals from air and soil pollution. These have been found in products coming from Asia. So it’s important to find mushrooms that are certified organic. I recommend the Host Defense brand from Fungi Perfecti to my patients. The one I take almost every day is a blend of 17 mushrooms called MyCommunity.