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The Health Benefits of Medicinal Mushrooms

3 min read

Evidence of people consuming wild mushrooms dates back as far as 13,000 in Chile. The Chinese recognized the medicinal properties of some mushrooms and featured them in their herbal medicine tradition, according to E.R. Boa, author of the book “Wild Edible Fungi: a Global Overview of Their Use and Importance to People.” Scientific studies have identified a wide variety of health benefits from medicinal mushrooms.

Various Benefits

Agaricus blazei is a Brazilian mushroom that has been used to treat a variety of ailments, including arteriosclerosis, hepatitis, high cholesterol, diabetes, skin conditions and cancer, according to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Agaricus blazei contains compounds that inhibit the blood supply to cancerous tumors. Other compounds in this mushroom activate your immune system and increase activity of immune cells known as natural killer cells. Agaricus blazei may improve insulin resistance and assist in weight reduction. This mushroom may also improve liver function in some hepatitis patients. It is thought to contain the highest levels of beta-glucans—a category of immune-modulating polysaccharides—of all medicinal mushrooms, according to naturopath Mark Stengler, author of “The Health Benefits of Medicinal Mushrooms.”

Physical Endurance

Cordyceps sinensis, also known as caterpillar fungus, is a favorite among athletes for its purported ability to increase energy and endurance levels. Researchers at the Peptide and Proteomics Division, Defence Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences, Delhi, India, found that Cordyceps supplementation at doses of 200 mg per kilogram of body weight per day for 15 days increased exercise capacity in laboratory animals by one-third. Cordyceps increased activity of muscle metabolism regulators, increased blood supply to muscles and improved lactic acid removal from muscles. The study was published in the April 2011 issue of the “Journal of Ethnopharmacology.”

Cancer Treatment

Coriolus versicolor, a mushroom that is found in temperate forests throughout the world, is one of the most well-studied medicinal mushrooms, according Stengler. Extracts of Coriolus versicolor have been used as the basis for cancer drugs. Your white blood cells have receptors for the beta-glucans in Coriolus, which exerts immune-modulating effects. Researchers at the Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Sciences Division of the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Hong Kong reported that polysaccharides from Coriolus versicolor increased apoptosis — programmed cell death — in human leukemia cells in a study published in the April 2010 issue of the journal “Chinese Medicine.”

Liver Protection

Shiitake mushroom, Lentinula edodes, may protect your liver, according to a study conducted by researchers at the Institute for Research in Molecular Medicine at the Universiti Sains Malaysia. Doses of 200 mg per kilogram of body weight administered to laboratory animals for seven days protected against liver damage from acetaminophen by decreasing activity of liver enzymes. Researchers concluded that antioxidant effects of the mushroom were responsible for the liver-protective benefits. The study was published in the June 2010 issue of the journal “Molecules.”


  1. Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center: Agaricus “The Health Benefits of Medicinal Mushrooms”; Mark Stengler; 2005
  2. “Journal of Ethnopharmacology”; Cordyceps Sinensis Promotes Exercise Endurance Capacity of Rats by Activating Skeletal Muscle Metabolic Regulators; R. Kumar; April 2011
  3. “Chinese Medicine”; Polysaccharopeptides Derived from Coriolus Versicolor Potentiate the S-phase Specific Cytotoxicity of Camptothecin (Cpt) on Human Leukemia Hl-60 Cells; J. Wan, et al.; April 2010
  4. “Molecules”; In Vitro Antioxidant Activity and Hepatoprotective Effects of Lentinula Edodes Against Paracetamol-induced Hepatotoxicity; S. Sasidharan, et al.; June 2010
  5. “Wild Edible Fungi: A Global Overview of Their Use and Importance to People”; E.R. Boa; 2004
  6. Article reviewed by Eric Lochridge Last updated on: May 23, 2011