Could Medicinal Mushrooms Help Fight SARS-Cov-2?

In an article written by Dr Joseph Mercola several mushrooms are highlighted as having beneficial antiviral and immune boosting properties which could help prevent and aid recovery from COVID-19 (SARS-Cov-2).

“Three studies – two approved by the FDA – are evaluating whether mushrooms have therapeutic potential for treating COVID-19”

Dr Mercola

Dr Mercola describes the frustration shared by many doctors on the frontline at the start of the pandemic. Director of inpatient integrative medicine at the UCLA Centre for East-West Medicine, Dr Andrew Shubov, told The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA):

“Patients were taking increasingly toxic drugs and nothing was working”

In response to his frustration, Dr Shubov teamed up with Dr Gordon Saxe, director of research at the Centre for Integrative Health at UC San Diego School of Medicine and began investigating the antiviral and immune boosting properties of mushrooms in the fight against COVID-19.

They knew of previous studies demonstrating the antiviral protection against certain strains of influenza (H1N1 and H5N1) but wanted to know if this effect could also be witnessed against the newest viral relative to flu, namely SARS-Cov-2.

The three studies currently underway to investigate the potential protection and treatment of SARS-Cov-2 via medicinal mushroom capsules will conclude in 2022.

  1. Mushroom-Based Product for COVID-19: This study is testing a blend of half agarikon and half turkey tail mushrooms in capsule form.
  2. Chinese Herbal Formula for COVID-19: this study is testing 21 Chinese herbs from Taiwan, known as Qing Fei Pai Du Tang, which is used as a remedy for COVID-19 in China.
  3. RCT of Mushroom Based Natural Product to Enhance Immune Response to COVID-19 Vaccination — This trial is evaluating whether a capsule of medicinal mushrooms, given at the time of a COVID-19 injection, can increase antibodies.

Doctor Saxe said:

“We hope these treatments will reduce the need for hospitalization … Mushrooms have the advantage that they co-evolved with us. So bacteria, viruses and other fungi prey on mushrooms just like they prey on humans. And mushrooms have developed exquisite defenses against those pests, and we believe they can confer those to us when we eat them.”

The combination of antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties of certain mushrooms leads researchers from Oslo University Hospital to believe certain medicinal mushrooms could help reduce lung inflammation that often follows COVID-19 infection.  

Writing in the journal of Immunology the Norwegian researchers state:

“mushroom extracts could have prophylactic or therapeutic effect against the pneumonic superinfection and severe lung inflammation that often complicates COVID-19 infection”.

Some species hold promise for acting as antivirals against influenza viruses which belong to the COVID family.

Researchers at the State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology in Russia, for instance, identified chaga and Reishi mushrooms as having the “widest range of antiviral activity” against different subtypes of flu viruses. In fact, initial studies show the antiviral effects of certain mushroom polysaccharides to be as effective as drugs such as Tamiflu against COVID viruses.

Medicinal mushrooms such as Reishi, Cordyceps, Maitake and Oyster, to name just a few, demonstrate a multitude of medicinal activity including antiviral, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and immunomodulation. This is obviously highly advantageous in the fight against infections which can cause a range of physiological issues such as COVID-19.

COVID-19 manifests a multitude of illnesses, some of which are symptomatic while others are asymptomatic. Among them, immunological deregulation (i.e. the cytokine storm) is the most notable manifestation of COVID-19. Thus, modulation of the compromised immune system has become the focal point in combating COVID-19. Immunomodulation is the regulatory process that maintains a balanced immune system: it does not allow all immune cells to be active altogether. In this regard, food and nutraceutical-based approaches boosting immune defense and modulating compromised immunity seem apt as a defense against COVID-19.

Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms

Mushroom compounds that are known to have immunomodulating properties include mushroom beta-glucans, terpenoids, lectins and protein polysaccharides. These medicinally active molecules help reduce infection related lung inflammation by helping to:

  • suppress interlucin-6 (associated with upper lung inflammation)
  • reduce viral replication in lungs

Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms calls upon WHO to include medicinal mushrooms as a means to help support immune health and the fight against COVID-19.

The International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms researchers advised “quick actions in preparing mushroom-based food items for COVID-19 sufferers” and requested that the World Health Organization “disseminate a mushroom-based therapeutic and preventive approach against SARS-CoV-2.” They pointed out that mushrooms are easily accessible and simple to distribute where needed:

“As the preparation of mushroom powder is simple and does not require sophisticated handling and preservation processes, supplying mushroom powder to patients with COVID-19 and comorbidities around different parts of the globe would also be less cumbersome for aid agencies.”

International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms

Basidiomycetes mushrooms, which include reishi, Lions mane and maitake mushrooms, are traditionally consumed in China and Japan for cancer prevention due to their ability to modify the immune response and provide nutritional support during chemotherapy.

These mushrooms also show promise as both prophylactic and therapeutic remedies for COVID-19 as well as to help curb related immune overreaction and inflammation, as noted in the Journal of Internal Medicine.

The information provided is for education purposes and not to be used to diagnose or treat an illness without consultation with an appropriate medical professional.