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Medicinal Mushrooms Can Cure Disease

By: Robin Fearon

In modern medicine there are multiple uses for fungi in developing life-saving treatments and health supplements. Did you know medicinal mushrooms are a rich source of compounds to cure disease?

May 21, 2020

Mushrooms and fungi are more than just a tasty pizza topping or an essential ingredient in baking and brewing. Among the 70,000 species of fungi identified by science are extraordinary compounds for curing conditions including deadly septicaemia and cancer.

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Mushroom Healing Powers
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Historical Science for Modern Practice

All life on earth depends on fungi. This incredible organism is a natural omnivore and a vital part of the food chain, decomposing plant and animal matter and recycling nutrients into soil. Indigenous North American tribes found out that puffball mushrooms were tasty, but they then dried and powdered them to use as a styptic to stop wounds bleeding.

Fungi naturally produce antibiotics to control or kill bacteria. Antibiotics derived from fungi include penicillin and cephalosporins that are now widely used in medicine to fight infections. But sourcing new medicinal compounds from fungi in the wild is just the first step.

Once target compounds have been found, they are manufactured in the lab using fermentation and other bioengineering methods to increase their yield. So far, scientists have identified secondary metabolites that suppress tumours, kill bacteria and viruses, reduce cholesterol in the blood, and help control blood sugar levels for diabetics.

The Proof is in the Research

Much scientific medical research has been devoted to the immune system healing effects of the "Turkey Tail" ( Trametes versicolor ) mushroom.  This edible fungus is usually consumed as a hot herbal tea and is known to detoxify the body and to cure cancer.

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Much scientific medical research has been devoted to the immune system healing effects of the "Turkey Tail" ( Trametes versicolor ) mushroom. This edible fungus is usually consumed as a hot herbal tea and is known to detoxify the body and to cure cancer.

Photo by: WildLivingArts

WildLivingArts

Much scientific medical research has been devoted to the immune system healing effects of the "Turkey Tail" ( Trametes versicolor ) mushroom. This edible fungus is usually consumed as a hot herbal tea and is known to detoxify the body and to cure cancer.

Dutch researchers have created a library of products from more than 10,000 fungi to help scientists identify new drugs. Using filtrates that contain substances excreted from each fungus, they systematically investigated more than 1,500 biologically active compounds to assess their potential as drug treatments. The library will now help others to test for traits like antibiotic resistance and discover more about how tumours grow.

Fungi produce many metabolites and just as some mushrooms are poisonous to humans, some of their metabolites are toxic too. Horticulturalist Tradd Cotter owns a mushroom farm in South Carolina and has identified ways to create tailor-made medicinal mushrooms for consumption. His hope is to refine the method to tackle drug-resistant diseases more rapidly than the pharmaceutical industry can.

Age-related diseases such as heart disease and diabetes have been treated for centuries in traditional medicine by ingesting mushrooms. Caterpillar fungus (Cordyceps sinensis) regulates insulin sensitivity and decreases cholesterol. Native Brazilian fungus Agaricus blazei (known as the sun mushroom) is grown in Japan and China, and used in preventing hepatitis, congested arteries, diabetes, and cancer.

In fighting cancer there are various species of mushrooms with beneficial effects. Common species like the turkey tail mushroom can be found growing on trees throughout the United States. Turkey tail extracts, particularly the compounds polysaccharopeptide (PSP) and polysaccharide-K, appear to stop cancer cells from growing. PSP may also boost the immune system. Fungi can also produce the chemotherapy drug paclitaxel, used to treat lung, bladder, pancreatic, and breast cancer.

And a Side of Mushrooms, Please

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Photo by: Peter Garner / EyeEm

Peter Garner / EyeEm

Researchers consistently point to mushroom consumption as a treatment for cognitive and mood disorders. Eating common varieties such as shiitake, oyster, and white button mushrooms regularly could reduce cognitive decline as we grow older. So-called magic mushrooms, containing the psychedelic substance psilocybin, are also proving useful in treating depression and addiction.

Look online for medicinal mushrooms and a dizzying cocktail of varieties is available. Whether you consider fungi a superfood, a delicious treat, or a vital supplement in powdered pill form, there's no doubt that their promise as a curative for the brain and body is gathering momentum. Medicinal mushrooms offer great promise for those curious enough to branch out.

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