Immunity and Mushrooms—Who Knew?

When I was a kid, I used to go "mushrooming" with my Hungarian grandmother. She knew exactly where to look and which ones were safe to pick. She always insisted that we carried a wide-holed basket or a burlap sack while picking mushrooms, that way, the spores would fall through the basket or the bag, and provide the beginnings for next year’s mushroom crop.

Back then, the mushrooms we hunted for were called "morel mushrooms", and they were both edible and delicious. Grandma would soak the mushrooms in warm, salted water to help release any insects or soil; then she’d drain them, and dip them in an egg mixture; then fry them up in an oiled pan. These mushrooms tasted like a vegetarian steak, and they were absolutely delicious! Today, morels can be hard to find; and pricey to buy. Gourmet shops fetch anywhere from $25 to $200 per pound!

But while Grandma was teaching me about edible mushrooms, and responsible ways to harvest them, a growing body of evidence was brewing about the power of mushrooms, called medicinal mushrooms, or more technically, “myco-medicinals.” These mushrooms contain some of the most potent medicines found in nature.

For example, Oat beta glucan is a special kind of polysaccharide found in mushrooms. It fortifies the body's white blood cells which are the front line of the immune system. If you’re looking for a health supplement with oat beta glucan, Cocoberri has this specific saccharide in it as well as several other ingredients to help stimulate your immune response. It is only recently that humans have been able to extract this ingredient from mushrooms to put in health supplements.

For thousands of years, mushrooms have been used by people to boost immunity, and they were used that far back in time, because somehow people knew they were a super food; they knew that mushrooms increased immunity, and helped to prevent illness and disease. They may not have known specifically about the immune system, but somehow they knew mushrooms were good for them. Shamans called mushrooms The Ancient Ones. Mushrooms were found in the stomach lining of Otzi, the 5,300 year old Iceman discovered in 1991 near Italy. Experts suspect that Otzi used mushrooms to help protect him from digestive illness; and they think that he may have used dried mushrooms found in his pouch for starting fires on his Alpine trek.

The study of mushrooms is fascinating, and tells us that mushrooms and humans share 30% of the same DNA. Mushrooms have profound immune enhancing compounds. And like people, mushrooms don’t have roots -they have nervous systems. Mushrooms breathe carbon dioxide like humans do, through gills underneath their ‘heads’. Because of this, toxic waste sites have been detoxified by planting mushrooms at the site. The mushrooms absorb and detoxify the soil they grow in -that’s why the locations of mushrooms grown for medicinal purposes are tightly controlled and monitored.

Science is continually researching mushrooms and they are checking the common mushroom for its ability to prevent certain cancers, and how mushrooms have this powerful impact upon the human immune system.

Check this out:

  • Mushrooms are one of the highest antioxidant foods in the world.
  • Mushrooms are a good source of the essential minerals, selenium and copper.
  • Mushrooms are an excellent source of fiber.
  • Mushrooms can help to prevent disease, are a natural source of Vitamin D and provide one of the most powerful supplies of antioxidants.
  • Mushrooms also provide B group vitamins such as Riboflavin, Niacin and Biotin.
  • Mushrooms are very low in salt, but they have many other minerals that are essential to humans, such as Selenium, Phosphorus and Potassium.
  • Health companies such as the Institute of Vibrant Living have designed supplements like Cocoberri using compounds found in mushrooms to help boost the immune system and offer strong immune system support

One of the most important health contributions from mushrooms is their immunity enhancing capabilities. They have been shown to offer promise in the world of cancer research and tumors; and mushrooms have also been reported to benefit Alzheimer's patients.

While there are thousands of different edible types of mushrooms, there are even more that are poisonous, so use caution if you go on a mushroom hunt -make sure to consult with an expert, just to be safe. Better yet, stick with the better known varieties, like the common white button mushrooms found in grocery stores, and the more exotic Maitake, Shiitake and Reishi mushrooms, often available fresh or dried in Asian markets. These mushrooms are also available in different supplement forms.

Maitake, Shiitake and Reishi mushrooms are the three traditional medicinal mushrooms available to most people, and are the most popular mushrooms in Japan. These three types of mushrooms are safe to eat, and are a natural super-food for good health.

Researchers share considerable supportive evidence regarding medicinal mushrooms. Studies of the Maitake mushroom reveal that mushroom extracts may be useful for stimulating the immune system by stimulating the production of a hormone that increases production of stem cells. Maitake mushroom also increased the number of granulocytes -- a type of white blood cell -- and seemed to promote a shift in the immune cells from the bone marrow out into the circulating blood supply. The researchers noted that their results indicate an immune-enhancing property unique to Maitake mushroom. (According to a study published in the September 2009 "International Immunopharmacology Journal.")

A mixture of Maitake mushroom with two other species of mushroom; Shiitake and Reishi, was shown to improve immunity in a study on laboratory mice, published in the 2007 "Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition." Mice consumed diets that contained three different concentrations of the mushroom mixture for 30 days. The researchers observed increases in natural killer cell activity, white blood cell activity and other parameters of immune function, particularly in the higher dosage groups.

Hot water extracts of Maitake mushroom possess strong immune-stimulating effects, according to a study by M.J. Wu et al at the Department of Biotechnology, Chia-Nan University of Pharmacy and Science, Taiwan. The study, which used tissue cultures of human blood, showed increased levels of immune-modulating cytokines and increased natural killer cell and white blood cell activity in response to Maitake water extracts. Small polysaccharide molecules in the mushroom are responsible for the effects, according to the researchers. The study was published in the April 2006 "Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry."

The famous Greek physician, Hippocrates, said, "Let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food." You too can benefit from mushrooms -even the humble white button mushroom offers a nutritional boost to your diet. Shop around, try different types available in markets and shops; include them in soups and your next stir-fry. Supplements are available for increasing your immunity with medicinal mushrooms, often in capsules and in tincture liquid form.

Here is a recipe of mine I’ll share with you, called Immunity Broth. Remember, this is a medicinal broth and it’s very potent -the flavor may not appeal to some, but it tastes much better than being sick!


  • 10-12 ounces of broth (vegetable, miso or chicken)
  • One tablespoon fresh grated ginger root
  • 1/4 to 1/2 lemon (depending on preference)
  • One small onion
  • A handful of Shiitake mushrooms (or Maitake or Reishi, or a combination)
  • and one to four (or more if you like) fresh garlic cloves

Mix broth with above ingredients. Either cut up everything into small pieces or throw it in whole. Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes on low, do not boil. Strain and garnish with some fresh or dried parsley, (or your favorite herb) and enjoy. You can freeze this broth in ice cube trays and store in bags in the freezer for a quick dose if you’ve been exposed to a lot of germs, or if you feel run down. Just drop a couple cubes into a hot cup of vegetable, miso or chicken broth. Sit back, sip the broth, inhale the steam, and relax.

Happy mushroom hunting!

Looking for more ways to boost your immune system? Cocoberri from the Institute of Vibrant Living contains oat beta glucan, a special kind of polysaccharide found in a variety of natural substances such as mushrooms. This natural health supplement is designed to help stimulate your immune response.

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