Mushrooms have been human's allies for a long time. Quite possibly since 18,700 years ago, when a Magdalenian (hunter-gather society) ceremonially buried a seemingly important individual, dubbed The Red Lady due to the blanket of lavish ochre dust (hematite) that coated the ancient artifacts. Two varieties of mushroom spores were found inside of her teeth -- agaric and bolete spores. It is thought the bolete was certainly eaten as subsistence, but it remains a speculation as to what the agaric mushroom could have been eaten for -- perhaps for entheogenic purposes. Besides, to many of us, all mushrooms are "magical" and many edible mushrooms coincide with medicinal benefits. There are a few reasons why somebody would ingest a mushroom.
About 2,000 mushroom species are considered edible, at least 200 or more are collected for food and medicine, and it is estimated there are over 130 mushrooms with medicinal qualities (Wasser 2017). These medicinal functions include anti-tumor, immune-modulation, anti-oxidant, anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-parasitic, anti-fungal, anti-diabetic, anti-obesity, anti-inflammatory, neuro-protection, neuro-regenerative, radical scavenging, cardiovascular, and cholesterol lowering benefits.
Primarily, medicinal mushrooms are sources of polysaccharides (including beta-glucans), and constituents including triterpenes, lectins, ergothioneine, trehalose, minerals, vitamins, indoles, statins, polyphenols, ergosterols, enzymes, and numerous alkaloids in both the fruiting bodies and mycelium.
Though many mycologists claim the mushroom exists solely for reproductive purposes, I believe there's more to it than this. % of medicine that exists in mushroom fruiting body vs. mycelium? WIth reishi it differs, with __ it differs, ... essentially there is most in the mushroom body though. Perhaps the mushrooms have a higher percentage of medicine because mushroom fruiting bodies are sometimes composed of multiple classes of hyphae?? (_, _, and _.).
In my experience of studying mycology as a holistic field -- one that isn't as much of an independent science as it is a perspective, a medicine, and a language -- I've experienced many openings and transformations in the way I view life, death, and this planet. Through experiences directly or tangibly related to fungi, and simply referred to as life. One of my most profound realizations is that as much as we humans enjoy and excel at making and taking medicine, one of the universal experiences is decay, which includes illness and death. As fungi are some of the most potent forms of medicine -- biological, ecological, spiritual, and cultural -- it is with respect that we remember the honesty of suffering in this world of change. All too often, the medicinal mushroom realm acts as just another antidote that will cure all of your problems.
Fungi are spreading their spores in our cultural awareness -- which is incredibly wonderful. Part of why I do what I do is to integrate the various themes of fungal language and wisdom into culture because I find them helpful, connective, and restoring. I do, though, believe that, as with almost anything, there are current waves of commercial commodification that have to do with the possibility of a new horizon -- an age where we don't get cancer, don't get wrinkly skin, and don't get sick. A new study to chase after. While I believe the study of fungi receives outlandishly little attention and funding, I find it important to. It is easy to get fixated in the mentality that soething is the answer, and that fungi will fill the void. As fungi are so intimately tied to realms above and below, to regeneration and degeneration. Participating in complex and foundational roles; they are in-betweeners of life and death. It is in this space of the unknown that we walk with the fungi. I do believe fungi have a lot to teach to us and many avenues of medicine to share. For instance, heart disease has reached epidemic levels as the most common cause of death worldwide.
Above all, the medicine of the fungi share to be filled with presence -- to be richly living our true beingness in each moment, for this is where the transformation is taking place. This is where we co-exist and fuse hyphae. As wonderfully medicinal as mushroom tinctures, teas, and antidotes may be, the greatest medicine lies inside of ourselves. And thank you, fungi, for helping guide us into this place of connectivity, with the world and with ourselves. We appreciate your help.
More than 650 species with polysaccharides show anti-tumor activity (Reshetnikov & Tan, 2001).
What hopes can medicinal mushrooms provide?
Mechanisms of Medicinal Mushrooms
Beta-glucans are the most studied immune-stimulating constituents, specifically the 1,3/1,6-β-glucans. Beta-glucans are a polysaccharide, and every medicinal mushrooms contain them to some extent since they are an integral component of the mushroom cell wall (along with protein and chitin). Polysaccharides are long sugar chains that basically release oxygen and make it available at the cellular level. Polysaccharides support our cells in responding to environmental stressors in places like our gut and immune system.
A variety of names have been assigned to beta-glucans from some of the most studied mushroom species including G1-1 in Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), Krestin (PSK) or PSP in Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor), Lentinan in Shiitake (Lentinula edodes), Befungin in Chaga (Inonotus obliquus), amd Grifolin or Grifron-D in Hen of the Woods (Grifola frondosa).
Beta-glucans induce anti-cancer activity through direct anti-tumor activity and prevention of angiogenesis; a fundamental step that takes tumors from benign to malignant. Yeasts (also fungi) also possess beta-glucan structures, but as different chain formations; single-helix polysaccharides instead of triple-helix polysaccharides. Other plants like barley, oats, and wheat also have slightly different beta-glucans known as linear polysaccharides. Cellulose, a primary component of plant cell walls, is a form of beta-glucan.
Chitin, glucan, and protein make up a mushroom cell wall. Fungi are the only organisms that combine chitin and glucans in their cell walls (both polysaccharides). Chitin is also found in the exoskeleton of arthropods and crustaceans, insect wings, a few bacteria, and octopus beaks (who once lived protected by shells of their own).
One of the leading drives of medicinal mushrooms is that they provide a possible alternate route to cancer treatment. The major complication of our existing cancer cures are the side effects caused by chemotherapy and radiation (Karagozlu, 2014). Cyto = cell and toxic = damage. Particularly, cytotoxic anticancer chemotherapeutic agents that are designed to stop the cancerous cells from dividing and multiplying. These cytotoxic drugs reach almost all of the cells in the body and also end up killing healthy cells -- particularly cells that are renewable like cells in hair, nails, mouth, bone marrow, mucous membranes, digestive tract, and reproductive system. Common side effects include nausea, fatigue, infection, anemia, fertility problems, bone loss, neuropathy, a weakened immune system, and "chemo brain" which affects focus. Other severe and long-lasting side effects can even include heart damage, lung damage, and kidney failure. While cytotoxic drugs have potentially lethal toxicity, medicinal mushrooms provide constituents like chitin and triterpenes that provide anti-cancer and anti-tumor remedies without the harmful side effects. Chitin and its derivatives are "excellent" candidates for cancer cure or diagnosis that are highly effective, biodegradable, and biocompatible (Karagozlu, 2014). Chitin also activates innate immune cells and cytokine and chemokine production (Lee et al. 2008).
Coenzyme Q9 (COQ9)- Ubiquinone-9
*This information is for educational purposes only. It is not meant to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent medical conditions. Please consult with a physician or other healthcare professional regarding any medical or health-related diagnosis or treatment options, especially for those who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or already taking medications.
Karagozlu MZ, Kim SK. Anticancer effects of chitin and chitosan derivatives. Adv Food Nutr Res. 2014;72:215-225. doi:10.1016/B978-0-12-800269-8.00012-9
Lee, C.G., C.A., Da Silva, J.Y. Lee, D. Hartl, J.A. Elias. 2008. Chitin regulation of immune responses: An old molecule with new roles. Current Opinion in Immunology 20(6): 684-689.
Reshetnikov, S.V., K.K. Tan. 2001. Higher basidiomycota as a source of antitumor and immune-stimulating polysaccharides (review). International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms 3(4):361-394.
Wasser, Solomon. 2017. Medicinal mushrooms in human clinical studies. Part 1. Anticancer, oncoimmunological, and immunomodulatory activities: a review. International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms 19(4): page 280.