Nutrition Notes

The Latest on Medicinal Mushrooms and Immune Health

Certain mushrooms, such as reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) and cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis), have been used for centuries to support many aspects of health. In recent research, they have been shown to support cellular function and a healthy inflammatory response. Two recently published review articles explored the biochemical role of medicinal fungi to support immune health and a healthy response to certain pathogens. 

A publication by Zhang and colleagues investigated the potential health-supportive role of reishi and cordyceps in the presence of certain viral pathogens. These mushrooms contain many bioactive constituents including polysaccharides, alkaloids, and proteins. Minerals found in mushrooms are also believed to play a potential health-supportive role. A study indicated that selenium, magnesium, and zinc found in certain medicinal fungi may support the body’s response to the influenza virus.

Certain constituents in cordyceps, including fatty acids, have been shown to help support a healthy inflammatory response in the presence of H1N1 through the modulation of immune signaling pathways, including toll-like receptor (TLR)-3. Cordyceps was also shown in a laboratory study to help modulate apoptosis in renal tubular epithelial cells in the presence of hepatitis B virus.

Reishi has been shown in laboratory studies to help attenuate the RNA replication of certain viruses. Terpenoids from G. lucidum have also been shown to help support the body’s response to Epstein-Barr virus during early antigen induction. 

Extracts from Grifolda frondosa have been shown to help modulate the production of certain cytokines including tumor necrosis factor-alpha. Polysaccharides from shiitake mushrooms (Lentinus edodes) may help support a healthy pulmonary inflammatory response in the presence of certain viral pathogens. 

A review article by Xu and colleagues explored the potential role of medicinal mushrooms in cellular health. The terpenoids and polysaccharides in G. lucidum, C. sinensis, and other medicinal fungi are believed to help support healthy cellular function through their ability to help modulate immune responses, apoptosis and autophagy, and cell proliferation. Apoptosis and autophagy are important cellular processes in the restoration of homeostasis. The triterpenes in G. lucidum have been shown in laboratory studies to help regulate matrix metalloproteinases. Polysaccharides from G. lucidum were shown to help regulate proteasomes and lysosomes. 

More research is needed in the clinical setting before conclusions can be made. However, recent research indicates that medicinal mushrooms, such as reishi, cordyceps, and shiitake, may help support immune function. They may also help support cellular homeostasis, healthy cell proliferation, and the body’s response to certain viral pathogens.

By Colleen Ambrose, ND, MAT