Supplements To Support Immunity
by Mark J Kaylor
Lori, a 40-something single Mom in a stressful work situation, has been bothered by frequent colds, flu and infections for many years. Numerous trips to doctors really did nothing to help. Upon the encouragement of a co-worker, when confronted with yet another cold, she began taking a liquid extract from a medicinal mushroom called Maitake. And in no time she began to notice a difference. Not only did it shorten the duration and intensity of her cold, but Lori also realized she just hasn’t been getting sick nearly as often. And, much to her surprise, Lori noticed that she was only rarely using her inhaler for her asthma as well. To this day she has become an avid fan of Maitake, even putting her teenage son on it as well.
As the organizer of health lectures at a leading health food store, Melody has probably attended more talks on natural healing than virtually anyone on this planet. Having heard a number of lecturers mentioning the health benefits of mushrooms, she decided to put her elderly dogs on the Maitake extract. Within weeks she observed her pups becoming more playful and younger.
What these two anecdotal tales do is point to the healing promise of medicinal mushrooms (it would be hard to claim placebo benefits with skeptics and dogs) and give evidence that the body, including the immune system, is an interdependent whole, not isolated parts working independently. And when it comes to the power of Mushrooms, these two points are key.
Today we live in a world threatened by new and dangerous “world” diseases, such as the bird flu, biological warfare terror, looming economic disaster over rising health care costs, the ever-present shadow of cancer, and many other threats to our health and our immune system. The good news is that help is on its way, out of the past and into modern medicine and research, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound… oops, got a little carried away, comes “Mushroom Power”.
If we are going to talk about immune system supporting remedies, we need to first make clear what is meant when we say “immune system”. Most of us probably consider our immune system to be an array of “immune” cells that defend our body when attacked. This is only part of the picture.
Recognized by traditional healers throughout the world for hundreds of years, and more recently affirmed in numerous studies, is the concept of holism. The body and everything about it are all part of an interdependent and interactive whole. So keeping in line with a holistic approach, what is your immune system? Everything.
That’s right, your total self, your entire physiology, your moods, thoughts and actions, how much rest you get, the environment you live in, even how happy you are in the job that you have. All of these help determine how well your body will be able to resist disease, how healthy and vital it will be, and how effectively your “immune” cells will work.
Medicinal Mushrooms probably fit into this paradigm better than any other healing remedies, not only enhancing cellular immune responses, but by building and supporting the body as a whole and systemically. If penicillin, one of the most widely employed pharmaceuticals can be derived from a mold, is it such a stretch to consider mushrooms as potent sources of medicines. Even conventional allopathic medicine has caught on to some degree to the healing potential of mushrooms.
Lest you think mushrooms are just some fringe remedies, several drugs are now manufactured from mushroom sources: PSK and PSP from Turkey tail, Lentinan and LEM from Shiitake and Schizophyllan derived from Schizophyllum commune. Confirmed today by modern scientific research, hundreds of mushrooms have demonstrated immune stimulating activities.
Ironically, for thousands of years, cultures around the globe have thought of mushrooms to be the highest quality of medicines, often thinking them gifts from the gods and purveyors of immortality. This can be seen in ancient artworks ranging form the Egyptian Pharaoh’s tombs to 3000-year-old Guatemalan sculptures. Around the year 100 BCE the Roman poet Marital scribed “Easy it is to renounce gold and silver, and even the delight of love, hard however, to miss
A European herbalist, Bock, wrote, “Since they do not arise from seeds they must come from heaven….” As cherished medicines though, it was in Asia that mushrooms truly flourished, there they have been utilized with amazing sophistication for thousands of years, considered superior medicines. Is there something to the fact that such divergent cultures saw in the healing significance of medicinal mushrooms?
Often overlooked as nutritionally rich foods, mushrooms are excellent sources for all essential amino acids, B vitamins, vitamin D, potassium, selenium, zinc, and fiber and are low in calories and carbohydrates. The vitamin D content alone makes them a worthy addition to our immune supporting diet.
More and more studies are coming out confirming the importance of vitamin D for healthy immune functioning and specifically recognizing it as a possible co-factor in the development of some cancer, including breast, prostate and colon.
Any discussion of medicinal mushrooms must begin with the amazing and versatile Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), a tonic unparalleled.
To give you a sense of the range and diversity of Reishi’s activities here is a listing of its pharmacological effects: Adrenal supportive, analgesic, anti-aging, anti-allergenic, antibacterial, anti-hiv, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antitumor, antiviral, lowers blood pressure, cholesterol lowering, enhances bone marrow, heart tonic, immunomodulator, liver detoxifier and protectant, preventative for bronchitis, and protective of radiation.
And this is just a partial list. Along with all these functions, Reishi has been shown to improve immune functions and inhibit growth of some malignant tumors.
Traditionally thought of as a tonic for the lungs, liver, heart and nerves you can see why I refer to it as the “tonic for the 21st century”.
Another tonic par excellence is Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis), which technically is not a mushroom but usually referred to as one. Traditionally used as a tonic for the whole body, particularly for those in a depleted or run-down state. In this way it is used to increase vitality, energy, recovery and resistance. It is strengthening to the respiratory and endocrine systems, kidneys, liver, G.I. and heart.
Years ago when China re-entered world sports competition they began shattering records right and left, often by large amounts. They secret weapon they a dmitted to was Cordyceps. Unlike most stimulants commonly used today that deplete the body, Cordyceps increases cellular ATP (the energy molecule) and oxygen utilization, supporting and energizing, working with the body. It can make the body more resilient and resistant to disease.
Your immune system is made up of a number of different types of cells, all with their own roles and actions, some attack, some help target, others aid communication and still others act as on and off switches. Evidence suggests that Cordyceps works on a number of these cell types, stimulating production and boosting function and activity.
Unlike most immune stimulants that work uni-directionally, always stimulating, Cordyceps shows promise as an immuno-modulator, working bi-directionally. This means if your immune system is under-functioning then it will boost, but if it is over-functioning it can slow down white blood cell activity and production.
When it comes to enhancing the body’s natural immune responses nothing compares to Maitake (Grifola frondosa). As a relative newcomer to the medicament world, when comparative studies on immune stimulation or anti-tumor actions were done, Maitake was always at or near the top.
The most biologically active immune component is a unique constituent termed D-fraction. This Maitake D-fraction, when taken orally, has been shown to increase the number of immune cells, enhance the activity of those cells and increase the effectiveness of the immune system.
The D-fraction also shows promise as an adjunct therapy in conjunction with some chemotherapy agents. When studied with the Mitomycin-C, D-fraction helped produce a 98% shrinkage of tumors in mice in just 14 days. Similar results were found in another study looking at Maitake and carmustine, another anticancer agent. Not only may it benefit the therapy, but also significantly improve the overall quality of life for those undergoing the often-harsh chemotherapies.
While not initially thought of as important to immune health, blood sugar and insulin balance we now know is “integratively” important to proper functioning. High levels of blood sugar suppress immune performance, increase free radical damage and damage proteins in the body (through a process called glycation).
Insulin can act as a growth factor and high levels have been indicted as risk factors for certain cancers. Maitake is the source for SX fraction, a glyco-protein that can lower both blood sugar and insulin levels as confirmed by three clinical trials to date. Demonstrating this dual action, you also see a lowering of blood pressure, “bad” cholesterol, and triglycerides as well.
The new kid on the block is known as Agaricus blazei or Royal Agaricus and is known in its native Brazil as “Mushroom of God”. As one of the richest sources of beta-glucans (well researched molecules made up of many sugars that activate immune functioning) researchers have become intrigued by its healing potential, particularly in Japan where it sells are in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Agaricus was “discovered” by researchers who found that people eating it as part of their regular diet were healthier, with much lower incidences of chronic disease. Studies have confirmed an anti-tumor action and two novel constituents that significantly increase macrophage, the large Pac-man cells of the immune system. Laboratory work found it inhibited proliferation of cervical cancer cells and suggests a possible synergy with chemotherapy and radiation.
Personally I have found synergistic benefits by combining Agaricus with Shiitake particularly for strengthening the overall body and have been impressed by its impact for chronic fatigue syndrome and general depletion.
We live in a time of growing numbers of drug-resistant microbes, in part due to our over use and misuse of antibiotics. And here again a mushroom comes to our rescue. The delicious Shiitake mushroom cannot only boost your body’s own immune responses, but has exhibited benefits as an anti-microbial agent effective against drug-resistant bacterial infections. What more could we ask of a medicine?
As previously mentioned, Lentinan, a purified beta-glucan and LEM are both derived medicines from the Shiitake and display anti-tumor effects. Lentinan exhibits immune activating, anti-microbial, and cardiovascular and cholesterol lowering benefits. LEM shows promise as an antiviral and has been tested against everything from influenza to hiv where it may be particularly effective due to its action on helper T-cells.
Looking more holistically, Shiitake can enhance the growth of “good” bacteria in the colon and may inhibit production of some enzymes involved in the creation of carcinogenic compounds in the colon that result from a high fat diet. And there is no doubt that a healthy digestive tract is essential to a healthy functioning immune system. Up to two-thirds of our overall immune response occurs in the gut.
While most of the research attention has certainly focused on immune related disorders, new investigations into a vast array of other applications for mushrooms have also begun. Reishi and Zhu ling are being studied for hair loss; Tremella has been examined for use with freckles and as a legitimate beauty aid, and Lion’s Mane is being investigated for dementia and alzheimer’s disease.
Lion’s Mane, a traditional digestive tonic, has shown some effectiveness as an anti-fungal and against gastric and esophageal cancers as well as human leukemia cells, but it is as a possible aid in treating senility that it may hold its greatest promise. Small clinical studies demonstrate improvements in quality of life and increases in Nerve Growth Factor, a protein involved in maintenance, survival and regeneration of neurons (nerve cells).
In ancient China the physicians were rewarded, not when they cured a patient, but by how effective they were at keeping you healthy. With health care costs projected to eventually overtake the whole US GNP, isn’t it time that we return our focus to the prevention of disease and maximizing health and vitality rather than always waiting for a health crisis before we intervene.
Don’t our bodies deserve a kinder, more supportive lifestyle? So how ‘bout including some medicinal mushrooms into your diet and supplementation routine? Let’s make the anthem for the 21st century; “Mushroom Power”, a re-embracing and rediscovery speak of ancient healing wisdom.
Mark J. Kaylor has been exploring holistic health and healing for close to four decades. He is the founder and director of the not-for-profit Radiant Health Project. Mark welcomes you comments and questions and can be contacted at his website: www.RadiantHealthProject.com or on facebook at www.facebook.com/RadiantHealthProject