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Medicinal mushrooms have been a part of traditional Eastern medicine for thousands of years. The use of mushrooms as medicinal compounds extends across Asia but is predominantly seen in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Japanese Traditional Medicine (Kampo). Today, mushrooms are being extensively studied for their immunomodulating and antioxidant properties.
Reishi mushrooms were traditionally used by Taoist monks in China to promote a centered calmness, improve meditation, and attain a long, healthy life. They were also highly regarded in Japanese culture as their most important medicinal polyspores. (1)
Shiitake mushrooms have a historical cultivation originating in China during the Song Dynasty (960-1127 AD). Grown mainly in Eastern Asia, shiitake is one of the top cultivated edible mushrooms in the world today. (2)
Maitake is a Japanese edible fungus with a large fruiting body that typically occurs as a heavy mass at the base of stumps and roots of trees. In Japanese, ‘mai’ means dance and ‘take’ means mushroom, hence ‘dancing mushroom’. (3)
The primary compounds in medicinal mushrooms that support the immune system are polysaccharides. Polysaccharides, such as Lentinan from shiitake mushrooms, impact how well the body responds to invading pathogens. They do this by augmenting the responsiveness of host cells to lymphocytokines, hormones and other biologically active substances (1).
A study that looked at the impact of shiitake mushroom consumption on immunity found that consuming shiitake mushrooms daily supported immunity by significantly increasing NK-T (natural killer T) and Gamma-Delta T cell proliferation and activation. NK-T cells and Gamma-Delta T cells play a role in the initiation and propagation of the immune response. Shiitake mushrooms were also shown to increase sIgA (secretory immunoglobulin A) levels, which is found in mucous secretions and is the first line of defense against bacteria, parasites and viruses. Additionally, CRP (C-reactive protein) levels were significantly reduced by approximately 30% (2).
Reishi mushrooms contain multiple constituents that may contribute to their nutritional properties such as triterpenes and polysaccharides (3).
Researchers evaluated the immunomodulatory activity of beta-glucans, a polysaccharide derived from reishi mushrooms, on children and found that study participants who were given 350mg β-glucans, had a significantly increased number of circulating immune cells (CD3+, CD4+ and CD8+ T cells) (4). This finding indicates that β-glucans from reishi mushrooms increase the frequency of immune system cells in the peripheral blood. This is important because these cells play a critical role in the defense against infectious threats.
Maitake mushrooms contain D-fraction polysaccharides which have a unique structure from other mushrooms. D-fraction polysaccharides have a higher molecular weight which is believed to contribute to activation of a greater number of immune cells (5).
Reishi Mushroom Monograph
Upton R, American Herbal Pharmacopoeia, 2006
Shiitake (Lentinus edodes)
Wasser S, Encyclopedia of Dietary Supplements, 2005
Maitake Extracts and Their Therapeutic Potential
Mayell M, Alt. Med. Review, 2001
Consuming Lentinula edodes (Shiitake) Mushrooms Daily Improves Human Immunity: A randomized dietary intervention in healthy young adults
Dai X, Stanilka J, Rowe C, Esteves E et al, JACN, 2015
Randomized clinical trial for the evaluation of immune modulation by yogur enriched with b-glucans from lingzhi or reishi medicinal mushroom, Ganoderma lucidum (Agaricomycetes), in children from Medellin, Colombia
Urrego S, Higuita E, IJMM, 2018