Why are some mushrooms medicinal?
Aside from their nutritional value, compounds found within studied medicinal mushrooms have antitumor, immune boosting, antioxidant, cholesterol-lowering, antiviral, antibacterial, liver protective, blood glucose regulating and shows neuroprotective effects.
Where do Medicinal Mushrooms Get Their Medicinal Qualities?
Beneath the soil you walk on is a fungi network. Tiny branches of mycelia spread below the surface and interconnect with surrounding plants and trees.
Some of these relationships will be symbiotic whereby food resources are shared between mycelia, plants and trees whilst others will be parasitic meaning the mycelia will take from the plant or tree without returning the favour.
Affectionately called the “Wood Wide Web”, the delicate mycelial network excretes enzymes to breakdown materials within the soil and trees to absorb complex sugars called polysaccharides.
How Do Medicinal Mushrooms Boost Immune System?
Mushroom Polysaccharides, beta-glucans and the immune system:
Medicinal mushroom polysaccharides differ from the ones we might find in plants because of their molecular weight and structure*.
The polysaccharides, namely beta-glucans, proteoglycans and heterglucans, are large enough to be mistakenly identified by our body as a pathogen and thus, stimulate an immune response such as increased Antibody Production, increase Lymphocyte Activating Factor production, increased Tumour Necrosis Factor production, increased Colony Stimulating Factor production, Macrophage activation, Neutrophil activation, Natural Killer cell activation, Cytotoxic T-cell activation and more.
In fact, one of the reasons why your body responds in such as profound manner to medicinal mushrooms is because we have classes of immune cell receptor sites specifically designed to ‘fit’ with mushroom polysaccharides.
Exactly why we have specific receptor sites for medicinal mushroom polysaccharides is still a matter of debate.
Some suggest that it is linked to the fact that you share over 50% of your DNA with mushrooms whilst others state that perhaps you have developed these receptor sites through the process of evolution.
2 Ways Medicinal Mushrooms Stimulate the Immune System:
In either case, the fact your body has a built-in mechanism to respond so positively to mushroom polysaccharides specifically is highly beneficial for your health.
In summary, beta-glucans and other mushroom polysaccharides support your immune system via two routes:
- Directly connecting with immune receptor sites to trigger the release of white blood cells and their allies.
- Indirectly, by ‘looking like’ a pathogen or cancer cell which stimulates a corresponding reaction within your immune system.
*Beta-glucans found in plants have a 1-4 carbon link whilst those found in mushrooms have a 1-3 and/or 1-6 carbon link. This difference in structure is the reason why mushroom polysaccharides cause such as unique response within the human body in comparison to other 1-4 beta-glucans found in plants.
*Radio-labelling of mushroom polysaccharides show that they remain bioactive within the body for around 24 hours whereas other, smaller plant based polysaccharides are excreted within the hour.