Mushrooms may not be something you immediately think of when you think of boosting immunity, but in fact certain varieties of mushrooms have been proven to offer excellent immune boosting benefits and therefore really can be thought of as quite magic!
Medicinal mushrooms have been used for centuries for prevention and treatment of various infections and infectious diseases and this has led to science exploring their immune boosting potential. To date, there are about 270 species of mushroom known to have immune enhancing properties and that includes properties such as anti-allergic, anti-cancer and anti-tumour effects too. In fact, in more recent years, the medicinal properties of a variety of mushrooms have been under the microscope when it comes to their potential usage in the prevention and fight against cancer, and the future looks bright here, so watch this space.
Many people are looking for ways to naturally boost their immunity and mushrooms could well provide one solution. Mushrooms a contain a range of bioactive compounds that act as immunotherapeutic agents that stimulate the immune system in a variety of ways. Four types of mushroom in particular that have some good evidence backing for their medicinal properties are Shiitake, Reishi , Maitake and Lion’s mane. You can often find these varieties in mushroom supplements, but you can also buy these fresh (mainly shitake in the UK) or in dried form from most large supermarkets or online.
All mushrooms are high in a soluble fibre called Beta-Glucan and it is this specific fibre that we know in itself to have a positive effect on immunity and the immune system. Research has shown that Beta-Glucan can help strengthen the immune system, has antimicrobial and antioxidant properties and can enhance the function of some white blood cells needed to fight infections. The Shitake mushrooms in particular contain a Beta glucan called lentinanm, which has been shown to stimulate the immune system and trigger certain cells and proteins in the body to attack cancer cells. Some research has also shown that Lentinan could slow the growth of some cancer cells too, so a promising outlook so far for mushrooms.
Maitake mushrooms, native to China, North America and some parts of Japan, also show good promise too in clinical research as they have been shown in some studies to block tumour growth and enhance immune function, especially in cases of breast and lung cancers, but more research is needed here.
One specific study which looked at the immune enhancing effects of both Maitake and Shiitake mushrooms found that they ‘strongly stimulated immune defence reactions’ in the body and when both mushrooms were combined and taken together, the effect was even stronger.
Mushrooms have a big part to play in maintaining and restoring gut health too and remember that good gut health is vital for an effective and strong immune system (find out why here). This is because mushrooms contain compounds such as Beta-glucans, galactans and chitins that basically work as prebiotics (a type of fibre that is essential for the health of the gut flora as it ‘feeds’ the good gut bacteria found in the digestive tract). The Lion’s mane mushroom also has an effect on digestive health, which then impacts immunity, with studies showing that Lion’s mane boosts immunity by having a direct effect on the intestinal immune system, which protects the body from illness that may enter through the nose and mouth.
Not to forget the benefits of the Reishi mushroom, which also have proven positive impacts on the immune system and are shown to increase white blood cells as well as increase the activity of natural killer cells, which are white blood cells that play a big and rapid protective role in the fight against infectious pathogens (an organism that can cause disease, including viruses). Natural Killer cells also have a big part in fighting against cancer cells.
So if mushrooms have not been on your menu for a while, then feed your immune system a good dose of them and get those white blood cells ready to fight if needed.
Resources & Further Reading:
Recent Developments in mushrooms as anti-cancer therapeutics: A review, 2012. 3 BiotechMedicinal mushrooms is supportive cancer therapies: An approach to anti-cancer effects and putative mechanisms of action, 2012. Fungal Diversity
Consuming Lentinula edodes (Shiitake) Mushrooms Daily Improves Human Immunity: A Randomized Dietary Intervention in Healthy Young Adults, 2015. Journal of the American College of Nutrition
The shiitake mushroom-derived immuno-stimulant lentinan protects against murine malaria blood-stage infection by evoking adaptive immune-responses, 2009. International Immunopharmacology
Immunomodulatory activities of polysaccharides from Ganoderma on immune effector cells, 2021. Food Chemistry
Strong Immunity- A Major Weapon to Fight against Covid-19, 2020. Journal Of Pharmacy And Biological Sciences
A Critical Review on Health Promoting Benefits of Edible Mushrooms through Gut Microbiota, 2017. International Journal of Molecular Sciences.
Immune-enhancing effects of Maitake (Grifola frondosa) and Shiitake (Lentinula edodes) extracts, 2014. Annals of Translational Medicine