World Health Day: Immune-Boosting Medicinal Mushrooms

World Health Day, a global health awareness day celebrated every year, serves as a reminder of the importance of maintaining good health and well-being. In this era, where health has taken center stage, the quest for natural and effective ways to boost our immune system is more relevant than ever. 

Among the myriad of herbal medicine and natural remedies, medicinal mushrooms emerge as a powerful ally. These adaptogenic mushrooms, revered for centuries in various traditional medicines, are now gaining recognition in the modern world for their immune-boosting properties.

As we observe World Health Day, let's explore the potential of these natural wonders in strengthening our immune system, providing us with the resilience needed to face various health challenges. Whether you are a health enthusiast, a natural remedy seeker, or simply curious about the power of nature in healthcare, this journey through medicinal fungi for health is bound to enlighten and inspire. The health benefits of mushrooms and the use of functional mushrooms for health-related concerns knowns no bounds.


How Does the Immune System Work?

Mushroom Supplements for Immunity

Turkey Tail Mushroom for Immunity

Reishi Mushroom for Immunity

Chaga Mushroom for Immunity


Understanding the Immune System: Natural Immune Support

The immune system is our body's complex and dynamic defence mechanism, vital for survival. It acts as a guardian, protecting us from harmful pathogens such as bacteria and viruses while eliminating cellular debris and cancerous cells. 

This system is not a single entity but a network of cells, tissues, and organs working in unison to defend the body. It comprises two main parts: the innate immune system, our first line of defence, which responds quickly to invaders, and the adaptive immune system, which develops a targeted response based on past exposure to pathogens.

Despite its sophistication, the immune system can be weakened by various factors. Poor nutrition, stress, lack of sleep, and environmental toxins can impair its function, making us more susceptible to infections and diseases. Supporting our immune system becomes crucial in the modern world, where these stressors are often part of daily life.

The need for natural supplements to bolster immunity has never been more significant. This is where medicinal mushrooms come into play. These fungi are rich in nutritional value and possess unique compounds that can enhance immune function. 

Medicinal Mushroom Research: Boosting Immunity with Mushrooms

Turkey Tail Mushroom: Immunity Benefits

Turkey Tail, known for being a potent immune-boosting mushroom, is a focal point in health research, particularly in cancer care. Rich in polysaccharides, these mushrooms contain Polysaccharide Krestin (PSK), a compound recognized for its significant biological activity [1]. PSK has garnered attention in Japan, where it's used in cancer therapy to strengthen the immune system, aiding cancer patients' well-being [1].

The holistic impact of Turkey Tail mushrooms, however, goes beyond PSK. Studies show that using the entire mushroom can enhance innate and adaptive immune responses [2]. This is crucial in understanding these mushrooms' comprehensive benefits to the immune system.

Another key component in Turkey Tail mushrooms is the polysaccharide-protein complex PSP, abundant in beta-glucans [3]. Beta-glucans are known to activate macrophages through specific receptors, leading to the elimination of pathogenic microorganisms. This interaction is vital in the body's defence against harmful pathogens.

Additionally, Turkey Tail mushrooms are known to boost the production of antibodies, specifically IgM and IgG [4]. These antibodies play a crucial role in the immune response, with IgG antibodies constituting a significant portion of human serum antibodies. An increase in antibody production suggests enhanced immunity and a reduced risk of reinfection over time.

Moreover, Turkey Tail mushrooms are rich in antioxidants like phenols and flavonoids, essential in maintaining cellular health and reducing inflammation. The balance between antioxidants and unstable molecules is critical for immune system health, and the high antioxidant content in these mushrooms contributes to this equilibrium [4,5].

In cancer treatment, Turkey Tail mushroom extracts have shown promising results. Their impact on cancer, especially breast cancer, is significant, with studies indicating improved disease-free and overall survival rates [6]. PSK has demonstrated effectiveness in enhancing survival in breast cancer patients, both ER-positive and ER-negative, especially when used alongside chemotherapy [6].

Lastly, Turkey Tail mushrooms influence TH2 cytokines, which play a role in cancer treatment [7]. They help shift the immune response towards a TH1 profile, which is beneficial in cancer therapy. Studies across various cancer types, including breast, gastric, and colorectal cancers, have reported increased survival rates when Turkey Tail mushrooms are included in treatment regimens [7]. This comprehensive analysis underscores Turkey Tail mushrooms' significant potential in supporting immune health and offering therapeutic advantages in cancer care.

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Reishi Mushroom Benefits: Herbal Immune Modulators

Reishi mushrooms are also renowned for their immune-boosting properties, thanks to components like beta-glucans, polysaccharides, and triterpenes. These elements activate crucial immune cells and cytokine production, which is essential in managing immune responses. Studies show Reishi's effectiveness in enhancing immunity in both healthy individuals and cancer patients [8,9].

A key feature of Reishi mushrooms is their interaction with Toll-like receptors (TLRs), which initiate innate immune responses. Beta-glucans' binding to TLRs triggers cytokine production, which is vital in controlling immune cell growth and activity [10]. This interaction highlights Reishi's potential against bacteria, viruses, and cancer cells.

Significantly, Reishi mushrooms may offer promising treatments for COVID-19. Research indicates that their beta-glucans boost lymphocytes and enhance innate immunity, protecting against infections, including COVID-19 [11].

Moreover, Reishi's antiviral properties are being explored, particularly against influenza. Studies reveal that ganoderic acids in Reishi inhibit neuraminidase activity in influenza strains, suggesting their potential as a framework for developing new antiviral drugs and countering increasing drug resistance [12].

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Chaga Mushroom Benefits: Immune System and Mushrooms

Chaga antioxidants are a powerhouse owing to the mushroom’s role as a holistic immune booster. A mouse model study highlighted Chaga mushroom's impressive tumour-suppressive effects [13]. Results showed a significant 60% reduction in tumour size and a 25% decrease in metastatic nodules. This suggests Chaga's potential to inhibit tumour growth through mechanisms like enhancing normal metabolic reactions, inducing cancer cell death, and reducing chronic inflammation.

Another research on breast cancer cells revealed Chaga's ability to induce autophagy, a cellular self-cleaning process [14]. Chaga activates AMPK and inhibits the mTOR pathway, triggering autophagy in cancer cells, which is crucial in hindering tumour growth and promoting cell death [15]. These findings suggest Chaga's promise as a therapeutic agent in cancer treatment by modulating autophagy pathways.

Chaga has also been noted for its effectiveness against HSV-1, the herpes simplex virus, by inhibiting viral-induced membrane fusion and preventing viral entry [16]. It even showed potential in removing viral DNA from infected cells, indicating its usefulness in preventing herpes recurrences [17].

Additionally, Chaga impacts allergy responses. It significantly reduces IgE levels in the blood and enhances TH1-derived responses, indicating its effectiveness in inhibiting allergy development [18]. Chaga also lowers IL-4 expression, a key factor in allergic reactions, further underscoring its potential in allergy management [19].

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Global Perspective on Natural Remedies for Immune Health

Medicinal mushrooms have been integral to health and wellness practices worldwide for centuries, underscoring their global significance. In traditional Chinese medicine, mushrooms like reishi and shiitake have been used for thousands of years for their healing properties. Similarly, in Japanese and Korean medicinal practices, mushrooms are esteemed for enhancing vitality and promoting longevity. 

This global perspective on medicinal mushrooms highlights their universal appeal and the diverse ways in which different cultures utilize them. For instance, in Eastern traditions, these mushrooms are often consumed in teas or herbal concoctions, while in the West, they are increasingly popular as nutraceutical mushrooms and functional foods. The adaptability of functional mushrooms to various forms of consumption - whether as extracts, powders, or whole foods - speaks to their versatility and the widespread recognition of their health benefits.

Mycology and Health: Immune-Boosting Herbs

As we observe World Health Day, the role of mushroom wellness in boosting our immune system becomes particularly pertinent. With their rich history in various cultures and proven health benefits, these natural wonders offer an accessible and effective way to strengthen our body's defences. In a world of increasingly complex health challenges, turning to nature's solutions, like medicinal mushrooms, can be a powerful step towards better health and well-being.


Related Articles:

How Turkey Tail Mushroom Helps You Lead a Healthier Life

Reishi Mushroom for the Immune System

Anti-Inflammatory Properties of Chaga



[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] Standish LJ, Wenner CA, Sweet ES, Bridge C, Nelson A, Martzen M, Novack J, Torkelson C. Trametes versicolor mushroom immune therapy in breast cancer. J Soc Integr Oncol. 2008 Summer;6(3):122-8. PMID: 19087769; PMCID: PMC2845472.

[7] 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.

[8] 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.

[9] 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.

[10] 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.

[11] 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.

[12] 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. 

[13] Arata S, Watanabe J, Maeda M, Yamamoto M, Matsuhashi H, Mochizuki M, Kagami N, Honda K, Inagaki M. Continuous intake of the Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) aqueous extract suppresses cancer progression and maintains body temperature in mice. Heliyon. 2016 May 12;2(5):e00111. doi: 10.1016/j.heliyon.2016.e00111. PMID: 27441282; PMCID: PMC4946216.

[14] Lee MG, Kwon YS, Nam KS, Kim SY, Hwang IH, Kim S, Jang H. Chaga mushroom extract induces autophagy via the AMPK-mTOR signaling pathway in breast cancer cells. J Ethnopharmacol. 2021 Jun 28;274:114081. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2021.114081. Epub 2021 Mar 30. PMID: 33798660.

[15] Yun CW, Lee SH. The Roles of Autophagy in Cancer. Int J Mol Sci. 2018 Nov 5;19(11):3466. doi: 10.3390/ijms19113466. PMID: 30400561; PMCID: PMC6274804.

[16] Pan HH, Yu XT, Li T, Wu HL, Jiao CW, Cai MH, Li XM, Xie YZ, Wang Y, Peng T. Aqueous extract from a Chaga medicinal mushroom, Inonotus obliquus (higher Basidiomycetes), prevents herpes simplex virus entry through inhibition of viral-induced membrane fusion. Int J Med Mushrooms. 2013;15(1):29-38. doi: 10.1615/intjmedmushr.v15.i1.40. PMID: 23510282.

[17] Polkovnikova MV, Nosik NN, Garaev TM, Kondrashina NG, Finogenova MP, Shibnev VA. [A study of the antiherpetic activity of the chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) extracts in the Vero cells infected with the herpes simplex virus]. Vopr Virusol. 2014 Mar-Apr;59(2):45-8. Russian. PMID: 25069286.

[18] Deo SS, Mistry KJ, Kakade AM, Niphadkar PV. Role played by Th2 type cytokines in IgE mediated allergy and asthma. Lung India. 2010 Apr;27(2):66-71. doi: 10.4103/0970-2113.63609. PMID: 20616938; PMCID: PMC2893428.

[19] Yoon TJ, Lee SJ, Kim EY, Cho EH, Kang TB, Yu KW, Suh HJ. Inhibitory effect of chaga mushroom extract on compound 48/80-induced anaphylactic shock and IgE production in mice. Int Immunopharmacol. 2013 Apr;15(4):666-70. doi: 10.1016/j.intimp.2013.03.015. Epub 2013 Mar 25. PMID: 23535020.

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