For centuries, medicinal mushrooms have been a go-to natural treatment to boost the immune system. A number of mushrooms are shown to have immune boosting effects because they are chock full of beta-glucans.
More than 270 mushrooms have been shown to contain beta-glucans, but the truth is that nothing quite compares to the potential healing benefits of beta-glucan rich and wild grown reishi and turkey tail mushrooms. Let’s explore why these two popular medicinal mushroom species may help with immune support - but first, let’s discuss what beta-glucan content can do for the person consuming mushroom supplements.
Immunity mushrooms & beta-glucan content
Beta-glucans and chitin have been studied for their potential immune system activating compounds. These compounds live in the cell walls of mushrooms and are broken down and activated through various heating methods. The heating process is very important because humans do not have the ability to break down beta-glucans or chitin in our upper gastrointestinal tract. Why? Simply because we don’t have the enzymes to do so.
As these bioactive compounds pass through our GI system, they interact with the immune cells throughout our body (mostly in the small intestine). In fact, it’s been shown that 60-80% of our body’s lymphoid system is found in the small intestine. On a very high level, from there they start to work together to boost the immune system by creating protective cells (e.g., natural killer, t-cells, and antibodies, to name a few).
Wild mushrooms, in particular, are shown to have a substantial amount of beta-glucans - in fact, a study on 39 edible wild mushrooms highlighted the percentage of beta-glucans per mushroom by dry weight. In this study, turkey tail and reishi mushrooms were shown to have the highest percentage of beta-glucan content. Check out the various medicinal mushroom species and their associated cap beta-glucan content (by percentage) below:
Cap Beta-Glucan Content (%)
As you can see, other popular medicinal mushroom species (shiitake, maitake, and lion’s mane, to name a few) may have great health benefits, but are not as rich in beta-glucans as wild turkey tail and reishi mushrooms are.
Various studies on beta-glucans have clarified the role they may play in fighting immunological threat in the body. For example, mushrooms high in beta-glucan content have been shown to be a viable treatment for cancer alongside chemotherapy, and are shown to boost white blood cell count.
Immune benefits of reishi
Reishi mushroom, commonly referred to as the “king of mushrooms” or “mushroom of immortality”, has been used for centuries as a staple for a healthy diet, but also as a homeopathic medicine in Eastern cultures. The numerous health benefits of reishi are tangibly shown in various studies, but in particular, many link reishi mushroom consumption with immune system boosting effects. The basis of the immune-boosting properties of reishi largely come from the polysaccharides found within the mushroom.
For reference, beta-glucans - which we’ve covered extensively now - are a type of polysaccharide. The polysaccharides found in fungi have been linked extensively to modulating the immune system by inducing the production of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immune function regulating substances.
The presence of these polysaccharides in reishi mushrooms show the potential for immunotherapy response. The studies have shown that reishi supplementation:
- May promote the function of antigen-presenting cells, mononuclear phygocyte system, humoral immunity, and cellular immunity
- Could play an important role in the inhibition of lipid peroxidation in biological systems through its antioxidant, metal chelating, and free radical scavenging activities
- Modulate bodily inflammation from a high-cholesterol diet
- Improve beneficial bacteria presence in the body
It’s important to note that many of these studies have been done on mice or in-vitro, so more studies need to be conducted to better understand reishi health benefits, but the initial findings are promising.
Immune benefits of turkey tail
Turkey tail mushrooms have long been regarded as one of the most well-documented and highly tested mushrooms for immunotherapy and cancer treatment supplementation. With the high levels of cancer fighting beta-glucans and antioxidants present in this mushroom species, turkey tail mushrooms have the potential to help cancer patients recovering from treatment, and also aid in general health and wellbeing when taken regularly.
Turkey tail mushrooms are proven to be packed with antioxidants and have one of the highest percentages of beta-glucans (more than 50% of the mushroom’s makeup) of any other mushroom. This is what makes turkey tail mushrooms such a great mushroom species for everything from everyday healthcare needs to more acute cancer treatment needs.
In fact, of all the mushrooms on the market today, turkey tail mushrooms have been the species tested most for medicinal qualities. Through this research, we’ve found that turkey tail extract contains Krestin (PSK) and Polysaccharide Peptide (PSP) - both of these compounds promote immune response by activating certain immune cells and, in tandem, suppressing inflammation cells. These immune boosting compounds make turkey tail a great mushroom choice for supporting and/or treating:
- Cancer treatment when taking alongside chemotherapy. This includes treatment for lung cancer, breast cancer, leukemia, and more
- Gut health
- Antibacterial properties (e.g., salmonella or staph)
- Efficacy of certain cancer treatments
- Combatting HPV
- Athletic performance (increased energy)
- Insulin resistance
- Phlegm reduction
- Pulmonary disorders
Using turkey tail to support you in treatment for any of the above is due to a high level of antioxidants found in turkey tail mushrooms.
Turkey tail mushrooms - especially compared to other medicinal varieties - have been rigorously tested to better understand the genetic makeup of the mushroom so we can fully unlock its health benefits.
Other mushrooms that are great for immunity
Beyond reishi and turkey tail, many other mushrooms have been shown to have immune boosting benefits due to their beta-glucan content. Those mushrooms include:
Long known as a food delicacy, shiitake mushrooms are also used to treat ailments like the common cold. One study showed that shiitake mushroom supplementation over a four-week period helped with gut immunity and anti-inflammatory response in the body due to favorable changes in secretion patterns of various immune compounds.
2. Split gill
Split gill mushrooms have been used for centuries to boost energy, improve immunity, and support a person’s overall health and wellbeing. According to various studies, split gill supplementation is shown to enhance the effects of chemotherapy.
Learn more about the potential benefits (and safety concerns) of split gill mushrooms in this article.
3. Fu ling
More commonly known as poria mushrooms, fu ling is one of the most commonly prescribed natural remedies in China. The high presence of polysaccharides and triterpenoids in fu ling make it a strong treatment for immune suppressing viruses.
Similar to turkey tail, phellinus mushrooms have been shown to be a viable side treatment for various cancers. It’s beta-glucan content helps stimulate a positive immune response in the body.
5. Red-belted polypore
Also known as red-belted conk, this mushroom helps support the immune system with building a solid histamine response, promoting healthy (and normal) cell growth, and more.
6. Birch polypore
This mushroom has a long history of being used to boost immunity. Birch polypore extracts have been shown to help with the release of cytokines that help the immune system respond to foreign invaders.
Due to the high presence of phenolics, flavonoids, and polysaccharides in oyster mushrooms, they are proven to be an immune booster. In-vitro studies have shown that oyster mushroom consumption triggers an anti-inflammatory response in the body.
There are numerous other mushrooms that are linked to immune support, but we could go on all day, so we’ll stop here. To dive deeper on various species listed above, check out our blog.
The proper dosage of mushrooms for immune support
Now that we’ve covered the “what” and “why” of taking mushrooms for immune boosting effects, let’s dive into the “how” information. For most medicinal mushroom supplements, the recommended dosage for immune support is 6 grams a day (which is equal to about 1 teaspoon).
However, that dosage may need to be adjusted depending on your unique usecase and situation. Always speak to your doctor before incorporating natural supplements into your health routine.
We’re about to get a little repetitive for a second, but with good reason: The most important thing above all when trying to take advantage of the potential health benefits of beta-glucans, is to heat up the mushroom to a level where the bioactive compounds can be released and the human body is able to break them down.
That process is only possible through proper extraction techniques. We’re reiterating this because it’s super (super) important to pay attention to extraction processes for the supplements you purchase. Do your research and find a trusted brand to ensure you’re getting the most from the supplements you’re putting in your body.
Taking mushroom supplements
Before jumping head first into mushroom supplementation for immunity, it’s important to consult your doctor. When incorporating supplements into your immunity routine, consider the various types of mushroom supplements that are available to you. To ensure that the immune boosting beta-glucans found in reishi or turkey tail mushrooms are getting their highest and best use, consider making your mushroom powder as a steeped tea or buy a trusted extract which has already been processed for you.
Thanks for stopping by to learn about mushroom benefits for immunotherapy. We’re so happy you’re exploring the magical world of healing with mushrooms.