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Top 3 Medicinal Mushrooms
Top 3 Medicinal Mushrooms
For centuries, mushrooms have been a valuable tool in promoting health and vitality. Their traditional use as natural medicine is extensive, and modern science continues to confirm this ancient wisdom.
Mushrooms are one of nature’s oldest food sources; however, many ancient civilizations used mushrooms as medicine as well. The mushroom is actually the fruiting body of a fungus. Fungi do not belong to the plant kingdom, but rather claim a kingdom of their own.
According to plant pathologist Barbara Ambruzs of Iowa State University, growing mushrooms is more like caring for a dog than a plant, “since mushrooms need attention about two to three times a day.” Given how prolifically they multiply, mushrooms may be better compared to rabbits than dogs.
Whereas plants reproduce with seeds, mushrooms rely on their spores. The fruit of the mushroom—the part that is visible above ground—produces hundreds of thousands of microscopic spores. Under ideal circumstances, mushrooms can grow very rapidly, transforming from the size of a pinhead to a golf ball-size overnight.
Of the thousands of varieties of mushrooms presently growing throughout the world, several types possess specific medicinal properties. Here are our top three.
In Japanese, the word Maitake means “dancing mushroom.” Ancient lore has it that when the Japanese found Maitake mushrooms in the mountains, they began dancing for joy. The way the fruit bodies of the mushroom overlap makes the Maitake look like a cluster of dancing butterflies. Maitake mushrooms can grow very large—typically the size of a basketball—and they grow naturally in Japan’s northeastern mountains, as well as in parts of North America and Europe.
Maitake mushrooms have a variety of specific uses and also help promote overall wellness and vitality. Scientific research confirms Maitake’s ability to lower high blood pressure and decrease blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. Its proven immune-enhancing capabilities have made it a focal point in the treatment of cancer and HIV. A compound found in Maitake known as D-fraction has been widely researched, and clinical trials have confirmed its immune enhancing-potential. A 2003 study featured in the Journal of Medicinal Food demonstrated that Maitake D-fraction activates natural killer cell activity in patients with cancer, showing that it can enhance immune function.
Another component of Maitake, SX-fraction, has been shown in clinical studies to control blood glucose levels. Harry Preuss, MD, of Georgetown University Medical Center, points out that “because Maitake mushroom is a safe, edible product, it has a lot of promise in the oncology and metabolic fields.”
The red, kidney-shaped Reishi mushroom has the longest historical use of all the mushrooms. It has been used medicinally in China for more than 4,000 years. Soft and flat with a cork-like consistency, Reishi mushrooms grow like parasites on logs, trees and plants. Reishi mushrooms are high in selenium and iron.
Asian cultures have used Reishi mushrooms for a variety of conditions, including heart disease, inflammation, ulcers and more. Modern research has confirmed some of these health benefits. According to Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital, Reishi mushrooms can induce positive immune-stimulating results in patients with advanced cancers.
In 2003 the journal Immunological Investigations reported on an active compound found in Reishi mushrooms known as Ganoderma lucidum. All of the patients who received this specific extract experienced improved quality of life and increased immune function.
The dark-brown, umbrella-shaped Shiitake mushroom is a major staple of Japanese and Chinese diets. Although it is native to east Asia, it has been grown commercially in the United States for the past 20 years.
Shiitake mushrooms are packed with essential amino acids, vitamins and minerals. In addition, they contain the polysaccharide (sugar molecule) lentinan, which the Japanese government approved as an anticancer drug in the 1980s. In addition to cancer treatment, shiitake has been shown to offer other benefits, including reducing cholesterol, lowering blood pressure and healing infections.
An October 2011 study in the World Journal of Clinical Oncology showed that patients with advanced stomach cancer who took lentinan along with chemotherapy had longer survival times than patients who underwent chemotherapy alone.
As a group, medicinal mushrooms are among the most extensively researched natural substances in the world, with an impressive amount of scientific literature validating their use in a variety of serious illnesses. Other medicinal mushrooms include white button, Cordyceps, turkey tail and lion’s mane. Taken as dietary supplements or eaten as food, all of these mushrooms can promote good health.
Dr. Lise Alschuler is a highly respected naturopathic oncologist and a sought-after speaker to both consumers and healthcare professionals on the topic of integrative cancer prevention and treatment. Karolyn A. Gazella is the publisher of Wellness Times and Natural Medicine Journal. Together Alschuler and Gazella have written Five to Thrive: Your Cutting-Edge Cancer Prevention Plan (Active Interest Media 2011) and The Definitive Guide to Cancer (Random House revised 3rd Edition 2010). For more information visit CancerThrivers.net.
April 19th, 2012