Cold and Flu Season: Medicinal Mushrooms for Immune Support

June 3, 2024 | Dr. Silvana Jakupovic, ND

As the leaves turn golden and the air grows crisp, we brace ourselves for the inevitable cold and flu season. During this time, our immune system becomes our first line of defence against seasonal viruses and the common cold. Medicinal mushrooms emerge as a significant ally in the search for natural immune boosters. Steeped in centuries of traditional use and backed by modern scientific research, these fungi offer a unique blend of benefits for our body's defence system.


• Medicinal Mushroom Health Guide

• Turkey Tail Mushroom: Cold Season

• Reishi Mushroom Benefits

• Shiitake Mushroom Wellness

• Maitake Mushroom Immune Booster


Boosting Immunity Naturally with Mushrooms

These are not your ordinary kitchen mushrooms; these types of mushrooms are powerhouses of nutrients and compounds that can significantly enhance immune function. 

The human immune system, a complex and dynamic network of cells, tissues, and organs, serves as the guardian of our health, safeguarding us from harmful entities like viruses, bacteria, and various pathogens. Its significance extends beyond mere protection; it's fundamental to our overall health and vitality, equipping us to fight many health challenges effectively.

At its core, the immune system's main task is to ward off infections. In its prime condition, it detects and eradicates invasive pathogens, thus shielding us from illnesses. Conversely, a compromised immune system leaves us more vulnerable to frequent afflictions, including colds, the flu, and other bacterial and viral infections.

turkey tail

Turkey Tail for Immunity

Turkey Tail mushrooms are celebrated for their profound impact on immune health, thanks largely to their rich polysaccharide content. Among these, Polysaccharide Krestin (PSK) stands out, so much so that it's used in Japan as an adjunct to cancer treatment for its immune-strengthening properties [1]. PSK and the overall mushroom composition bolster innate and adaptive immune responses [2].

These mushrooms are also a valuable source of the polysaccharide-protein complex PSP, abundant in beta-glucans. These beta-glucans activate macrophages, crucial cells that support the immune system, leading to the eradication of pathogens [3]. Moreover, Turkey Tail is known for enhancing the production of IgM and IgG antibodies, constituting a significant portion of human serum antibodies [5]. This suggests a potential for Turkey Tail to extend immunity and reduce the risk of reinfection.

Beyond its immune-stimulating capabilities, Turkey Tail antioxidant properties are significant. Turkey Tail is rich in antioxidants, including phenols and flavonoids. These antioxidants play a crucial role in reducing inflammation and protecting cellular integrity. The balance they maintain is essential for preventing health issues and boosting overall immune system performance [4,5]. 


Reishi Mushroom Cold Defense: Antiviral Mushroom Varieties

Reishi mushrooms are a powerhouse of immune-enhancing compounds like beta-glucans, polysaccharides, and triterpenes. These elements activate critical immune cells, including macrophages and natural killer cells, and are crucial in cytokine production, vital for immune response regulation. This has been demonstrated in diverse groups, from cancer patients to healthy individuals, underscoring Reishi's broad immunomodulatory impact [6,7]. 

One of Reishi's fundamental mechanisms involves Toll-like receptors (TLRs), which are instrumental in the early stages of immune response to infections. Beta-glucans' binding to TLRs triggers an immune cascade, making Reishi effective against various pathogens, including bacteria, viruses, and potentially cancer cells [8].

Studies show Reishi may also have potential in COVID-19 treatment [10]. Its beta-glucans increase lymphocytes and enhance pathogen recognition receptors (PRRs), bolstering the body's first line of defence against infections. This suggests Reishi's capacity for protective inflammatory responses, potentially offering significant defence against COVID-19 and other infections.

Moreover, Reishi has shown promise as an antiviral, particularly against influenza [11]. Its triterpenoid components, specifically ganoderic acids, have inhibited H5N1 and H1N1 influenza strains. This positions Reishi as a potential source for developing new neuraminidase (NA) inhibitors, a class of antiviral medications, especially considering rising drug resistance.  

Shiitake for Flu Prevention: Immune-Boosting Fungi

A study exploring Shiitake mushrooms' beta-glucan extracts highlighted their potential in addressing COVID-19-related lung inflammation and cytokine storms [12]. These conditions, often leading to severe lung injury and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), are driven by excessive inflammation and cytokine release, notably interleukin (IL)-1β and IL-6. 

The Shiitake extracts showed promising results in reducing NF-κB activation, a key factor in inflammation, in lung epithelial cells. [12] They also displayed abilities to lessen oxidative stress and dampen pro-inflammatory cytokine responses, positioning Shiitake as a possible therapeutic agent in COVID-19 treatments, especially for managing cytokine storms and lung injuries.

Additionally, human clinical trials with 52 healthy participants revealed Shiitake mushrooms' immune-boosting effects over four weeks [13]. Results indicated a significant increase in the activity and proliferation of γδ-T and NK-T cells, vital for immune defence. These cells showed enhanced responsiveness, indicating improved immune function, and the study also noted an increase in secretory immunoglobulin A (sIgA) in saliva, suggesting stronger gut immunity.


Maitake: Immune System Strengthening

Maitake mushrooms have captured scientific interest for their bioactive compounds that bolster immune function, combat inflammation, and potentially inhibit cancer cell growth. Research has showcased the action of Maitake for immune health, such as its ability to regulate TH2 cytokines, which is particularly relevant in cancer treatment [14]. The TH2 response, when overactive in cancer patients, can suppress IFN-y, a crucial cytokine in fighting cancer cells. By modulating the TH2 response, Maitake emerges as a promising adjunct in cancer therapy.

Additionally, Maitake has demonstrated the ability to counteract the immune-depleting effects of dexamethasone, a corticosteroid used for treating inflammation [15]. Studies involving mice treated with dexamethasone showed that Maitake extract could restore over 40% of the depleted T and natural killer cells, essential for innate and adaptive immunity [15]. 

Furthermore, Maitake is rich in beta-glucans known for their unique immunomodulating properties, including anti-cancer, anti-bacterial, and anti-viral activities [16]. These beta-glucans differ structurally from those found in other sources, enabling them to interact more effectively with immune cell receptors [16]. This unique structural feature provides Maitake and other medicinal mushrooms with enhanced bioactivity and specific immunomodulatory effects, distinguishing them from natural health solutions.

How to Boost Your Immune System: Adaptogenic Mushrooms for Wellness

While medicinal mushrooms are potent for boosting immunity during cold and flu season, they work best with other health practices. Maintaining a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains provides essential nutrients that support immune function. Regular physical activity, even moderate exercise, can enhance your body's defence mechanisms. 

Don't underestimate the power of a good night's sleep; it's crucial for immune health. Also, managing stress through mindfulness or relaxation techniques can prevent the weakening of the immune system. Integrating these habits with medicinal mushrooms creates a comprehensive approach to fortifying your immune system.

Mushroom Supplements for Health: Natural Remedies for Cold and Flu

Exploring medicinal mushrooms for immune health reveals a rich landscape of natural cold and flu season remedies. These fungi exhibit noteworthy capabilities in boosting and balancing immune responses. They're more than just dietary supplements; they're powerful agents in fighting infections, managing inflammation, and even influencing genetic expression. Including these natural wonders in our diet can be a simple yet powerful step towards better health.



[1] PDQ Integrative, Alternative, and Complementary Therapies Editorial Board. Medicinal Mushrooms (PDQ®): Patient Version. 2022 Jul 29. In: PDQ Cancer Information Summaries [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): National Cancer Institute (US); 2002-. Available from: 

[2] Benson KF, Stamets P, Davis R, Nally R, Taylor A, Slater S, Jensen GS. The mycelium of the Trametes versicolor (Turkey tail) mushroom and its fermented substrate each show potent and complementary immune activating properties in vitro. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2019 Dec 2;19(1):342. doi: 10.1186/s12906-019-2681-7. PMID: 31791317; PMCID: PMC6889544.

[3] Mirończuk-Chodakowska I, Kujawowicz K, Witkowska AM. Beta-Glucans from Fungi: Biological and Health-Promoting Potential in the COVID-19 Pandemic Era. Nutrients. 2021 Nov 6;13(11):3960. doi: 10.3390/nu13113960. PMID: 34836215; PMCID: PMC8623785.

[4] Bendich A. Physiological role of antioxidants in the immune system. J Dairy Sci. 1993 Sep;76(9):2789-94. doi: 10.3168/jds.S0022-0302(93)77617-1. PMID: 8227682.

[5] Rašeta M, Popović M, Knežević P, Šibul F, Kaišarević S, Karaman M. Bioactive Phenolic Compounds of Two Medicinal Mushroom Species Trametes versicolor and Stereum subtomentosum as Antioxidant and Antiproliferative Agents. Chem Biodivers. 2020 Dec;17(12):e2000683. doi: 10.1002/cbdv.202000683. Epub 2020 Nov 17. PMID: 33058392.

[6] Lin, Z. B., & Zhang, H. N. (2004). Anti-tumor and immunoregulatory activities of Ganoderma lucidum and its possible mechanisms. Acta Pharmacologica Sinica, 25(11), 1387-1395.

[7] Wang, S. Y., Hsu, M. L., Hsu, H. C., Lee, S. S., Shiao, M. S., & Ho, C. K. (1997). The anti-tumor effects of Ganoderma lucidum (Curt.: Fr.) P. Karst. (Ling Zhi, Reishi mushroom) (Aphyllophoromycetideae) polysaccharides are related to tumor necrosis factor-α and interferon-γ. Cryptogamie, Mycologie, 18(3), 191-195.

[8] Mirończuk-Chodakowska I, Kujawowicz K, Witkowska AM. Beta-Glucans from Fungi: Biological and Health-Promoting Potential in the COVID-19 Pandemic Era. Nutrients. 2021 Nov 6;13(11):3960. doi: 10.3390/nu13113960. PMID: 34836215; PMCID: PMC8623785.

[9] Cör Andrejč D, Knez Ž, Knez Marevci M. Antioxidant, antibacterial, antitumor, antifungal, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and nevro-protective activity of Ganoderma lucidum: An overview. Front Pharmacol. 2022 Jul 22;13:934982. doi: 10.3389/fphar.2022.934982. PMID: 35935849; PMCID: PMC9353308.

[10] Zhu Q, Bang TH, Ohnuki K, Sawai T, Sawai K, Shimizu K. Inhibition of neuraminidase by Ganoderma triterpenoids and implications for neuraminidase inhibitor design. Sci Rep. 2015 Aug 26;5:13194. doi: 10.1038/srep13194. PMID: 26307417; PMCID: PMC4549708. 

[11] Murphy EJ, Masterson C, Rezoagli E, O'Toole D, Major I, Stack GD, Lynch M, Laffey JG, Rowan NJ. β-Glucan extracts from the same edible shiitake mushroom Lentinus edodes produce differential in-vitro immunomodulatory and pulmonary cytoprotective effects - Implications for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) immunotherapies. Sci Total Environ. 2020 Aug 25;732:139330. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.139330. Epub 2020 May 11. PMID: 32413619; PMCID: PMC7211630.

[12] Dai X, Stanilka JM, Rowe CA, Esteves EA, Nieves C Jr, Spaiser SJ, Christman MC, Langkamp-Henken B, Percival SS. Consuming Lentinula edodes (Shiitake) Mushrooms Daily Improves Human Immunity: A Randomized Dietary Intervention in Healthy Young Adults. J Am Coll Nutr. 2015;34(6):478-87. doi: 10.1080/07315724.2014.950391. Epub 2015 Apr 11. PMID: 25866155. 

[13] Guggenheim AG, Wright KM, Zwickey HL. Immune Modulation From Five Major Mushrooms: Application to Integrative Oncology. Integr Med (Encinitas). 2014 Feb;13(1):32-44. PMID: 26770080; PMCID: PMC4684115.

[14] Aguilera-Braico DM, Balogh GA. CD3Ɛ immune restorative ability induced by Maitake Pro4x in immunosupressed BALBc mice. BMC Res Notes. 2022 Sep 23;15(1):307. doi: 10.1186/s13104-022-06201-1. PMID: 36138418; PMCID: PMC9502923.

[15] Mirończuk-Chodakowska I, Kujawowicz K, Witkowska AM. Beta-Glucans from Fungi: Biological and Health-Promoting Potential in the COVID-19 Pandemic Era. Nutrients. 2021 Nov 6;13(11):3960. doi: 10.3390/nu13113960. PMID: 34836215; PMCID: PMC8623785.

Comments (0)

Leave a comment