The Magic of Medicinal  Mushrooms

The Magic of Medicinal  Mushrooms
As winter arrives one’s thoughts naturally turn to immune support, and it was with our Immunestart product in mind that I read with interest a new study on mushrooms. Keep in mind, this study was not based on the highly therapeutic medicinal mushrooms, but just on the more common mushrooms regularly used as part of the diet.

The Study
Researchers from Pennsylvania State University, in October of this year (2021), released a study based on analyzing the diet of over 24,000 adults between the years 2005 and 2016. What they discovered was that people who ate mushrooms regularly had much lower odds of suffering from depression.

According to this study, the chemical found in mushrooms most likely responsible for this antidepressant action is ergothioneine. This natural antioxidant protects against cell and tissue damage in the body caused by oxidative stress. And, the researchers point out that studies have already confirmed that powerful antioxidants can help prevent a variety of mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder, depression, and schizophrenia. So, they assume that it is the antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties of this compound which could lead to a reduction in symptoms of depression.

While ergothioneine is found in a variety of foods, the highest amounts are found in mushrooms. (The few other foods containing high amounts of ergothioneine include oats, kidney beans, chicken liver, and tempeh.) Unfortunately, the data did not provide details on the types of mushrooms, so the researchers were unable to determine the effects of specific types of mushrooms on depression.   (Study)

More Research                                                                                                
Now, ergothioneine has much more potential for supporting our health and longevity than simply addressing depression, as this excerpt from a clinical study points out.

“Considerable attention has been focused on the potential for ERGO (ergothioneine) to mitigate chronic neurodegenerative diseases. One study demonstrated that ERGO blood levels in human subjects decline with age and declined faster in those who show cognitive impairment compared to age-matched individuals with no cognitive impairment. In a similar study, blood ERGO levels were lower in individuals with Parkinson’s Disease (PD) than with age-matched individuals without the disease. These observations are not surprising considering that ETT (ETT is responsible for the rapid and efficient transport of food-derived ERGO from the intestine and into various tissues in the body) is found in the brain and it has been demonstrated that ERGO passes the blood–brain barrier, suggesting that low blood ERGO levels may predispose people to neurological diseases of aging.”    (Source)

Technically a sulfur-containing amino acid, L-ergothioneine cannot be synthesized in the body, and so must be acquired through the diet, primarily from mushrooms.  However, the amount of ergothioneine found in mushrooms varies from species to species, constituting from 2 to 25% of the dry weight of those mushrooms most commonly consumed in the Western diet. Of those, the mushrooms highest in ergothioneine are: Agaricus bisporus (white and brown “button mushrooms”); Lentinula edodes (shiitake); Pleurotus ostreatus (oyster mushroom); and Grifola frondosa (maitake).

Both shiitake and maitake mushrooms cross over from being simply food to being included in the medicinal mushroom category, and both have immune enhancing and cancer preventing properties, likely due in part to their high content of ergothioneine.

Now, when we turn to medicinal mushrooms as a source of ergothioneine, there is something we need to be aware of: The high amounts of ergothioneine found in the shiitake and maitake listed above, are found in the fruiting body of these mushrooms. However, for other mushrooms, higher amounts are found in the mycelia. These include Agaricus blazei, Cordyceps sinensis, Ganoderma lucidum, and Coriolus versicolor.  (Source)

Mycelium is the vegetative part of a fungus consisting of a mass of branching, web-like threads known as hyphae. It grows underground, or in the matrix of whatever medium is used when growing mushrooms commercially. If found in a matrix of foodstuff, mycelium is perfectly safe to eat, and is often added to medicinal mushroom products.

What is important to know when searching for a source of ergothioneine is that producers of medicinal mushrooms have different approaches to which part of the mushrooms they use in their final products. Thus, some only use the fruiting body of the mushroom (the above ground part), some only use the mycelium, and some use a combination of the two.

Now, since the mushrooms found in ImmuneStart are made from the entire mushroom, it includes the fruiting body and the mycelium (as well as extracellular compounds and spores). Therefore, ImmuneStart would be a good source of ergothioneine, especially since the mushrooms used are concentrated extracts of pharmaceutical quality.

In fact, it takes over 250 pounds of mushrooms to create one pound of ImmuneStart mushroom extract, and each recommended dose (4 caps) contains over 560 mg of soluble beta-glucans and polysaccharides. The beta-glucans and polysaccharides found in medicinal mushrooms stimulate the production of immune cells to guard our bodies’ cells against foreign invaders, protecting us from aberrant and abnormal cell growth.

Now that I have established ImmuneStart to be a good source of ergothioneine, I will finish with a brief overview of other medicinal properties attributed to the six mushrooms found in this formula.

Agaricus Blazei
Agaricus blazei is a mushroom native to Brazil, and widely cultivated in Japan for its medicinal uses. “It was traditionally used to treat many common diseases like atherosclerosis, hepatitis, hyperlipidemia, diabetes, dermatitis and cancer. Modern research has shown it to possess immunomodulatory, antitumor, and antimutagenic properties.”   (Source)

Agaricus blazei…is effective for the treatment of diabetes, HIV/AIDS, hypotension, and hepatitis…and also acts as an antitumor agent against myeloma and hepatic cancer in in vivo and in vitro studies.”   (Source)

Cordyceps Sinensis
Cordyceps has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries, but in recent decades, interest in the Cordyceps genus has amplified due to its immunostimulatory potential, and ability to increase nitric oxide production.

Cordyceps and its active principles possess a wide range of pharmacological actions, such as anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antitumour, antihyperglycemic, antiapoptosis, immunomodulatory, nephroprotective, and hepatoprotective.”    (Source)

“Other pharmacological activities like antioxidant, anti-cancer, antihyperlipidemic, anti-diabetic, anti-fatigue, anti-aging, hypocholesterolemic, hypotensive, vasorelaxation, anti-depressant, aphrodisiac, and kidney protection, has been reported in pre-clinical studies.”   (Source)

Grifola frondosa, known as maitake in Japan, is an edible mushroom with both nutritional and medicinal properties…Since the discovery of the D-fraction more than three decades ago, many other polysaccharides, including β-glucans and heteroglycans, have been extracted from the G. frondosa fruiting body and fungal mycelium, which have shown significant antioxidant, antitumor and immunomodulatory activities.”   (Source)

D-fraction was approved as an adjunctive therapeutic drug in China for treating cancers in 2010 (especially for breast and gastric cancers), and also has antitumor, immunomodulatory, anti-diabetic, anti-hyperlipidemia (cholesterol-lowering) and antiviral activities.”   (Source)


Lentinan, a β-1,3-D-glucan extracted from Lentinula edodes (shiitake), is widely used in Japan for the treatment of cancers, especially gastric cancer, due to its immunomodulatory action. An inhibitory effect of lentinan on tumor angiogenesis was demonstrated in a study on the lung carcinoma cell line and colorectal carcinoma cell line.”   (Source)

“Apart from these benefits, it has tremendous potential to be used as an antioxidant, anticancer, antigingivitis, antifungal, antimicrobial, and antiviral agent.”   (Source)

Coriolus Versicolor

Coriolus versicolor (turkey tai), has traditionally been used in Asian countries to promote good health, strength, and longevity.

Currently in China, since 1987, and Japan, since 1977, C. versicolor extracts have been approved in routine clinical practice, especially in integrated cancer therapy in conjunction with chemotherapy or radiotherapy. In China, there are currently at least 12 C. versicolor-based drugs approved by the State Administration of Food and Drugs for clinical use.

Extracts of this mushroom have immunomodulatory properties, along with other

physiological effects, such as liver-protecting, system-balancing, antiulcer, antiaging and learning, and memory-enhancing properties, as well as reducing adverse events related to chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments”. As well, turkey tail extracts have proven to be antiviral and anti-inflammatory, and to improve insulin resistance and increase levels of the antioxidant superoxide dismutase (SOD).   (Source)

Traditionally referred to as the “mushroom of immortality”, and used to promote well-being and longevity, Ganoderma lucidum (reishi) is one of the most widely used medicinal mushrooms in the world today.

G. lucidum is recognized for its numerous pharmacological properties, such as anticancer, hypoglycemic, immunomodulatory, antihypertensive, cytotoxic, anti-diabetic, antioxidant, antihyperlipidemic, antimutagenic, anti aging, antimicrobial, and hepatoprotective properties, and many others.

In addition to anticancer activity, cardioprotective activity, and enhanced telomerase activity (longevity agent), G. lucidum is capable of neutralizing ROS (reactive oxygen species) damage, and has tumor proliferation-inhibiting action,and antiviral properties.” (Source)

While not a mushroom, the herb astragalus is the seventh component of ImmuneStart, present in this formula to support immune-enhancement. So, I will end with a brief overview of some of the additional benefits of this powerful plant.

Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus) is a type of flowering plant, with the medicinal properties residing mostly in the root. The root has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese Medicine, particularly for treating kidney disease, and is commonly used for its adaptogen properties.

Adaptogens are a class of natural substances that are believed to stimulate the body’s resistance to physical, environmental, and emotional stressors. The chemicals in astragalus also seem to stimulate the immune system and reduce swelling.”   (Source)

Astragalus membranaceus is used as an immune stimulant, tonic, antioxidant, hepatoprotectant, diuretic, antidiabetic, anticancer, and expectorant.”   (Source)

There is only one conclusion one can draw from this material: we all could benefit from taking ImmuneStart, as aside from supporting immunity, the ingredients seem to cover virtually every other aspect of health and longevity. How many of these benefits can be attributed to ergothioneine, it’s hard to say, but the cognitive support and brain protection this component provides certainly ups the value of a product like ImmuneStart considerably.

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