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The Magic of Medicinal Mushrooms January 22, 2013

Posted by acroanmph in Public Health.
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The mushrooms you love so much may be better for you than you know.

Evidence of the curative effects of mushrooms dates to prehistoric times in Africa, Egypt and Mesoamerica, depicted by hieroglyphs and petroglyphs, and two types discovered in pouches found in 1991 on the body of a 5,000 year old European, Oetzi the Iceman. The West has acknowledged the powerful use of mushrooms as medicine, but most of the globe has worshipped–often literally–the fungi for millennia.

Medicinal mushrooms possess latent cancer preventive properties. Studies in Japan and Brazil strongly indicate that regular consumption over prolonged periods significantly reduces cancer incidence. One Japanese epidemiological survey over a period of 14 years revealed that cancer rates of workers at medicinal mushroom farms were 1 in 1,000 compared to 1 in 600 for the general population. A mixture of the active ingredients from different mushrooms maximizes the immune response by providing multiple stimuli to the body’s natural defenses. Cancer Research UK also found increasing experimental evidence that medicinal mushrooms demonstrate both high anti-tumor activity and restricting metastasis of tumors. They even reverse the harmful effects of radiation and chemotherapy.

Reishi mushroom. Photo by Eric Steinert.

Reishi mushrooms are the oldest in Traditional Chinese Medicine, still widely used today.
Photo by Eric Steinert.

Reishi has been rated the top medicinal herb in Traditional Chinese Medicine for over 2,000 years. So highly valued, it was traded for its own weight in gold and available only to Emperors. It is still the most important herb in Asia, where the focus is on preventive medicine as opposed to the West’s reactive. It contains over 200 active ingredients and unique compounds that are the most biologically active from any plant source. Reishi is normally taken as an extract because it is a very tough, woody mushroom and difficult to digest raw. Its dynamic antioxidant action and immune stimulating effects make it so treasured.

Nearly any type of common mushroom you choose to incorporate into your daily life will have a multitude of medicinal effects, most of them supremely positive. Raw mushrooms dried in the sun will multiply their stores of vitamin D for up to one year. Vitamin D deficiency accounts for many symptoms of decreased health including death from cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment in older adults, severe asthma in children, cancer, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, hypertension, glucose intolerance and multiple sclerosis.

Fresh mushrooms are readily available and easy to incorporate into any diet. Exotic Asian varieties now normally found on supermarket shelves (shitake, maitake, oyster and enoki) have anticancer properties, lower cholesterol and strengthen the immune system. Common varieties such as button, Portobello and crimini contain some benefits (Portobellos have high potassium and B12 levels) but also naturally contain substances that in large doses may increase tumor risk in animals. These should always be consumed thoroughly cooked, broiled or grilled to decrease the toxins and ease digestion.

Dr. Joel Fuhrman, natural medicine researcher and father of nutritarian eating, provides us with a longevity equation: H=N/C or healthy life expectancy is proportional to the lifetime intake of micronutrient diversity and quantity per calorie. His advocacy of micronutrient-rich diets is featured in Whole Foods Markets and inspired millions to consume anti-cancer foods as part of their regular diets. According to Dr. Fuhrman,

Mushrooms block tumor growth and have anti-estrogenic activity. Frequent consumption of mushrooms, approximately one button mushroom per day, has been shown to decrease the risk of breast cancer by 60-70%. Mushrooms are thought to protect against breast cancer particularly because they inhibit an enzyme called aromatase, which produces estrogen. Mushrooms are one of the very few foods that inhibit aromatase, and several varieties of mushrooms have strong anti-aromatase activity, including the common varieties like white button and Portobello mushrooms.

Other North American mushrooms contain health benefits too. You may have seen these while hiking:

Cauliflower mushrooms contain chemicals which enhance the immune system and have anti-tumor properties. Photo by Nick Valdez.

Cauliflower mushrooms contain chemicals which enhance the immune system and have anti-tumor properties.
Photo by Nick Valdez.

shaggy mane

Shaggy Mane’s polysaccharides and triterpenes fight cancer and existing tumors, stabilize blood pressure and keep blood sugar even. It benefits asthma, anxiety, diabetes, hepatitis, and leukemia.
Photo by Nick Valdez.

Earth Star Mushroom

Earth Star mushroom spore dust is used in TCM and applied externally to stop wound bleeding and reduce chilblains. Also prohibits tumor growth and has spurned research interest for immunomodulatory and antitumor properties.
Photo by Nick Valdez.

chanterelle mushrooms health benefits

White Chanterelles, indicative of healthy, old-growth forests, contain protein, vitamins B and D, riboflavin, niacin and thiamine. Minerals include potassium, copper and selenium.
Photo by Nick Valdez.

Magic Mushrooms

Use of psilocybin or magic mushrooms is often found in ancient records of spiritual and shamanistic rituals. Unlike manufactured psychotropic drugs (LSD), these mushrooms do not technically cause hallucinations, but alter perceptions of objects and time. They are non-addictive but can quickly become tolerable, lessening the effects with increased use. They are not known for their health benefits.

Today, psychotropic mushrooms are foraged wild and easily cultivated. They are ingested raw, added to stews or sauces, or steeped into a tea, causing long-term feelings of well-being. A 2011 Johns Hopkins study found that just one dose of this created personality shifts in “openness,” abstract ideas, creativity and aesthetics lasting up to one year. Each participant in the study relayed this as a life-changing experience for the better. Mushrooms were administered in a hospital setting with two people acting as guards over a period of eight hours. This is breakthrough news, as it was previously thought that personality was a set determinant. In the study, 60% of participants were markedly changed with a single high dose of psilocybin. (Note that psilocybin is illegal, classified as a Schedule 1 substance by the DEA.)

Amanita,

Unlike psilocybin mushrooms, psychotropic Amanita muscaria is popular but not often consumed due to its toxicity and unpredictable psychological effects. Often brewed as a tea for entheogenic use, its personality effects can be depressant or ultimately positively life-changing.
Photo by Steve Childress.

“Renaissance Mycologist” Paul Stamets walks us through the science, history and future of our world with mushrooms in this incredible TED talk.

Warning

Research well whatever type of mushroom you eat and consult your doctor before making changes to your diet. Many varieties will react adversely with prescription medications. There are several types of lethal mushrooms, often ingested due to misidentification. White and yellow Amanita phalloides are responsible for the majority of mushroom deaths every year. Cooking poisonous mushrooms will not release their toxins and will remain deadly.

Related Reading

South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology

North American Mycological Association

American College of Neuropsychopharmacology

“Healthy” Mushroom Recipes

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OAS and Out With The Fruit Bowl (at least at my house) October 20, 2011

Posted by acroanmph in Public Health.
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1 comment so far

Allergy, fruit, oral allergy syndrome, pollens, anaphylaxisI scolded my daughter and rolled my eyes when she pleaded, “I don’t want to finish my apples. They’re making my mouth itch and my gums hurt really bad!” What kind of ridiculous nonsense was this? A life-long fruit-lover, this girl would happily substitute fruit for any meal and be out the door, on her way.

As a non-fruit eater, I strongly encouraged fruit-eating for my children’s diets, hoping to create more well-rounded eaters. While I could subsist on veggies alone, I’ve never cared for any fruits and as a rule don’t eat them. My husband has never before or since met anyone who could discount an entire food group.

When day after day, snack after snack was refused by my daughter, I was dumbfounded by her distress when I asked her to finish her fruit after having taken only one bite. I worked for several years in asthma and allergy management, and had not once encountered a food allergy to fruit. She displayed none of the other symptoms associated with food allergies – hives, anaphylaxis or constricted airways. After some research, we determine she is suffering from Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS) or pollen-food syndrome.

As it turns out, those with hay fever or other pollen allergies, and related disorders such as eczema, can be susceptible to OAS when eating fresh fruit. The reaction is limited to itching, burning and sometimes swelling of the tongue, gums, throat, and ear canal, and is caused when pollens cross over to similar proteins in the fruit.

According to the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network, common sensitivities are:

  • Birch: apples, plums, peaches, cherries, pears, apricots, nectarines, prunes, hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts
  • Grasses: tomatoes
  • Ragweed: melons, zucchini, cucumber, kiwi, bananas, chamomile tea

Sometimes foods in the same botanical family cause reactions. These are potato and carrot; parsley and celery; apple and pear.

Treatment

In most cases, medical treatment is not required. Rapid onset of symptoms can be severe, but dissipate after about 15 minutes. During pollen seasons, treating the hay fever with an antihistamine can reduce the reaction to the fruits. Sometimes milk or mint tea can be helpful for relieving symptoms. Cooking the fruits will change the protein enough that the immune system does not recognize the food as being the same pollen. In severe recurrent cases, OAS may be treated with immunotherapy (allergy shots) to the pollen. Avoidance of the fruits altogether is usually recommended.

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