Medicinal mushrooms in the fight against COVID-19
We have been using mushrooms for thousands of years in health. Their use is much more widespread in Asia, particularly China and Japan. Mushrooms are used alongside conventional medicine for many conditions. In cancer, mushrooms can stimulate the immune response to help fight off invasion. This is something we might also harness during the current pandemic of COVID-19.
Mushrooms may boost our viral defences
The coronavirus strain that is causing this pandemic is new, so we do not have evidence directly showing the impact of mushrooms in fighting this infection. However, we know that mushrooms can stimulate the immune system. As a result, we may be interested in boosting NK cells that are key to fighting off virally-infected cells. NK cells are currently being investigated with clinical trials for use as a potential treatment for this novel coronavirus strain.
Immune properties of mushrooms
Mushrooms have many immune modulating properties. The most common and widespread amongst many mushrooms is the presence of polysaccharides. Polysaccharides are a chain or group of sugar molecules, like a carbohydrate group. Many of these mushroom carbohydrate groups are beta-linked. This means they are not digested by our bodies. They are absorbed intact where they interact with our cells. Beta-glucans are just one well known type.
We have recepetors on many of our immune cells for these fungal-specific polysaccharides including our NK cells, macrophages, dendritic cells, neutrophils and monocytes. Binding of these polysachharides to their receptors can stimulate widespread activation of immune cells1. This may include increased antibody production, or increased expression of growth factors to make more of the cells needed. This is like recruiting, training and dispatching new doctors to the frontline.
Mushrooms also have other immunological properties. These include proteins, triterpenes, phenols, sterols, enzymes and chitin. Depending on the type of mushroom, they may result in different immunological reactions. Some mushrooms are more anti-inflammatory, anti-histamine, hypotensive (reducing blood pressure) or even sedative. Others are more stimulatory and may be able to boost NK cell production and activity.
We can all try to harness the power of mushrooms in our fight against this coronavirus and COVID-19. If you are considering supplements, do note that they have a broad range of actions. Due to this, it is important to take the correct type or combination for you, taking into account other health conditions or supplements you may be taking. If you have questions, please just get in touch with us.
You can obtain the polysaccharide benefits from eating a range of mushrooms. It is useful to note that mushroom supplements are in quantities that we would find in regular food intake. They are not super doses which means that you can get some benefits simply from including regular amounts in your meals. Try regular white or brown, or mixed varieties stocked in many supermarkets. Shiitake are particularly useful but note they need to be fully cooked or may result in a dermatitis reaction.
If you would like help with supporting your immune system, call us on 01 4020777 or book online now.
- Medicinal Mushrooms A Clinical Guide – Dr Martin Powell, Mycology Press, 2010