the Power of the Ancients
Medicinal Mushrooms have been used for thousands of years, across every continent in the world. They are seen as a ‘gift from the Gods’ by many ancient civilisations due to their powerful & effective treatment across a wide range of ailments, as well as the enhancement of the strength & wellbeing of those fortunate enough to access them. Chinese medical texts from as early as 206BC describe reishi mushrooms as a tonic against ageing.
Although the study of medicinal mushrooms has historically been seen as an eclectic science, this is rapidly changing, A common question is “what makes mushrooms medicinal?” and as ongoing studies dive deeper into mycology (the study of Fungi), there are various theories. Mushrooms are complex organisms, which like us, contain hundreds of polysaccharides and other bioactive compounds.
One theory is that the relationship of mushrooms with microbes is what makes them medicinal for humans. Mushrooms do not photosynthesise like other plants (which refers to the process of using UV Rays to manufacture their own minerals), but rather absorb the micronutrients and minerals from the biodiverse environment in which they are grown. They then convert these into bioavailable compounds for their own survival. However, similarly to the rise of plant based extracts that come from botanicals, like Ashwanganda, Moringa & even something as common as Rooibos, many of the chemicals that fungi produce to flourish in the wild are also active in humans. This is likely not a coincidence. It is an evolutionary advantage for humans to coevolve with our environment and our medicines. Prior to the pharmaceutical age, the humans who could use plants and fungi as medicines were able to survive the diseases that plagued our world and could thus reproduce.
The Guggenheim review demonstrates that the wide array of biological responses we have to mushrooms is incredible and confirms that this response is far more impactful and diverse than the basic responses we have to plants. This is speculated to be because the genetic mushrooms are more clearly related to humans than plants which could be why our bodies are able access and assimilate their magnificent compounds to such great affect.
Modern science is awakening to the fact that we are ourselves an ecosystem, living within an ecosystem that provides us with solutions to all our threats. This revolution of thinking has driven a hunger to further understand and harness naturopathic medicine to either bolster or provide alternatives to western conventional medicinal practices.
The majority of studies performed on medicinal mushrooms focus on the high levels of B-Glucans, which are found in the cell walls of the mushrooms, and their innate relationship with the immune system function. B-Glucans are structurally diverse with a clear impact on the defense against pathogens and infection; enhancing the body’s inflammatory response. There are also studies that suggest that B-Glucans may also be fermented by intestinal bacteria, leading to beneficial changes in the composition of our micro-biome.
The immune system has a greater impact on our daily function beyond just helping us when we are sick. It comprises of many biological cells and processes and an optimally functioning immune system assists us in becoming stronger, more energetic and healthy. The symbiosis between fungi nutrients and our biological system enhances these benefits further.
The adverse reaction of an imbalanced or unhealthy immune system leads to excessive inflammation. Inflammation causes pain, loss of function, allergies, fatigue, reduced cognitive ability and in chronic cases it can lead to auto immune diseases, cell/organ damage and according to some studies: cancer.
Ultimately, the ongoing studies into the use of medicinal mushrooms as a complementary medicine couldn’t come sooner.
Stress, unhealthy lifestyles, processed foods and the rise of global pandemic threats mean that it is past the time to turn to nature for the key of both our evolution and our survival.
Guggenheim AG, Wright KM, Zwickey HL. Immune modulation from five major mushrooms: application to integrative oncology. Integrative Med Clin J.
2014;13(1):32–44. [PMC free article] [PubMed] [Google Scholar]