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Mushroom Polysaccharides, the immune system and cancer

In western physiology, the immune system guards the body against bacteria, viruses, fungi and toxins and any abnormal cells or any abnormal changes in the cells. Research suggests that serious illness may occur when these abnormal cells escape the immune defense.

Clinical and animal studies suggest medicinal mushrooms may be able to alter the immune response. Compounds in medicinal mushrooms most responsible for up-regulating the immune response, are a diverse class of polysaccharides compounds. According to a 2000 review from Harvard Medical School, “polysaccharide immunomodulators were first discovered over 40 years ago. Although very few have been rigorously studied, recent reports have revealed the mechanism of action and structure-function attributes of some of these molecules. Certain polysaccharide immunomodulators have been identified that have profound effects in the regulation of immune response.”

The potential anticancer effects of medicinal mushrooms are linked to the immune response. Examining the mushroom polysaccharide known as PSK and PSP, the review stated, “the antitumor activity has been evaluated in Japan for prevention of esophageal, gastric, and lung cancer in humans with promising results. In phase II and phase III trials in China, PSP significantly enhanced immune status in 70 to 97% of patients with cancers of the stomach, esophagus, lung, ovary, and cervix. In these studies, PSK and PSP increased the number of immune cells and facilitated dendritic and cytotoxic T-cell infiltration of tumors. The polysaccharides were well-tolerated and compatible with chemotherapy and radiation therapy.”



Refereance on other potential effects and benefits including:

  •     Effects on blood sugar, cholesterol
  •     Research has shown that some medicinal mushrooms may have potential to lower elevated blood sugar levels and some mushrooms have been shown to be able to have an inhibitory effect on cholesterol levels.
  •     In vitro antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and antimicrobial activities
  •     Fungi produce various antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and antimicrobial compounds to survive in the wild against competing or pathogenic organisms. These compounds are produced because fungi lack immune systems which protect animals, and lack thick cellulose cell walls which protect plants. The famous antibiotic penicillin and the antifungal drug griseofulvin are both produced from the fungus.
  •     In vitro anti-hormone activity
  •     Mushrooms may be able to influence the production of certain human hormones, based on evidence from enzyme assay analysis.
  •     Antioxidant activity
  •     Mushrooms are known to contain various types of antioxidant compounds.
  •     Epidemiological research
  •     Research in Japan found enokitake mushroom producers had lower cancer rates than the rest of the population. A case-control study published by the International Journal of Cancer in 2009, compared the diets of 1009 women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer with 1009 healthy women. Compared to nonconsumers of mushrooms, women who consumed at least 10 grams of fresh mushrooms per day had a breast cancer risk of only 36%. The risk for those who consumed at least 4 grams of dried mushrooms per day was 53%. A similar case-control study involving 362 women with breast cancer also found a strong association between mushroom consumption and decreased risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal, but not premenopausal, women.

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