How to use medicinal mushrooms as cancer treatment

Mushrooms have been used medicinally for at least the last 5000 years. Reported benefits of mushrooms include:

  • antimicrobial
  • anti-inflammatory
  • immune-boosting
  • cardiovascular-protective
  • anti-diabetic
  • liver protective
  • anticancer
Benefits of medicinal mushrooms for cancer include antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, immune-boosting, cardiovascular-protective, anti-diabetic, liver protective, anticancer

The anti-cancer properties are how I first started researching medicinal mushrooms — although every benefit is relevant to those fighting disease or struggling with the impacts of chemo.

Several mushroom types are considered to have medicinal properties:

  • Reishi (Ganoderma lingzhi)
  • Maitake (Grifola frondosa)
  • Turkey Tail (Coriolus versicolor)
  • Cordyceps (Ophiocordyceps sinensis)
  • Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus)
  • Agaricus (Agaricus)
  • Chaga (Inonotus obliquus)
  • Oyster (Pleurotus)
  • Shiitake (Lentinula edodes)

When I first started my cancer diet built around functional foods, I knew that some mushrooms were renown for fighting cancer and had to be included. For example, the mushroom extract PSK (polysaccharide-K) is used as a commonly-prescribed immunochemotherapy drug in Japan. PSK is found in turkey tail mushrooms so I started including these regularly.

PSK is just one of many beneficial compounds found in mushrooms. Beta-glucans are another component known to lower cholesterol, improve blood sugar, and boost the immune system. My morning beta-glucan supplement is one of the few that I take every morning.

There’s a huge variety of medicinal mushrooms, each with their own smattering of evidence for different cancers. While I knew I needed these mushrooms, I had no idea which would be most beneficial for me.

Mushrooms can affect cancer through immunomodulation resulting in tumor destruction or can have an effect on the tumor directly. 

Alena G. Guggenheim, ND, Kirsten M. Wright, BS, and Heather L. Zwickey, PhD, Immune Modulation From Five Major Mushrooms: Application to Integrative Oncology

I just stumbled across this 2014 study published in the Journal of Integrative Medicine: Immune Modulation From Five Major Mushrooms: Application to Integrative Oncology. This study is just what I’d been looking for.

I won’t summarize everything here but strongly encourage others to read it. The main takeaway that made this study unique is that the researchers were able to trace the impact of different mushroom compounds on different immune-system-modulating agents to determine which may be most beneficial to different types of cancer. The researchers also noted the different outcomes for experiments done in vitro (in the lab) and in vivo (in real bodies – mice, in this case).

This paper also summarized the myriad ways that medicinal mushrooms fight cancer:

  • Stimulate the immune system to fight cancer – specifically by stimulating production of a specific cytokine (immune-modulating protein) that stimulates cancer-killing NK and CD8+ T cells, as well as tumoricidal macrophages.
  • Increase the efficacy of chemotherapy and radiation, usually by increasing the dose absorbed by cancerous cells
  • Protective effect against some of the worst side-effects of chemotherapy, including myelosuppression.
  • Reduce inflammation which may have the added benefit of decreasing fatigue, anxiety, and other symptoms.

Which mushrooms are best to improve the efficacy of chemotherapy?

While this is certainly not a complete list, the research has been done to show that at least the following mushrooms can increase the efficacy of the following chemo types.

Medicinal Mushrooms Indicated by Chemotherapy Regime

Chemotherapeutic AgentIndicated Mushroom
TrastudzumabTurkey Tail
CyclophosphamideReishi
CisplatinMaitakeCordyceps, reishi
DocetaxelTurkey Tail
DoxorubicinAgaricus

Which mushrooms are best for which types of cancer?

Again, it’s likely that mushrooms are helpful across a broader spectrum of cancers but research to date supports the following uses.

Medicinal Mushrooms Indicated by Cancer Type

Type of CancerIndicated Mushroom
Breast cancerReishi, maitake, turkey tail
Colon cancerReishi, maitake, turkey tail
Gastirc cancerTurkey tail
Hepatocellular carcinomaAgaricus, reishi
LeukemiaAgaricus, reishi
LymphomaCordyceps
Lung cancerReishi
Non-small cell lung cancerCordyceps
Prostate cancerReishi
SarcomaReishi
Most effective medicinal mushroom by cancer type

How to incorporate medicinal mushrooms

There are multiple ways to incorporate medicinal mushrooms into your treatment regime.

  1. Whole (fresh or dried) – It is arguably ideal to be able to incorporate medicinal mushrooms as food. So many beneficial plant compounds require the whole plant in order to maximize their benefit. I always grab maitake, shiitake or oyster mushrooms when I see them at the store. Unfortunately, other varieties are difficult to find which makes the other 3 methods helpful.
  2. Powders – To ensure I’m getting a full spectrum of immune-supporting mushrooms, I use the OM! mushrooms immunity blend in my food daily. This blend includes reishi, turkey tail, agaricus, and maitake. I also add a little of the cordyceps powder to coverall the bases. I add a scoop to smoothies, chia seed pudding, fat bombs, salad dressings, and anytime I use cacao powder. In fact, I keep a tub of half cacao powder/ half mushroom powder and almost never use plain cacao.
    I use their powders so much I signed up as an affiliate to get a discount. Use coupon code CANCERVME20 or click this link for 20% off.
  3. Tinctures – Before I discovered the mushroom powders above, I added a few drops of turkey tail extract whenever I cooked. They’re not my first choice because the alcohol can be inflammatory, it doesn’t taste great, and I haven’t found a full-spectrum tincture. Still, it came through in a pinch before I discovered the powder.
  4. Capsules – I deeply believe that whole foods are best but, knowing that I won’t eat large quantities of mushrooms every day, I take a beta-glucan supplement every. single. day. These need to be taken on an empty stomach so I just pop it first thing when I wake up along with all my other pills. I usually take about 400mg and don’t see this changing ever. The immune benefits of beta-glucans are just too well-researched to ignore.

However you get these mushrooms into your body, make sure you’re taking advantage of their powers.

Whether you’re fighting cancer, fighting cancer AND the side effects of chemo, or just want to make sure your immune system is strong in this current environment, incorporating medicinal mushrooms into your diet may have enormous benefits.

If you’re looking for an easy, tasty way to incorporate these mushrooms in your daily routine, check out this recipe for immune-boosting, anti-cancer medicinal mushroom cocoa.

Immune-boosting medicinal mushroom cocoa

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2 comments

Leslie R Pollock April 28, 2020 - 4:46 am

This is such a well informed article! I’m a huge fan of medicinal mushrooms, started taking them after I was diagnosed with cancer and have continued and plan to continue for the rest of my life — why not boost the immune system and potentially keep cancer from returning?

Reply
Maggie Jones April 28, 2020 - 8:33 am

Thank you! I know you have so many delicious mushroom recipes on http://www.cancerkitchenboss.com – I love all your immune boosting, cancer fighting dishes!!

Reply

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