Medicinal Mushrooms

Medicinal Mushrooms


Edible mushroom extracts, especially those used in Chinese and Japanese natural medicines (Cordyceps sinensis, Agaricus blazei, Grifola frondosa, Trametes versicolor and Ganoderma lucidum), are a rich source of naturally occuring polysaccharides; especially beta glucans. These polysaccharides in the aforementioned mushrooms can directly stimulate immune reactions by primarily modulating immune responsive cytokines such as IL-1, IL-2, IL-6 and INF-gamma.1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 This article will discuss the various health properties of these medicinal mushrooms.

Cordyceps sinensis

Endurance properties

In April of 1993, eight Chinese women runners broke 2:27 in the Tianjin (China) Marathon, by far the greatest on-nation showing ever for 26.2 miles. In August, Chinese women won every track distance event in the Stuttgart World Championships. They easily took first in the 1500, 1-2-3 in the 3000 and 1-2 in the 10,000. In September, Chinese women ran their most astonishing race yet, demolishing the world records for 1500, 3000 and 10,000 meters in their National Games in Beijing. Almost overnight, they became by far the greatest female distance runners the world has every seen.9

How did these Chinese runners achieve these incredible records—new and improved training techniques, dedication, etc? Certainly these were important factors, but there was one other vital factor: Cordyceps sinensis. The winning Chinese distance runners trained on a diet that included Cordyceps.10

Cordyceps history

Cordyceps is a mushroom found on the high plateaus of western China. Cordyceps’ Mandarin name, dong chong zia cao, literally means “winter bug, summer herb. This accurately describes the fact that the worm dies in the summer, and a mushroom grows on it. It was discovered 1,500 years ago when Tibetan herdsman found that their yaks were much livelier after eating this worm-mushroom from mountain pastures.11 Eventually, Cordyceps found its way into the hands of the Emperor’s physicians who considered it to have ginseng- like properties.12

Clinical trials

There are some clinical trials supporting the efficacy of cordyceps, particularly for liver, kidney, and immune problems. A number of studies indicate that cordyceps may have anti- cancer, anti-metastatic, immuno-enhancing, and antioxidant effects.13 14 15 16 17

Agaricus blazei


Agaricus blazei

Agaricus blazei ("Kawariharatake" in Japan, "Cogmelo de Deus" in Brazil) was first discovered in Florida, USA, in 1944. Its main natural habitat is the mountainous district of Piedade in Sao Paulo, Brazil. It was found that the rate of occurrence of adult diseases in the Piedade region is extremely low since people

took A. blazei as a part of their regular diet. The mushroom was brought to Japan in 1965. An artificial cultivation process was established in 1978, and since then this mushroom has been well evaluated in terms of biochemical and medicinal properties.18

Many animal studies and clinical experience have demonstrated that A. blazei shows antitumor activity, immunological enhancement, and also the fungus is effective for treatment of AIDS, diabetes, hypotension, and hepatitis. 19

Grifola frondosa


Grifola frondosa

Grifola frondosa, commonly known as maitake, is a mushroom which is famous for its taste and health benefits. It is also known as the “dancing mushroom”; since legend holds that those who found it began dancing with joy. 20

In any case maitake has been used historically as a tonic and adaptogen; that is a substance that invigorates/strengthens the system and helps it adapt to stress. Along with other “medicinal” mushrooms, such as shiitake and reishi, maitake is used as a food to help promote wellness and vitality.

An immunomodulator

Maitake contains complex polysaccharides which act as immunomodulators, helping to support immune system function. The polysaccharides present in maitake have a unique structure and are among the most powerful studied in test tubes to date.21 The primary polysaccharide, beta-D-glucan, is well absorbed when taken orally and is being studied as a potential tool for prevention and treatment of cancer and as an adjunctive treatment for HIV infection.22 23

Serum lipids

Animal studies suggest maitake may also lower serum cholesterol and triglyceride levels.24 25


Japanese scientists undertook an in vitro experiment to see what effect maitake had on the C3H10T1/2B2C1 cell. This cell is normal in most aspects, but it has the potential to balloon and turn into an adipocyte, a fat cell. The results of the experiment showed that maitake inhibits the

conversion of normal C3H10T1/2B2C1 cells into adipocytes.26 The question, of course, is will this inhibition process actually translate into beneficial results in overweight individuals. In a least one human study, this does seem to have been the case.

Thirty-two overweight subjects were given 10 grams of maitake powder for two months.

Without changing their diets, all subjects lost an average of 12 pounds.27

Trametes versicolor

The mushroom Trametes versicolor (also known as Coriolus versicolor), and its components, have been shown to affect the immune system of the host (i.e., an immunomodulator) and therefore some researchers have suggested it could be used to treat a variety of disease states.28

For example, in one cell line study a Trametes extract was considered to have promise as an adjuvant therapy in the treatment of hormone responsive prostate cancer; and to have chemopreventive potential to restrict prostate tumorigenic progression from the hormone- dependent to the hormone-refractory state.29

These results make sense when considering the fact that Trametes versicolor has the distinction of being the mushroom from which one of the world’s leading anticancer drugs is derived. The drug is called Krestin. Although Krestin has not been approved for use by the United States’ F.D.A, it was the best-selling anticancer drug in Japan for much of the 1980s, with sales toping

$500 million annually. Krestin was the first mushroom-derived anticancer drug to be approved by the Japanese government’s Healthy and Welfare Ministry, the equivalent of the

F.D.A. All healthcare plans in Japan cover members’ purchases of Krestin.30

In addition, Trametes versicolor has demonstrated activity against the pathogenic microorganism Plasmodium falciparum.31

Ganoderma lucidum


Ganoderma lucidumGanoderma lucidum, commonly know as reishi mushrooms, grow wild on decaying logs and tree stumps in the coastal provinces of China.32

Reishi has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for at least 2,000 years.33 The Chinese name ling zhi translates as the “herb of spiritual potency” and was highly prized as an elixir of immortality.34 Its Traditional Chinese Medicine indications include treatment of general fatigue and weakness, asthma, insomnia, and cough.35

Cardiovascular benefits

Reishi contains several major constituents which may lower blood pressure as well as decrease LDL cholesterol. These constituents also help reduce blood platelets from sticking together— an important factor in lowering the risk for coronary artery disease. Two controlled clinical trials have investigated the effects of reishi on high blood pressure in humans and both found it could lower blood pressure significantly compared to a placebo or controls.36 37 The people with hypertension in the second study had previously not responded to medications, though these were continued during the study.

Other benefits

Some human research has been reported that demonstrates some efficacy for the herb in treating altitude sickness and chronic hepatitis B. Nonetheless, these uses still need to be confirmed in well-designed human trials.38

Animal studies and some very preliminary trials in humans suggest reishi may have some beneficial action in people with diabetes mellitus and cancer.39

Another study found that the body weight of rats fed with soybean paste containing reishi were significantly lower than the control group whereas, there was no significant difference in body weight in groups of rats fed soybean paste with the mushrooms Phellinus linteus or Cordyceps militaris.40


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2 Chen YJ, Shiao MS, Lee SS, Wang SY. Effect of cordyceps sinensis on the proliferation of human leukemic U937 cells. Life Sci 1997; 60(25):2349-2359.

3 Ebina T, Fugimiya Y. Antitumor effect of a peptide- glucan preparation extracted from Agarius blazei in a double-grafted tumor system in mice. Biotherapy 1998; 11(4):259-265.

4 Hsieh, TC, Wu, JM. Cell growth and gene modulatory activities of Unzhi (Winds Wunxi) from mushroom Trametes versicolor in androgen-dependent and andro- insensitive human prostata cancer cells. Int J Oncol 2001; 18(1):81-88.

5 Kiho T, Ookubo K, Usui S, et al. Structural features and hypoglycemic activity of a polysaccharide (CS-F10) from the cultured mycelium of Coryceps sinesis. Biol Pharm Bull 1999; 22(9):966-970.

6 Mayell, M. Maitake extrcacts and their therapeutic potential. Altern Med Rev 2001; 6(1):48-60.

7 Wang YY, Khoo KH, Chen ST, et al. Studies on the immuno-modulating and antitumor activities of Ganoderma lucidum (Reishi) polysacharrides: functional and proteomic analyses of a fucose-containing glycoprotein fraction responsible for the activities. Bioorg Med Chem 2002; 10(4):1057-1062.

8 Wasser SP, Weiss AL. Therapeutic effects of substances ocurring in higher Basidomycetes mushrooms: a modern prespective. Crit Rev Immunol 1999; 19(1):65-96.

9 Halpern GM, Miller AH. Medicinal Mushrooms. New York: M. Evans & Company; 2002:59-74.

10 Halpern GM. Cordyceps: China’s Healing Mushroom. Garden City Park, New York: Avery Publishing; 1999:91- 98.

11 Halpern GM. Cordyceps: China’s Healing Mushroom.

Garden City Park, New York: Avery Publishing; 1999:7- 14.

12 Hobbs C. Medicinal Mushrooms: An exploration of

tradition, healing and culture. Santa Cruz, CA: Botanica Press; 1995.

13 Nakamura K, Yamaguchi Y, Kagota S, et al. Activation of in vivo Kupffer cell function by oral administration of Cordyceps sinensis in rats. Jpn J Pharmacol 1999; 79:505- 8.

14 Nakamura K, Yamaguchi Y, Kagota S, et al. Inhibitory effect of Cordyceps sinensis on spontaneous liver metastasis of Lewis lung carcinoma and B16 melanoma cells in syngenic mice. Jpn J Pharmacol 1999; 79:335-41. 15 Lui JL, Lui RY. Enhancement of cordyceps tail polysaccharide on cellular immunological function in vitro. Chin Pharm J China 2001; 36:738-41 [in Chinese].

16 Shin KH, Lim SS, Lee SH, et al. Antioxidant and immunostimulating activities of the fruiting bodies of aecilomyces japonica, a new type of Cordyceps sp. Ann

NY Acad Sci 2001; 928:261-73.

17 Yamaguchi Y, Kagota S, Nakamura K, et al. Antioxidant activity of the extracts from fruiting bodies of cultured Cordyceps sinensis. Phytother Res 2000; 14:647-9.

18 Mizuno T. Medicinal properties and clinical effects of culinary-medicinal mushroom Agaricus blazei Murrill (Agaricomycetideae). International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms 2002; 4(4):299-312.

19 Halpern GM, Miller AH. Medicinal Mushrooms. New York: M. Evans & Company; 2002:77-82.

20 Hobbs C. Medicinal Mushrooms: An exploration of tradition, healing and culture. Santa Cruz, CA: Botanica Press; 1995.

21 Nanba H, Hamaguchi AM, Kuroda H. The chemical structure of an antitumor polysaccharide in fruit bodies of Grifola frondosa (maitake). Chem Pharm Bull 1987; 35:1162-8.


22 Yamada Y, Nanba H, Kuroda H. Antitumor effect of orally administered extracts from fruit body of Grifola frondosa (maitake). Chemotherapy 1990; 38:790-6.

23 Nanba H. Immunostimulant activity in vivo and anti-HIV activity in vitro of 3 branched b-1–6-glucans extracted from maitake mushrooms (Grifola frondosa). VIII International Conference on AIDS, Amsterdam, 1992 [abstract].

24 Kubo K, Nanba H. Anti-hyperliposis effect of maitake fruit body (Grifola frondosa). I. Biol Pharm Bull 1997; 20:781-5.

25 Adachi K, Nanba H, Otsuka M, Kuroda H. Blood pressure lowering activity present in the fruit body of Grifola frondosa (maitake). Chem Pharm Bull 1988; 36:1000-6.

26 Nakai R, et al. Effects of maitake (Grifola frondosa) water extact on inhibition of adipocyte conversion of C3H10T1/2B2C1 cells. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol 1999; 45:385- 390.

27 Yokota M. Observatory trial of anti-obesity activity of maitake (Grifola frondosa). Anshin 1992; 7:202-4.

28 Wasser SP, Weiss AL. Therapeutic effects of substances ocurring in higher Basidomycetes mushrooms: a modern prespective. Crit Rev Immunol 1999; 19(1):65-96.

29 Hsieh TC, Wu JM. Cell growth and gene modulatory activities of Yunzhi (Windsor Wunxi) from mushroom Trametes versicolor in androgen-dependent and androgen- insensitive human prostate cancer cells. International journal of oncology 2001; 18(1):81-8.

30 Halpern GM, Miller AH. Medicinal Mushrooms. New York: M. Evans & Company; 2002.

31 Lovy A, Knowles B, Labbe R, Nolan L. Activity of edible mushrooms against the growth of human Tinf 4 leukemic cancer cells, HeLa cervical cancer cells, and Plasmodium falciparum. Journal of Herbs, Spices and Medicinal Plants 1999; 6(4):49-57.

32 Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Foods, Drugs, and Cosmetics, 2d ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons; 1996: 255–60.

33 Halpern GM, Miller AH. Medicinal Mushrooms. New York: M. Evans & Company; 2002:51-57.

34 Willard T. Reishi Mushroom: Herb of Spiritual Potency and Wonder. Issaquah, WA: Sylvan Press; 1990:11.

35 Halpern GM, Miller AH. Medicinal Mushrooms. New York: M. Evans & Company; 2002:51-57.

36 Kammatsuse K, Kajiware N, Hayashi K. Studies on Ganoderma lucidum: I. Efficacy against hypertension and side effects. Yakugaku Zasshi 1985;105:531–3.

37 Jin H, Zhang G, Cao X, et al. Treatment of hypertension

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38 Hobbs C. Medicinal Mushrooms: An exploration of tradition, healing and culture. Santa Cruz, CA: Botanica Press; 1995: 96-107.

39 Jones K. Reishi mushroom: Ancient medicine in modern times. Alt Compl Ther 1998; 4:256-66.

40 Yang BK, Park JB, Ha SO, et al. Hypolipidemic effect of extracts of soybean paste containing mycelia of mushrooms in hyperlipidemic rats. Korean Journal of Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology 2000; 28(4):228-232.

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