While pharmaceutical companies search for the next cancer-fighting drug, scientists in Japan and China may have already found it. They have developed extracts made from natural substances that have no side effects, help prevent cancer, and are beneficial in both conventional and integrative therapies. One Japanese extract is so effective against various tumors that it’s considered to be a drug covered by the Japanese healthcare plan.
The raw materials used to make these extracts are whole foods with a great many cancer-fighting properties. Although they’ve been used successfully for thousands of years, scientists have only recently been studying them.
I first talked about their ability to strengthen immunity and detoxify pharmaceutical drugs six years ago. Later, I explained how they improve athletic performance and enhance recovery from exercising. Now I want you to know about their benefits as part of a cancer prevention or treatment program.
Their nutrients increase immunity, have anti-tumor properties, and interrupt the food supply to cancerous tumors. In addition, they have antifungal, antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and anti-diabetic properties.
I’m talking about medicinal mushrooms.
While there are around 140,000 different mushrooms in the world, only a scant few dozen are grown commercially for nutritional supplements or medications. If you think mushrooms are popular now, just wait. I predict that they will continue to gain in popularity as additional varieties are studied and we learn more about their specific
Mushrooms fight cancer
Mushrooms contain complex carbohydrates called polysaccharides that have anti-tumor and immunostimulating properties. They don’t actually attack cancer cells, but rather activate immune responses that have anti-tumor effects. Different mushroom polysaccharides have different chemical compositions and properties. This is why I prefer a supplement with several medicinal mushrooms over a single extract.
Nutrients are absorbed into growing mushrooms via its thread-like mycelium. The most effective medicinal mushroom supplements I have found are made from mycelium grown on organic materials, such as brown rice.
Although extracts are more concentrated than the whole mushroom, the balance found in a whole food frequently has deeper, longer-lasting effects. Besides, we still don’t know all of a mushroom’s ingredients and their actions. Extracts are like drugs and may be helpful for short periods of time. Use them under the direction of a knowledgeable acupuncturist, MD, or naturopath. Whole mushroom supplements are safe for all of us to take any time.
Turkey Tail (Coriolus versicolor)
Years ago while walking in the country with an herbalist friend, we came upon a dead tree covered with half-moon-shaped fungi. They had distinctive dark brown markings. “This is called Turkey Tail,” she said, “because its pattern looks like the bird’s feathers. It’s a mushroom that’s used to fight cancer.” Since then I discovered that its extract, PSK (polysaccharide Krestin), is the same one covered by health insurance in Japan. A similar extract, PSP (polysaccharide peptide), has been developed in China.
Studies showed that taking Turkey Tail for two months can double a person’s natural killer cells, greatly boosting immune activity. Its polysaccharides support chemotherapy and radiation treatments, reducing symptoms. Turkey Tail has strong anti-tumor effects and slows the progression of various cancers.
Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)
The ancient Chinese called reishi the mushroom of immortality and used it both preventively and for treating cancer. In fact, they used its dried powder as chemotherapy.
Centuries later, scientists discovered that reishi inhibits the growth of breast cancer cells and keeps these cells from sticking to one another and migrating to other sites. It’s anti-viral (some cancers are thought to be viral in nature) and is also used with cancer patients who are in remission. If you have a history of breast cancer in your family, or if you get a questionable thermogram (read about thermography in past articles, available on my website), you’ll want to include reishi mushrooms.
This relatively unknown mushroom has strong anti-tumor and anti-metastatic actions. This means it keeps cancers from spreading. It also stops the body from making blood vessels that feed hungry cancerous tumors (angiogenesis).
In one South Korean study, an extract of Agaricus blazei was given to 100 women on chemotherapy for cervical, ovarian, or endome- trial cancer. Those taking this mushroom had a significantly higher number of natural killer cells. They also had fewer chemotherapy-associated symptoms, such as loss of appetite, weakness, hair loss, and emotional ups and downs. Include this mushroom if you’re on chemotherapy and for cancer prevention.
Maitake (Grifola frondosa) is both a medicinal and a hard-to-find culinary mushroom. Its extract, D-fraction or MD-fraction, is often added to whole maitake powder to make it more potent. But studies indicate that both the extract and the mycelium have beneficial properties – like protecting the liver. This is extremely important, whether you’re on chemotherapy or just detoxifying.
While many studies concentrate on the D-fraction extract, powdered maitake also has potent cancer-fighting properties. It inhibited tumor growth in 86% of lab animals with tumors. In another study, 25% of the mice with cancer went into complete remission.
Shiitake (Letinus edodes) is a popular culinary mushroom used in many Chinese foods. You can find them fresh in some grocery stores or buy dried shiitakes at Asian markets.
Shiitakes contain a water-soluble anti-tumor polysaccharide, called “lentinan,” that prevents tumor development from viruses and chemicals. Lentinan is found in abundance in this mushroom’s mycelium.
Shiitakes also have other anti-tumor and immune-boosting polysaccharides, as do other medicinal mushrooms. This is why I take whole mushroom products daily, rather than extracts. In one study, the powdered mycelium — the same form as found in many supplements — was given to mice with cancer. It inhibited tumors in 50-80% of the mice.
If you’re cooking with dried shiitake mushrooms, remember that its active polysaccharides are water-soluble. When you reconstitute the dried mushrooms in warm water prior to adding them to your soups or stir-fry dishes, use the water as well. Or put it aside and drink it as an herb tea.
Shiitake is effective in all diseases of immune suppression including candida, AIDS, and environmental allergies. It also blocks the formation of some carcinogenic compounds found in meat and processed foods.
White Button (Agaricus bisporus) is the common mushroom found in just about every grocery store in the country. It, too, has medicinal qualities, although not to the same degree as the other mushrooms mentioned here.
Button mushrooms block the production of estrogens. We know that high estrogen levels can contribute to breast cancer. So if you’re looking to keep your estrogen down, consider adding button mushrooms to your diet on a regular basis. Like shiitake, button mushrooms also block carcinogens.
Not all mushrooms are alike in their properties. This is another reason I prefer taking a blend of several mushrooms. In addition, make button and shiitake mushrooms a regular part of your diet.
If you’re looking for a mushroom supplement, I know of no better combination than MycoPhyto Complex (800-728-2288 or www.advancedbionutritionals.com). I particularly like this product because all of the ingredients are grown on immune-regulating herbs. Also, the doctor who developed it, Isaac Eliaz, MD, has seen MycoPhyto to be effective when added to the protocols of many of his cancer patients. Interestingly, it wasn’t until after I had researched and written this article, that I noticed it contains most of the mushrooms mentioned here.
Ahn, W.S., et al. “Natural killer cell activity and quality of life were improved by consumption of a mushroom extract, Agaricus blazei Murill Kyowa, in gynecological cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy,” Int J Gynecol Cancer, July-August 2004.
Cui, J. and Y. Chisti. “Polysaccharopeptides of Coriolus versicolor: physiological activity, uses, and production,” Biotechnol Adv, April 2003.
Grube, B.J., et al. “White button mushroom phytochemicals inhibit aromatase activity and breast cancer cell proliferation,” J Nutr, December 2001.
Huber, Luke G., ND, “Green tea catechins and l-theanine in integrative cancer care,” Alternative & Complementary Therapies, December 2003.
Jiang, J., et al. “Ganoderma lucidum suppresses growth of breast cancer cells through the inhibition of Akt/NF-kappaB signaling,” Nutr Cancer, 2004; 49(2).
Kimura, Y., et al. “Isolation of an anti-angiogenic substance from Agaricus blazei Murill: Its anti-tumor and antimetastatic actions,” Cancer Sci, September 2004.
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Wasser, S.P. “Review of medicinal mushrooms advances: Good news from old allies,” HerbalGram, American Botanical Council, 2002.