Cancer-Treating Medicinal Mushrooms
In Lewis Carroll’s fanciful tale, Alice in Wonderland, he depicts young Alice eating magic mushrooms to make her small, then big again. We’re not into that kind of mushroom here, but when you read about the medicinal properties of certain mushrooms, they almost seem magical!
Various cultures around the world have known about the medicinal properties of mushrooms for thousands of years. So, it seems odd that modern science is just discovering this treasure trove of nutrition and health. I remember not too many years ago, when nutritionists claimed that mushrooms had no nutritional value whatsoever. But the renaissance of natural medicine has opened our eyes to the nutritive value and health benefits of eating mushrooms.
We’re told that there are about 10,000 species of mushrooms in the world. Of those, somewhere between 50 and 100 are toxic to humans. So, if you are one to go mushrooming in the forest, know your craft well! But that leaves us with a wide variety of edible mushrooms to choose from. Many are culinary delights and provide healthy nutrients, while others also offer powerful medicinal properties.
On the culinary side, white button mushrooms (or cremini) comprise about 95 percent of the mushrooms eaten in America. Other delicious varieties include: Portobello, shiitake, morel, oyster, and parasol. Not only do they taste wonderful, but they’re low in carbohydrates and calories.
On the medicinal side, some mushrooms boast powerful antibacterial properties. For instance, the antibiotics: penicillin, streptomycin, and tetracycline are all produced from fungi.
Edible mushrooms in general can improve nutrition and digestion. Mushrooms provide a great source of:
- B vitamins
- Vitamin C
- Ergothioneine (a powerful antioxidant unique to mushrooms)
- Lectins, peptides and laccases that support immune function
Additionally, mushrooms fight inflammation, boost the immune system, and boast anti-viral properties. Some types of mushrooms lower cortisol (the stress chemical) and serve as powerful adaptogens. Others help against aging, joint pain, anxiety and adrenal fatigue. 
But where mushrooms really shine medicinally is in their ability to prevent and treat cancer. The reason for this is their capacity to increase “natural killer cells” in our bodies. These “killer cells” assist our immune systems in detecting and destroying cancer cells. At least 25 varieties of mushrooms have been shown to inhibit the growth of cancerous tumors by boosting the body’s immune system.
Some of the Leading Anti-Cancer Mushrooms
These woody mushrooms fight chronic disease, inflammation, cancer, heart disease, hormonal imbalances, neurogenerative issues, and mood disorders. The beta-glucans in reishi mushrooms increase the number of the body’s T-cells, helping to lower inflammation. Reishi mushrooms are sold in powder or capsule form.
Chaga mushrooms grow on birch trees and look like burnt charcoal. Although these growths eventually kill the tree, they are extremely beneficial to humans. Both the Chinese and Native Americans have used chaga mushrooms for millennia, and scientists have now corroborated many of their health claims. Studies have demonstrated that the chaga mushroom can prevent the growth of cancer through an enzyme called betulin. Betulinic acid is produced by the mushroom as it feeds off the birch tree. The Memorial Sloan Cancer Center reports, “So far, studies have shown that the mushroom can help treat breast cancer, liver cancer, uterine cancer, and gastric cancer. Its effectiveness has led some people to nominate Chaga mushroom as the strongest anticancer medicinal mushroom.” Many people have started using chaga mushroom powder in their coffee and tea.
These mushrooms are also known for their ability to inhibit the growth of cancer cells. D-fraction, a polysaccharide found in maitake mushrooms, lowers cholesterol, can slow or prevent the development of cancer cells, and reduces blood sugar. One of the beauties of this mushroom is that you can simply add it to your diet and enjoy its flavor as well.
These colorful mushrooms grow on trees and are one of the most-studied mushrooms for their health benefits. In numerous Japanese clinical studies, turkey tail mushroom extract extended the survival rates of patients with breast cancer, lung cancer, colon-rectal cancer, esophageal cancer, and prostate cancer. In fact, it has been approved by the Ministry of Health and Welfare as cancer treatment in Japan. Turkey tail also possesses powerful anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties and has been effective in the treatment of hepatitis and hepatitis B. The medical community is also considering turkey tail as a possible inhibitor of HIV and an agent capable of regenerating sick bone marrow.
This cancer-fighting mushroom should get your attention because you can find it in your local grocery store. Portobello mushrooms provide a delicious, low-calorie, plant-based, easy-to-digest protein. These delicacies contain important phytochemicals like L-ergothioneine and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) that help prevent cancer, inhibit the growth of cancer cells, and have anti-aging properties.
Although used in Chinese medicine for centuries, cordyceps gained notoriety in the 1992 Olympics when the Chinese women’s track team broke multiple records. They attributed their performance in part to the use of this mushroom. Cordyceps is best known for its ability to improve athletic performance and stamina. But it also purportedly increases immunity and fights cancer. A study with mice in 2010 halted the spread of cancer melanoma cells in their livers. “Other studies show that taking cordyceps during or after chemotherapy may increase the body’s defense mechanisms and reduce symptoms from the treatment.” You can obtain cordyceps in powder, tablet or capsule form. The powder is used in drinks, teas, soups, and stews.
Globally, these mushrooms represent 25 percent of all cultivated mushrooms. They are especially prized for their rich nutrient content. The active compounds in shiitake mushrooms have been shown to inhibit the growth of tumors in many types of cancer and can also induce apoptosis (the death of cancer cells) without damaging healthy cells. Shiitake mushrooms add a delicious element to a meal while helping relieve oxidative stress and inflammation in the body. Eating small amounts of this mushroom helps regulate the bacterial balance in your gut, improving digestion. These tasty morsels also boost energy, help reduce stress, and improve the immune system. And if you’re looking for a natural supplement to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, shiitake mushrooms fit the bill. You can add shiitake mushrooms to soups, salads, stews, vegetables, casseroles, omelets, stir-fires and a host of other possibilities.
I don’t know about you, but when I can, I like to enjoy such health benefits as food rather than a capsule or powder. Why not pick up some mushrooms today and keep them on-hand. Cut up some for your salad tonight or add them to an omelet tomorrow morning. Enjoy the great flavor and health benefits of these amazing mushrooms. In fact, below is my favorite recipe for cream of mushroom soup!
Cream of Mushroom Soup
Ingredients (for four)
- 2 cups sliced white button mushrooms (Tip: you can substitute some of the button mushrooms with shiitake, Portobello, or other edible mushrooms for variety.)
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 small to medium size onion
- 2 stalks celery
- ¼ cup flour (if you like a thicker soup, you can add more flour)
- 2 cups organic milk
- 2 cups organic chicken broth
- A splash of white wine (chardonnay)
- A dash of basil (dried or freshly chopped)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Prepare mushrooms. (If already sliced, no prep needed. If whole, wash and slice in 1/8-inch slices.)
- Chop onion and celery.
- In a 6-8 cup saucepan, melt butter over low heat and add onions, celery and basil. Sauté ingredients until onions and celery become translucent.
- Add sliced mushrooms to the mixture and continue to sauté. Keep heat low enough that the mixture does not burn. Add more butter if the mixture is too dry. Cook until mushrooms are soft and beginning to brown.
- Add organic chicken broth and increase heat to bring to a simmer.
- Meanwhile, add milk and flour to a shaker and mix thoroughly. Then, stir milk and flour mixture into the soup.
- Add the splash of white wine and salt and pepper to taste. Let simmer, stirring occasionally until soup thickens and is thoroughly heated.
- Serve hot and enjoy the soup with the rest of the white wine!
Looking for some other new wellness beverages to sip on? Get the low-down on the health benefits of bone broth and find out how matcha can give you a major boost.
 Dr. Joseph Mercola, “Mushroom Nutrition: Discover Outstanding Fungal Benefits Infographic,” nd, https://www.mercola.com/infographics/mushrooms.htm.
 Dr. Josh Axe, “Mushroom Nutrition Benefits: Cancer Fighters and Cell Renewers,” nd, https://draxe.com/mushroom-nutrition-benefits/.
 Dr. Josh Axe.
 Dr. Josh Axe.
 Medicinal Mushrooms, “Chaga Mushroom Anticancer Benefits,” nd, http://medicinal-mushrooms.net/chaga-mushroom-anticancer-benefits/.
 Medicinal Mushrooms.
 Cheryl, “Natural Health Benefits of Mushrooms,” Barton Publishing Blog, April 3, 2014, http://blog.bartonpublishing.com/natural-health-benefits-of-mushrooms/.
 Medicinal Mushrooms, “Turkey Tail Mushroom Extract for Cancer Treatment,” nd, http://medicinal-mushrooms.net/turkey-tail-mushroom-extract-for-cancer-treatment/.
 Medicinal Mushrooms, “Turkey Tail Mushroom Extract for Cancer Treatment.”
 Dr. Josh Axe, “Portobello Mushroom Helps Combat Cancer, Inflammation & More,” nd, https://draxe.com/portobello-mushroom/.
 Jon Yaneff, CNP, “Cordyceps: Health Benefits, History, and Uses,” Doctors Health Press, April 24, 2017, https://www.doctorshealthpress.com/food-nutrition/cordyceps-health-benefits/.
 Jon Yaneff, CNP.
 Organic Facts, “12 Amazing Benefits of Shiitake Mushrooms,” nd, https://www.organicfacts.net/shiitake-mushrooms.html#fight-cancer.
 Organic Facts.