What Active Compounds Are Found in Medicinal Mushrooms?
1. Medicinal Mushroom Proteins and the Immune System:
Some mushroom proteins bond with polysaccharides to form proteoglycans (also known as glycoproteins) which are known to stimulate an immune response.
However, studies show certain mushroom proteins to be bioactive in their own right. For example, mushroom proteins found in Enokitake (Lat. Flammunlina Velutipes) and Reishi have strong anti-viral and anti-fungal action.
2. Medicinal Mushroom Polysaccharides and the Immune System
Specifically found within Turkey Tail mushroom (Lat: Trametes Versicolor) PSK and PSP are some of the most widely studied medicinal mushroom extracts.
The drug Krestin is derived from PSK and has been shown to increase survival rates of cancer patients whilst also being non-toxic.
However, this medicinal mushroom is not be thought of as a cure for cancer, but, like many medicinal mushroom polysaccharides, those found within Turkey Tail mushrooms can significantly help support immune function which is particularly beneficial for cancer patients undergoing radio or chemotherapy.
3. Medicinal Mushroom Triterpenes as an Anti-inflammatory and Anti-viral
Absorbed from tree bark via the enzymic action of mushroom mycelia, triterpenes such as betulinic acid and betulin are found within tree dwelling mushrooms such as Reishi, Chaga (Lat. Inonotus obliquus) and Birch polypore (Lat. Fomitopsis betulina).
Studies show triterpenes to have a high bioactivity with anti-inflammatory and anti-viral effects.
4. Medicinal Mushroom Sterols as Anti-tumour and Anti-viral
With regard to sterols, of particular interest is Lions Mane (Hericium erinaceus) which contains ergosterol within its fruiting body.
Research of this particular sterol indicates a high degree of promise for its anti-tumour and anti-ageing potential, the latter effect shown to be as effective as the drug resveratrol.
5. Medicinal Mushroom Statins Lower Cholesterol
Due to its strong anti-fungal properties certain mushrooms have evolved to produce the compound Lovastatin which has also been found to lower cholesterol levels within humans.
Nowadays, versions of this natural compound are collectively called “statins” and commonly prescribed to those at risk of heart disease. Of notable interest for its lovastatin content is the Oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus).
6. Mushroom Chitin and the Immune System
Chitin is the fibrous polysaccharide providing structural integrity to the fruiting body.
Aside from providing a great source of dietary fibre, chitin and other mushroom polysaccharides stimulate the human immune system directly and indirectly.
7. Mushroom Enzymes Supporting a Healthy Gut
Mushroom mycelia excrete a vast array of enzymes and are therefore naturally found within the mushroom fruiting body too – considering mushrooms sprout from mycelium.
Many of these enzymes are digestive and therefore break down proteins, fats and sugars (i.e. proteases, lipases and laccases). Due to this fact, medicinal mushroom supplements have the added benefit of supporting gut health via pre-biotic and pro-biotic activity.