The Power of Medicinal Mushrooms

Whether you love them or hate them, mushrooms have been a part of the human diet for thousands of years. They add "flair" to just about any meal and are one of the few non-animal sources of vitamin D.

Mushrooms have a long and colorful history. Their versatile properties have been the source of their involvement in drug abuse, folk tales and religious rituals. 1

Lesser known, of course, are their medicinal uses. Let's explore them.

Reishi Mushrooms

While some mushrooms can be toxic, others are life-promoting. Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), known as the mushroom of immortality, has traditionally been used as an immune booster.2

Known as lingzhi in China, this beneficial fungus has also been used in asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), sleep disorders, hepatitis, hypertension, diabetes and cancer.3

There are 4,326 Chinese publications on the subject. Investigators have discovered that Reishi enhances the protective activity of immune cells and exerts benefits on other cells.4,5

Reishi-derived polysaccharide ( a carbohydrate) has been demonstrated to increase the activity of white blood cells known as neutrophils, which help to fight off infections.6 Reishi also has antioxidant properties.

In an experiment with young and old mice, glutathione levels and the activity of superoxide dismutase and catalase (antioxidant enzymes) increased, while a marker of oxidative stress (malondialdehyde in this case) decreased in aged mice.7

Maitake and Shiitake Mushrooms

Maitake (Grifola frondosa) has been used for centuries in Japan as a longevity tonic. Maitake contains glucans, beneficial immune-boosting compounds.

Shiitake is another Japanese mushroom with immune system benefits. Shiitake is one of the best food sources of zinc, which plays an important role in the immune system.

Shiitake are the source of active hexose correlated compound (AHCC), a compound available in supplement-form that has been shown to fight cancer.8

Cordyceps Sinensis

Another prized medicinal mushroom is Cordyceps sinensis. While traditionally used as a tonic, Cordyceps sinensis is currently being investigated for respiratory, kidney, liver, cardiovascular, immune and nervous system effects as well as for its potential benefits in combatting cancer and inflammation.9

Experimental research has found that the mushroom increases levels of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the body's energy molecule.10 In a human study, Cordyceps sinensis improved exercise performance compared to a placebo in healthy older adults.11

How to Find Medicinal Mushrooms 

While button, Roma and Portobello mushrooms can be bought in major supermarkets, medicinal mushrooms are harder to find. However, encapsulated powders and liquid extracts are available for the more popular varieties that target various conditions.

Since seeking out specific mushrooms in the wild can sometimes result in misidentification, it is safer to source them from a reputable supplier.


  1. The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross. New York: 1970. Print. 
  2. Curr Pharm Biotechnol. 2009 Dec;10(8):717-42. 
  3. Front Pharmacol. 2012 Mar 28;3:51. 
  4. Bioorg Med Chem. 2010 Dec 15;18(24):8583-91. 
  5. Chem Pharm Bull (Tokyo). 2002 May;50(5):623-9. 
  6. Br J Pharmacol. 2003 May;139(2):289-98. 
  7. J Basic Clin Physiol Pharmacol. 2009;20(4):289-307. 
  8. Asian Pac J Allergy Immunol. 2006 Mar;24(1):33-45. 
  9. J Altern Complement Med. 1998 Winter;4(4):429-57. 
  10. See comment in PubMed Commons below J Altern Complement Med. 2001 Jun;7(3):231-40. 
  11. J Altern Complement Med. 2010 May;16(5):585-90.


Mobile Downloads said...

I guess we're talking about the legal mushrooms :)

Full Mp3 said...

I read that the excess of mushrooms could create kidney problems. I always eat mushrooms with moderation

Life Extension said...

Mobile Downloads - Yes, the legal ones!

Life Extension said...

Full Mp3 - You're probably thinking of the hallucinogenic mushrooms. These are associated with kidney and liver problems. The mushrooms mentioned in this blog are safe to supplement with.

Memes said...

I had no idea about this propriety of mushrooms. Thanks for informing us. Now i am 2 seconds smarter :)

Life Extension said...

Memes- Ha! You're very welcome! :-)

Robert Smith said...

Tobacco smoking is the most common cause of COPD, with factors such as air pollution and genetics playing a smaller role. Long-term exposure to these irritants causes an inflammatory response in the lungs, resulting in narrowing of the small airways and breakdown of lung tissue. therapy and copd treatment may reduce the complications.

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