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Medicinal Mushrooms: Ancient Asian Medicine In Fungus Form

Mushrooms contain ancient health benefits many people are only rediscovering lately. Mushrooms contain ancient health benefits many people are only rediscovering lately.

 

There are 38,000 types of mushrooms, with about half of them being poisonous and the other half holding significant medicinal value. It is known that several important historical figures, including Claudius II, Pope Clement VII and Buddha, died after ingesting poisonous mushrooms and the image of mushrooms as potentially dangerous still lingers in some minds. But in the last decade, there has been an increased recognition in the Western world of the beneficial effects of certain types of mushrooms.

In Asian cultures, legends about medicinal mushroom’s ability to preserve youth and increase longevity date back thousands of years, but only in the last two decades has scientific research provided a factual basis for these beliefs.

Maitake mushroom (Grifola frondosa) is an adaptogen, meaning that it helps the body adapt to stress and normalizes bodily functions. Its healing properties are related to its high content of a powerful polysaccharide called Beta 1,3/1,6 Glucan. A polysaccharide is a complex carbohydrate made up of smaller sugar molecules.

In laboratory studies, this substance has been shown to stop the growth of cancerous tumors. Studies have also shown that it stops HIV from replicating and improves the activity of key immunity cells known as T-helper cells. Maitake is also useful for diabetics. It can help control blood-sugar levels, chronic fatigue syndrome, hepatitis and obesity, and it has been shown to decrease high blood pressure in patients.

What makes shiitake such a popular medicinal mushroom is that it contains lentinan, a polysaccharide with strong anti-cancer properties. Studies show that shiitake mushrooms are especially beneficial for those suffering from stomach and colon cancers.

You can purchase maitake as a food item, in a capsule, in an extract or as a tea. The mushrooms grow in the wild, but it wasn’t until the late 1980s that a technique for artificial cultivation was developed in Japan, making it possible to conduct research on maitake’s properties. They are now cultivated in growing facilities on real or artificial logs. One can also purchase a kit that comes with everything needed to grow maitakes at home.

Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) is a staple of Eastern medicine. The Chinese name, ling chih, means “mushroom of immortality.” It is considered an immune modulator, meaning that it helps the body adjust and tones the bodily systems. There are six types of Ganoderma lucidum: red, purple, blue, white, yellow and black. The red mushroom is the most studied and is said to possess the most healing properties.

Reishi contains many active ingredients, including polysaccharides (beta-D-glucans) and triterpenes (ganoderic acids). Triterpenes are steroid-like molecules that stop histamines from forming and being released in the body. They also have anti-inflammatory properties, which are useful in the treatment of arthritis. The polysaccharides have been shown to stimulate the immune system to help fight cancer. A protein isolated from reishi, Ling Zhi-8, may reduce the risk of transplant rejection after surgery.

Reishi is available in syrups, soups, teas, tinctures and capsules. Reishi mushrooms grow in the wild on hardwood logs and are also cultivated in growing facilities. DIY-ers can buy kits online for home cultivation.

Shiitake (Lentinula edodes) is one of the most popular gourmet mushrooms in the world. Shiitake may not have the same reputation as the medicinal powerhouses reishi or maitake, but make no mistake – there are some very healthy benefits to consuming these fungi, and their use dates back at least 1,000 years.

What makes shiitake such a popular medicinal mushroom is that it contains lentinan, a polysaccharide with strong anti-cancer properties. Studies show that shiitake mushrooms are especially beneficial for those suffering from stomach and colon cancers. Other compounds in shiitakes are anti-fungal, so they can help overcome fungal infections. They are also useful for their antiviral and anti-infection properties, as well as their applications in lowering cholesterol and reducing blood pressure.

In test-tube studies in Japan, it is indicated that Lentinula edodes mycelium extract is said to be useful in treating HIV-infected cells to delay the onset of AIDS. The studies indicate that LEM may stimulate the body to produce antibodies like white blood cells.

Research into the health benefits of shiitakes started in the 1960s and has continued to show positive results in laboratory studies to date. It was not until the 1940s that these mushrooms were commercially cultivated in growing facilities. And again, you can buy kits to grow and harvest these healthy, tasty mushrooms in your own home.

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A doctor explains the health benefits of medicinal mushrooms.
Last modified on Monday, 21 January 2013 20:45

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