Mushrooms are linked to a number of health benefits. They’re known to promote heart health, improve blood sugar levels and boost fetal health. Rich in antioxidants and other important nutrients, they help fight several types of cancer, including lung, prostate and breast cancer.
Recent studies also show that mushrooms can boost your immunity. In a study published in the journal PLOS ONE, Australian researchers found that the combination of certain mushroom extracts worked synergistically to enhance immune cell response.
Cocktail of mushroom extracts stimulates immune response
Mushrooms contain a variety of compounds with immunomodulatory activities. The compounds called beta-glucans are particularly important for supporting immune function. Beta-glucans are complex carbohydrates made up of multiple sugar molecules. Commonly found in the cell wall of plants, they are also present in other foods such as barley, oats and seaweed.
Beta-glucans are recognized by the immune system as foreign substances. They trigger an immune response and help build immunity from harmful pathogens. Mushrooms can elicit a similar response too. This is because they are rich in beta-glucans and low in alpha-glucans, a complex carbohydrate with fewer health benefits.
For their study, the researchers analyzed nine commercially available preparations from three mushroom species — reishi, shiitake and maitake mushrooms — which were previously reported to stimulate the immune system. The researchers selected three extracts to combine into a formula based on the extracts’ beta- and alpha-glucan content.
The researchers then assessed the extracts individually and in combination for their ability to stimulate the expression of cytokines (proteins that regulate immunity) in human macrophages (a type of white blood cell).
Results showed that the mushroom extracts are potent immuno-stimulators, but more so when they are combined.
“Interestingly, the mushroom formula showed increased potency in the expression of certain cytokines compared to the individual extracts, suggesting a potential synergistic effect of the mushroom formula,” said lead researcher Joe Tiralongo, an associate professor at Griffith University.
The researchers developed new supplements based on their formula. Tiralongo said that future studies can look into the formula’s mechanism of action and identify additional synergistic formulations based on mushroom beta-glucans.
More studies show mushrooms boost immunity
The researchers analyzed a previous study of 52 healthy adults who were asked to consume a serving of mushrooms daily for a month. The participants had their blood drawn before and after the month-long regimen. Based on the blood tests, the researchers found that the participants had better-functioning gamma delta T-cells (immune cells) and fewer pro-inflammatory proteins. (Related: Shiitake mushrooms are a powerful medicinal superfood.)
“If you eat a shiitake mushroom every day, you could see changes in their immune system that are beneficial,” said Susan Percival, a professor of food science and nutrition at the University of Florida and one of the study researchers.
“We’re enhancing the immune system, but we’re also reducing the inflammation that the immune system produces,” Percival added.
In another study, published in the ISRN Oncology Journal, researchers found that turkey tail mushrooms boost the immune system of breast cancer patients who had just completed radiation therapy. The researchers asked 11 women to take turkey tail mushroom supplements every day for six weeks. Results showed that taking six to nine?grams of the supplements increased lymphocyte (another type of white blood cell) counts and natural killer cell activity.
Natural killer cells protect the body from cancer cells and viruses. Immunity — as measured by natural killer cell activity and the number of lymphocyte cells — declines drastically after radiotherapy.
Overall, these studies show that mushrooms strengthen immunity and help fight diseases such as cancer. For more foods that boost immunity, visit ImmuneSystem.news.