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Cancer-Fighting Mushrooms

Mushrooms are more than a delicious addition to a salad or casserole; they contain protein, fiber, B vitamins, vitamin C, and calcium, as well as some unique compounds offering several substantial health benefits. Of the roughly 38,000 species of mushrooms known, three kinds have demonstrated phenomenal healing potential: Ganoderma lucidum (reishi), Trametes versicolor, or Coriolus versicolor (turkey tail), Lentinus edodes (shiitake), and Grifola frondosa (maitake). 

These medicinal mushrooms may lower the risk of cancer, boost immunity, protect the heart, ward off viral and bacterial infections, reduce inflammation, combat allergies, and support the body’s ability to detoxify. In Japan, doctors have long used maitake to lower blood pressure and blood lipids, two key risk factors in cardiovascular disease. Today, medicinal mushrooms treat lung diseases and cancer. For more than 30 years, medicinal mushrooms work with standard cancer treatments in Japan and China. In these countries, mushrooms have been used safely for a long time, either alone or combined with radiation or chemotherapy.


Animal studies have shown that a particular molecule called X-fraction found in maitake may reduce insulin resistance, potentially helping people with non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM). Maitake has also demonstrated effectiveness against leukemia and stomach and bone cancers. Some studies found that cancer patients who took maitake experienced relief from chemotherapy side effects like loss of appetite, vomiting, nausea, and low white blood cell counts. You can find maitake d-fraction in powdered extracts and liquid tinctures. Shiitake mushrooms may help the body combat heart disease, cancer, and viruses. 


One Japanese study identified a specific amino acid in shiitake that helps speed up cholesterol processing in the liver. Like maitake, shiitake also appears to fight cancer. A polysaccharide called lentinan, isolated from shiitake, causes tumors to shrink in animal studies. A meta-analysis of 12 studies published in Nov 2015 in the Indian Journal of Cancer found that injecting patients with non-small cell lung cancer combined with chemotherapy resulted in a decrease in chemotherapy-related toxicity and side effects. Shiitake mushrooms have a very appealing flavor and make a great alternative to meat. 

Turkey Tail and PSK

Turkey tail is a type of mushroom that grows on dead logs worldwide. It’s named turkey tail because of its rings of brown and tan look like the turkey’s tail feathers. Turkey tail is used in Japan to strengthen the immune system during cancer treatment. The most studied compound in turkey tail is polysaccharide K, also called PSK. PSK is approved to be used to treat cancer and comes in tea or capsule form. A Japanese four-year clinical trial followed 751 patients who had gastric cancer surgery and chemotherapy with or without PSK. On average, the patients who received chemotherapy and PSK lived longer than those who received chemotherapy alone. The researchers also suggested that changes in certain white blood cells could be a predictor of PSK’s effectiveness in patients. Other studies have found that colorectal and lung cancer patients who received chemotherapy and PSK were less likely to have a recurrence and lived longer than those who did not. In a clinical trial sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a product made with turkey tail was given to a small group of patients with breast cancer following radiation therapy. Researchers found there an increase in natural killer cells and other cancer-fighting cells in the immune system. 


Reishi is a mushroom that grows on live trees and has been used in China for a long time to strengthen cancer patients’ immune systems who receive chemotherapy and radiation. Reishi is usually dried and taken as an extract in a liquid, capsule, or powder form. The active plant chemicals found in reishi are triterpenoids and polysaccharides. Reishi enhanced immunity in advanced stage lung cancer patients. Japanese researchers gave patients an extract of reishi. At 12 months, a follow-up colonoscopy showed the number, and the size of the tumors decreased in the group that received reishi, but not in the group that did not receive reishi. The researchers suggest that MAK may help stop benign colorectal tumors.

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