The Power of Mushrooms
Mushrooms have been used over the centuries for the flavor they add to food.
Medicinal mushrooms have a history of Traditional use.
The most oftened-used mushrooms come from genera, Auricularia, Flammulina, Ganoderma, Grifola, Lentinus, Trametes (Coriolus) and Tremella.
Their medicinal properties as well as the medicinal effects they produce in the human body occur with daily or tonic use.
Only certain species of mushrooms have healing potential. T
hese mushrooms include maitake Grifola frondosa), shiitake (Lentinula edodes), reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis), turkey tail (Trametes versicolor), lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus), sun (Agaricus blazei) and the silver ear (Tremella fuciformis) mushrooms.
These miracle mushrooms are referred to as medicinal mushrooms or mycomedicinals.
Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) and the common white button ones (Agaricus bisphorus) may also stimulate immune function.
These mushrooms are believed to possess anti-cancer activity, improve immunity and prevent virus, bacteria and fungal infections.
They are also believed to reduce inflammation, minimize allergic reactions, maintain blood sugar levels, and support the body's detoxification mechanisms.
In Traditional medicine, the active compounds of the mushrooms are extracted in the process of making teas and decotions. A decotion is the process of simmering or boiling an herb or mushroom in water for an hour or longer.
This helps release the bioactive polysacharides or beta-glucans that are bound up in the indigestible chitinous cell walls of mushrooms.
Hot-water extraction is the only method known to cause such release and still maintain the structural integrity of the natural compound.
Beta-glucans are long chain, polysaccharides, macromolecules unique to mushrooms. They are complex molecules consisting of spiraling chains of differing patterns that are linked to each other.
Beta-glucans, unlike plant phytocompounds, can not be reproduced or synthesized by pharmaceutical companies. Their unique shape allows them to bind to a host of receptors in membranes on macrophages which confer enormous immune power to mushrooms.
Traditional versus Supplement Use
Traditional use of mushrooms involve boiling mushrooms in water for over an hour to release the active ingredients in the fungus. The Chinese and Japanese mushroom manufactuers also employ a hot-water extraction process to acccomplish the same goal.
Most American supplements manufacturers on the other hand utilize whole mushrooms, powdered extracts, and tinctures in their products. They are all available in various concentrations and combinations and marketed as foods that enhance immunity. Unfortunately, as with medicinal herbs, there is no guarantee of strength, purity or potency in these products.
Some mushroom supplements are simply ground up whole mushrooms while others use an extraction process based on alcohol. These liquid extracts are sold as tinctures and do not provide the concentration of the active agent.
In addition, mushrooms grown on rice or cereal grains, known as mycellium biomass, makeup the bulk of the mushrooms sold as dietary supplements. These mushrooms are dried, ground and powdered and encapsulated. Unfortunately, the active agent is still surrounded by the indigetible chitin and is therefore bio-unavailable.
The only known and proven method to release the bioactive compounds and maintain the structural integrity of the beta-glucan is through the process known as hot-water extraction. This is a more time consuming and expensive process but one that provides a more consistent and bioavailable product. As pointed out earlier, this is the process used by Japanese and Chinese supplement manufacturers as well as a few American ones.
Hot-water extraction allows the manufacturer to concentrate the active agents into specific levels, which are normally listed as a percentage of total weight.
The clinical use of medicinal mushrooms to treat chronic diseases like AIDS, chronic fatigue and cancer requires is now widesspread. It is therefore essential that the products they are using be from an extraction process that maintains the library of nutrients and polysacccharides found in the original mushroom and concentrates them in a small and manageable dose.
There is a large and diverse group of organisms that belong to their own Kingdom, the fungi Kingdom. Mold and yeast are also members of this Kingdom.
Mushrooms are sometimes considered as non-flowering plants but are best thought of as nature’s recyclers.
Some fungi are poisonous, others tasty and a small select group are medicinal.
Mushrooms come in a large variety of unusual shapes and sizes.
Mushrooms have been used since pre-history for their flavor. While there is an estimated 40,000 species of mushrooms only around 700 of them are part of the diet.
The mushroom is the fruiting body or reproductive organ of a fungus. It is the part of the fungus that grows above ground.
A fungus survives by absorbing the nutrients from decaying organic matter (trees and plants). Mushrooms convert dead organic matter into humus and then converts humus into life supporting nutrients. Their purpose in life is to release spores (seeds) into the environment to germinate and generate more mushrooms.
The classic mushroom is composed of a cap and a stem. The underside of the cap contains many thin blades that radiate out from the mushroom’s central stem. These blades are called gills and are the spore-releasing surface of the mushroom.
A spore is the equivalent of a plant’s seed. Spores allow a mushroom to spread to new areas. The stem of a mushroom allows the cap to remain above the earth and enables the hundreds of thousands of spores to be lifted into the air by wind. Shiitake mushrooms are an example of this mushroom design.
Some mushrooms do not have gills and stems and are known as polypores because the underside of the cap is composed of a tightly packed layer of pores. Spores are produced on the inside of these pores. Reishi are examples of mushrooms of this type. The mycelium is a network of fine filaments that originate from the germination of spores.
Mycelia derive their nutrients from the dead organic matter in their environment and recycle it into humus. Out of the humus, the mycelia are able to synthesize their unique library of medicinal compounds and nutrients.
The mycelia use the nutrients to produce a new generation of mushrooms, which then send more spores into a favorable environment where they can germinate and generate a new colony. Mushrooms live on the lowest rung of the ecological ladder. They have an immunological system that protects them and a digestive system that decomposes decaying matter. Collectively this wards off pathogens and deactivates harmful toxins. This process provides the phytonutrients that promote human health.
The universe of phytochemicals synthesized by mushrooms include polysaccharides, sterols, lipids, proteins, and triterpenes. The unique library of polysaccharides of mushroom confer an ability to inhibit viruses and cancer cells. These polysaccharides are bound to proteins and thus may not be active when separated from its protein component.
Mushrooms are a good source of protein, fiber, B vitamins and calcium. In addition they contain healing compounds that help cope with stress. Avoiding stress increases resistance to disease. Commercially, mushrooms are grown in large vats that contain a solution of sugars and starches. Mushrooms grow in the wild on the other hand require dark, moist conditions.