Perhaps you already know the fundamentals of immune support: taking your multivitamins, getting enough sleep, reducing stress, and working out. But did you know that including mushrooms in your diet can give your immune system a much-needed boost?
Medicinal mushrooms are loaded with nutrients and are thought to have a wide range of health benefits, including improving immune function and having positive effects on some cancers.
Extensive in vitro studies have demonstrated that different mushroom compounds induce biochemical changes in immune system cells, like T cells, Natural Killer (NK) cells, dendritic cells, and macrophages.
So, which is the best mushroom for immune system? It is hard to pick one, considering they all boast powerful benefits. But the most popular medicinal mushrooms with immune-supporting properties are Lion's mane, Chaga, Reishi, Cordyceps, Turkey tail, and Maitake mushrooms.
Below, we have curated a list of the top 6 medicinal mushrooms, which contain the best immune-boosting magic, all backed by expert evidence. We will also let you in on how to incorporate these mushrooms into your life to get your immune system going!
6 Best Mushrooms For Immune System
The healing and regenerative properties of medicinal mushrooms have been used by ancient cultures for thousands of years to strengthen immune systems. The effects of fungi on immunity, cancer, and even autoimmunity have long been hypothesized. Still, in recent years, a growing interest has prompted researchers to clarify which specific compounds have bioactive properties and the mushroom immune support mechanisms.
Most of the biological effects(1) of mushrooms, particularly in terms of immunomodulatory and anti-tumor effects, are caused by glucans and particular proteins. According to the most recent studies(2), medicinal mushrooms alter cytokines, the immune cells' pro- and anti-inflammatory messengers.
By reducing the inflammatory response brought on by these pro-inflammatory cytokines, mushrooms can improve the efficiency of T cells, B cells, and antibodies. Lipids, a minor component of mushrooms that may contribute to lowering serum cholesterol levels, or phenols, which function as antioxidants and reducing agents, also help provide immune support.
Let's take a closer look at the six best mushrooms for immunity and the scientific evidence of the mushroom immune system benefits.
Lion's mane mushroom or Hericium Eerinaceus is packed with antioxidants that strengthen the immune system.
Research on animals(3) has shown that Lion's mane mushrooms can boost immunity by enhancing the activity of the intestinal immune system. This defends the body from pathogens that enter the gut through the nose or mouth.
In the study, the mushroom polysaccharides enhanced the activity of white blood cells like macrophages and NK cells, thus strengthening both kinds of immunity (cell-mediated and antibody-mediated) in the body.
In a study(4) published from the Republic of Korea, Hericium erinaceus mushroom extracts protected mice infected with Salmonella by stimulating immune cells. In addition, daily supplementation with Lion's mane extract increased the lifespan of mice injected with a lethal dose of the bacteria by almost four times.
Chaga, or Inonotus obliquus, contains beta-glucans, which help support immune system balance. They can up-regulate your immune system when it needs a boost and to down-regulate it when it is acting too strongly.
This immunomodulatory effect of Chaga was explored in a Korean study(5). The extracts of Chaga were tested on the bone marrow cells of the immunosuppressed mouse.
Merely eight days after treatment with the medicinal mushroom, the precursor cells in the marrow increased, and so did the levels of TNF alpha. The results strongly suggest that Chaga has excellent potential as an immune enhancer, especially during chemotherapy.
Another mushroom on our list of best mushrooms for immunity is Reishi or Ganoderma lucidum. Research(6) in cancer patients has shown that polysaccharides found in Reishi can increase the activity of NK cells.
The mushroom can also boost the number of white blood cells (lymphocytes) in people with colorectal cancer, according to a study from China(7).
Cordyceps is a rare caterpillar fungus that grows in the high-altitude Himalayan region. It has a long history of use in the treatment of respiratory infections and cancer.
An eight-week study(8) in healthy Korean subjects revealed that taking Cordyceps extract supplements was linked to an increase in the activity of NK cells. Moreover, this change was accompanied by improved immune control compared to controls.
A Chinese study(9) showed that Cordyceps could significantly lower blood levels of thyroid antibodies in autoimmune thyroid disease and could be beneficial for cell-mediated immunity.
The immunomodulatory properties of the Cordyceps sinensis mushroom have also been described in a series of in vitro and in vivo experiments(10). Results showed that Cordyceps increased blood levels of interleukins and tumor necrosis factor. These two cells are essential immune response regulators.
Trametes versicolor, commonly known as Turkey tail, is most renowned for enhancing the immune system's health. Polysaccharopeptides, the protein-bound polysaccharides in Turkey tail, possess immune-boosting properties. Polysaccharide Peptide (PSP) and Krestin (PSK), the two polysaccharopeptides, promote immune response by inhibiting and activating particular immune cell types and reducing inflammation.
Monocytes are a subset of white blood cells that fight infection and strengthen immunity, and a test-tube study(11) has shown that PSP increases their production. They are also known to activate macrophages(12) and enhance the anti-tumor effect of chemotherapy medication.
PSP and PSK are also frequently used as anticancer agents(13) in some countries, along with surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation, because they have a natural ability to boost the immune system.
Maitake, or Grifola frondosa, is one of the most well-researched mushrooms in the medicinal mushroom family. They contain an array of beta-glucan compounds that positively influence immune function.
Researchers evaluated the immunomodulating effects of Maitake mushroom extract in a clinical trial(14). Thirty-four postmenopausal women with breast cancer were enrolled in this study. For three weeks, liquid extracts of the mushroom were given twice daily.
Results showed that the mushroom increased the production of interleukin (IL)-2, IL-10, tumor necrosis factor-α, and interferon-γ. It was also associated with producing both stimulatory (IL-2) and suppressive (IL-10) cytokines.
How To Use Mushroom Supplements For Immune System Boosting?
There are several ways to use mushrooms for immunity. Fresh mushrooms can be used in culinary preparation, but the easier way to turbo-shoot your immune system is by using mushroom supplements. Medicinal mushrooms are available as powders, capsules, tinctures, and teas.
You can add the powders to soups, smoothies, stews, and sauces. Additionally, you can sprinkle it over stir fry and curries or toss it with vegetables. However, the easiest way to use mushroom powder is in a cup of hot water.
A few drops of mushroom tincture can be mixed into your favorite beverage. You can either take the whole serving at one time or spread out your serving throughout the day.
Are Mushrooms Good For Immunity?
Mushrooms are full of health-promoting compounds that have immune-boosting properties. They can modify cytokines, stimulate the production and function of several white blood cells, and modulate the immune system for the better.
What Mushroom Is Best For Immunity?
Several culinary and medicinal mushrooms have been shown to support immune system function. From button mushrooms to Lion's mane, Maitake, Reishi, Chaga, Turkey tail, and Cordyceps, edible fungi contain a host of bioactive compounds that can boost the cells of the immune system and protect against several types of diseases and infections.
Which Mushroom Is Most Beneficial?
Reishi, Turkey tail, Maitake, Chaga, Lion's mane, and Cordyceps are the powerhouses of immune-boosting super mushrooms. They contain polysaccharides, triterpenes, and beta-glucans which have been clinically proven to be beneficial for immune health.
When trying to support your immune system, medicinal mushrooms for immunity, like Lion's mane, Chaga, Cordyceps, Turkey tail, Maitake, and Reishi, are no doubt a fantastic tool to have on your side. However, it is always best to adopt a holistic approach to fortify your inner resilience by staying active, eating properly, and prioritizing getting adequate sleep.
- Mushrooms and immunity, (1)https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33276307/
- Immune Modulation From Five Major Mushrooms: Application to Integrative Oncology, (2)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4684115/
- Immunomodulatory effects of Hericium erinaceus derived polysaccharides are mediated by intestinal immunology, (3)https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28266682/
- Hericium erinaceus mushroom extracts protect infected mice against Salmonella Typhimurium-Induced liver damage and mortality by stimulation of innate immune cells, (4)https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22624604/
- Immunomodulatory Activity of the Water Extract from Medicinal Mushroom Inonotus obliquus, (5)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3774877/
- Effects of ganopoly (a Ganoderma lucidum polysaccharide extract) on the immune functions in advanced-stage cancer patients, (6)https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12916709/
- Monitoring of immune responses to a herbal immuno-modulator in patients with advanced colorectal cancer, (7)https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16428086/
- Immunomodulatory effects of a mycelium extract of Cordyceps (Paecilomyces hepiali; CBG-CS-2): a randomized and double-blind clinical trial, (8)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6441223/
- Suppression of T-cell activation in vitro and in vivo by cordycepin from Cordyceps militaris, (9)https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23927879/
- Immunomodulatory activities of HERBSnSENSES Cordyceps -- in vitro and in vivo studies, (10)https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16873101/
- PSP activates monocytes in resting human peripheral blood mononuclear cells: immunomodulatory implications for cancer treatment, (11)https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23497877/
- TLR2 agonist PSK activates human NK cells and enhances the anti-tumor effect of HER2-targeted monoclonal antibody therapy, (12)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3206987/
- Preclinical and clinical studies of Coriolus versicolor polysaccharopeptide as an immunotherapeutic in China, (13)https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28595034/
- Immune-modulating Effects of Maitake Mushroom Extract, (14)https://www.naturalmedicinejournal.com/journal/immune-modulating-effects-maitake-mushroom-extract
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