The modest superfood: miraculous mushrooms

You live in dangerous world. Flu viruses are getting increasingly virulent. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are now commonplace. Fungal infections, such as Valley Fever, are also becoming more prevalent, as are allergies, autoimmune diseases and numerous chronic degenerative conditions. Add in the toxic load you face from increasing exposure to heavy metals and environmental chemicals, and it’s obvious the body has a lot to fight off.

You may be relying on natural solutions to address these dangers in a number of ways. During cold and flu season, Echinacea and vitamin C are good choices. For allergies, you could purchase air filtration systems or adjust your diet. Perhaps you’ve swapped your household chemicals for more natural cleaners.

These are all good choices, but your most powerful tool for staying healthy is a swift and intelligent immune system. And one of the best ways to achieve optimal immune effectiveness is with the help of medicinal mushrooms.

Ancient medicine

Mushrooms have been used in Chinese medicine and other traditional healing systems for thousands of years. Early practitioners based their medicinal choices on trial and error and keen observation. Now, modern research is proving they were right.

Medicinal mushrooms are rich sources of unique nutrients, antioxidants and compounds that work in numerous ways to support your health. One family of carbohydrates found in mushrooms is beta-glucans. Carbohydrates can fuel the body in many ways, but beta-glucans have a particular affinity for immune cells. They stimulate macrophages, lymphocytes, T-cells and Natural Killer cells, among others. They are especially focused on our innate immunity, the immune systems’ first responders.

But mushrooms do more than boost your immunity; they seem to modulate it, essentially “training” immune cells to respond appropriately to pathogens, toxins, cancerous cells and other dangers. We want the immune system to take care of the problem at hand, without overreacting and killing healthy cells. Medicinal mushrooms are unique to this purpose, as they can both boost immunity and help calm an over-active autoimmune response. This can be quite helpful when addressing psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and other autoimmune conditions.

If this were all mushrooms did, that would be more than enough. But they also offer a host of other benefits. For example, mushrooms can support cardiovascular health, reducing blood pressure, lowering cholesterol and improving oxygenation and circulation. They can support vital energy, cognitive health, digestive wellness, metabolic efficiency and more.

They can also fight cancer in a number of ways. First, as mentioned, they support the immune system’s ability to fight off developing tumors. But they also provide powerful antioxidant support, neutralizing free radicals, those aberrant molecules that injure cells and even damage DNA.

In addition, mushrooms are natural detoxifiers, cleansing the body of accumulated waste, dead tissues, potential carcinogens and more. In the same way that fungi thrive on decayed matter, medicinal mushrooms seem to have an affinity for damaged areas of the body and work to help repair and rebuild these areas. They act like “sponges” for toxic materials, and with all of their other important benefits, mushrooms can be excellent aids to any detox program.

Recommended medicinals

There are more than 270 types of medicinal mushrooms, so it’s important to differentiate them based on specific health needs. Here are some top recommended species:

  • Agaricus blazei boosts the immune system by supporting interferons and interleukins, proteins that modulate immunity, attack viruses and respond to cancer. A number of animal studies have demonstrated its ability to fight tumors. Agaricus also helps to control cholesterol and blood sugar.
  • Cordyceps sinensis energizes phagocytes, macrophages and Natural Killer cells. It also increases HDL (good) cholesterol and lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol.
  • Coriolus versicolor is recommended for its antitumor activity. This mushroom has also been shown to enhance cancer treatments, such as radiation.
  • Ganoderma lucidum (Reishi) lowers cholesterol, promotes circulation and helps oxygenate the blood. Some research has found it can be effective against both HIV and cancer.
  • Grifola frondosa (Maitake) fights cancer, reduces blood pressure, modulates blood sugar metabolism and supports a healthy liver. It has also been used to fight cancer and HIV.
  • Polyporus umbellatus enhances immunity, supports liver health and has been shown to fight off bacteria, such as E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus.

For daily wellness support, look for a mushroom formula that combines multiple species, to provide comprehensive immune, cardiovascular, cellular and overall health support. When selecting a formula, make sure the mushrooms are cultivated indoors under sterile conditions on a high quality growing medium. This is critical, since mushrooms absorb whatever is in their environment. In my clinical practice, I use a formula containing these species listed above, which are cultivated on a powdered blend of immune-supporting herbs and organic brown rice for enhanced benefits.

The culinary variety

You can also get some of the benefits of medicinal mushrooms from the varieties found in produce aisles.

Shiitake mushrooms contain lentinan, which fights cancer, as well as pathogens. Common button, portabella and crimini mushrooms are nutrient-dense, rich in vitamin D, selenium and B vitamins. You can actually enhance their vitamin content: When mushrooms are put out in the sun, they can manufacture vitamin D, just like we do.

Mushrooms don’t always get included in the superfood conversation, but they’re clearly some of the most potent superfoods available. Factoring in their powerful immune benefits, antioxidant and antitumor activity, detox capacity, cardiovascular support and nutrition quotient, these remarkable fungi are some of the world’s most treasured natural remedies. You should take advantage of all they have to offer.

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Dr. Isaac Eliaz

By Dr. Isaac Eliaz

Dr. Isaac Eliaz is a renowned integrative medical doctor, licensed acupuncturist, researcher, product formulator and frequent guest lecturer. He has been a pioneer in holistic medicine since the early 1980s, and has published numerous peer-reviewed research papers on several of his key integrative health formulas. He is the founder and medical director of Amitabha Clinic in California, an integrative health center specializing in cancer and chronic conditions. Dr. Eliaz is an expert in using highly strategic, synergistic protocols to address numerous areas of health including metastatic cancer, immunity, digestion, detoxification, diabetes, cardiovascular health and more. His approach integrates modern science with traditional healing wisdom for optimal health and wellness. To download any of Dr. Eliaz's comprehensive wellness guides, click here.