Mushrooms and Your Health:
Mushrooms make up a very important vegetable dish for many rural households in the developing world. Most rural societies know exactly which mushrooms are good for human consumption and which should never even be touched. They are also able to distinguish which species would normally grow in which types of ecosystems; which are of medicinal value; and which are highly poisonous and could therefore be fatal, while they quite enthusiastically hunt around for the edible varieties during rainy seasons.
Sometimes mistakes occur in identification, where poisonous species may occasionally be confused for edible ones leading to death. Consequently, some individuals shun eating mushrooms altogether without realizing what nutritional benefits they end up missing in the process. Yet poisonous mushrooms are in fact relatively few, representing just about 1% of the known mushroom biota. Most rural households in the developing world do not even know that mushrooms can be farmed. One can actually guarantee the safety of farmed mushrooms for food, since poisonous species are normally excluded in mushroom growing ventures.
Not many people are aware of the numerous nutritional benefits of the different species of mushroom. In fact, it is only just a handful of people that may be aware of the tantalizingly high protein content of some mushrooms and of their wonderful nutritional balance.
Mushrooms bear all the essential amino acids, vitamins, and a high content of inorganic mineral nutrients and fiber. More importantly, we now see a rapidly increasing use of mushrooms as highly potent nutriceuticals globally due to their now proven enhancing effect on the body’s immunoresponce systems. Mushrooms will normally enhance the body’s defence mechanisms against various types of cancers, some viral infections, and disease. The responsible agents for these effects have, normally, unusually low toxicity even at unusually high doses. Mushrooms can therefore improve the quality of human health.
Studies on dietary supplements derived from medicinal mushrooms, such as Ganoderma lucidum, Coriolus, or Schizophyllum commune; and from edible mushrooms, such as Lentinula edodes or Auricularia auricular-judae have largely demonstrated that humans can significantly benefit from a regular diet of mushrooms and their products. This is particularly so for individuals working long hours under stressful conditions, and those who occasionally need to regulate their blood cholesterol levels or blood pressure or even boost their body defence systems.
With the unlimited possibilities that mushrooms offer in enhancing human health, especially when used as dietary supplements, I would not hesitate even for a moment to emphasize the importance of having mushrooms on our daily menus. In a world where we are constantly plagued by human health crises, such as the HIV/AIDS pandaemic, the upsurge of hypertension and cardiovascular disorders, incidents of cancer, etc, we have no choice but to seriously look into possibilities of changing our choices of food and diet.
Once you are certain that the fleshy mushrooms on your kitchen table are safe, just don’t hesitate to eat them or use their products. Indeed, millions of the world’s inhabitants today regularly enjoy a wide spectrum of edible mushroom species, and also many mushroom products. Mushrooms can be roasted; they can be fried, and they can be cooked as palatable soups. They can be dried, they can be canned, they can be pickled, and they can be frozen for use on a later date. Some can be farmed, and are indeed being farmed.
Some mushrooms have high, scientifically proven, medicinal potency. They can, and are indeed being used to improve health conditions of millions of individuals around the world afflicted by some of the most fearsome and devastating incurable diseases of our time. Extracts from some species of mushroom have restored good health to many despondent cancer and other patients. Products derived from some mushrooms have scientifically, and beyond any doubt, been proven to be very effective in enhancing the body’s immune system thus raising clouds of hope among some 40 million people in the world living with HIV/AIDS.
Regular and sustained use of such mushrooms can thus serve as preventive medicine, when used as dietary supplements, and also as agents for making you healthier, fitter, and happier. Mushroom is in fact one of the greatest producers of polysaccharide protein complexes which are highly effective in lowering blood sugar levels; are anti-tumor, antiviral, and are extremely useful as general body defence potentiators.
Nutritional Value of Mushrooms:
When used as a dietary supplement or as an ingredient of our table diet, mushrooms supply the body with protein, carbohydrates, lipids, vitamins, and inorganic minerals. The protein level of some edible mushrooms, such as Pleurotus ostreatus or Agaricus bisporus, is impressively high (ranging between 20% to 40%, dry weight). Although mushroom protein is slightly less than animal meat protein it contains all the essential amino acids required in human diet, including lysine and leucine which are often lacking in some of the world’s most staple cereal crops such as maize. Perhaps more interestingly, when you get your dietary protein source through the mushroom route, you certainly need not worry about present day calamities such as mad-cow disease or Rift Valley fever.
Polysaccharides synthesized by mushrooms are most commonly made up of glucose and galactose. Some of the polysaccharides are components of fungal hyphal walls, while others are constituents of fungal protoplasmic membranes. Some exist as storage polysaccharides, such as glycogen found in animal tissue, while some form complexes of a proteoaminoglycan nature with polypeptide chains – some of which are increasingly being shown to be medicinally potent against some forms of cancer.
Lipids found in fungal biomass are characterized by a high percentage of unsaturated fatty acids and low cholesterol. In fact, in some cases, up to 78% of their fatty acid content is unsaturated; largely due to high levels of linoleic acid, a dienoic essential fatty acid derived from stearic acid. Animal tissue, in contrast, contains high levels of saturated fatty acids – a harmful attribute indeed. Mushrooms, and fungi in general, are a good source of several vitamins which include thiamine (Vitamin B1), riboflavin (Vitamin B2), niacin (Nicotinic acid), biotin (Vitamin B7), and ascorbic acid (Vitamin C). Regular use of mushrooms as dietary supplements therefore could protect the body from common vitamin deficiency diseases, such as beriberi, pellagra, and scurvy.
Mushrooms, when used as dietary supplements, also supply the body with appreciable levels of essential mineral elements such as potassium, sodium, calcium, and phosphorus. Additionally, they provide valuable fibres; which, undoubtedly, have significant health benefits. Some species of mushrooms are particularly effective in promoting the body’s general fitness when used as dietary supplements. Substances with both medicinal and nutritional value extracted from such mushrooms and packed as capsules, or as tablets, and regularly used as tonic are usually referred to as nutriceuticals. Where medicinally potent or nutritionally valuable, mushrooms are consumed directly as part of the normal diet; and as functional foods, they are referred to as nutraceuticals.
Selected mushrooms that show greatest promise for use in promoting and sustaining general body fitness, increasing disease resistance, and enhancing the body’s immunoregulatory balance:
(a): Ganoderma Lucidum:
According to Chinese mythology, Ganoderma lucidum mushrooms are “the elixir of life and are celestial in their power”. I am not talking of mushrooms as hallucinogenic agents. Of course, yes! Hallucinogenic mushrooms indeed do exist. Psilocybe cyanensis is such a type. But that is beside the point. Ganoderma mushrooms are actually consumed worldwide as a health tonic and a dietary supplement. Millions of people take it everyday simply to just enhance their vitality, to improve their digestion, or sleep better. Ganoderma is also used both for prevention and treatment of health problems that require a balanced immunoresponse and a healthy cardiovascular system.
There are two important groups of organic compounds in the Ganoderma mushroom which appear to be responsible for its medicinal potency – triterpenoids (triterpenes), and polysaccharides. Among the most important triterpenes are the ganoderic acids A, C, I, J; lucinedic acid A, D, I; and lucidone A, C; all of which are responsible for Ganoderma’s bitter taste. Ganoderic acids T, U,V, W, X, Z have a cytotoxic effect on cancerous cells, while ganoderic acids R, S and ganosporeric acid have a liver protecting effect (hepatoprotective effect). Ganoderal A, ganoderols A, B, and ganoderic acids K, S have an inhibitory effect on the angiotensine-converting enzyme thus lowering blood pressure. Some oxygenated triterpenes with 7-oxo and 15-hydroxyl groups have a hypolipidemic effect (lowering of fat level) on body tissue. Ganoderic acids C, D have an inhibitory effect on histamine release, thus releaving allergy and possibly asthma.
The most important polysaccharides in Ganoderma lucidum include glucans, heteropolysaccharides, and proteoglycans which have antitumor, anticancer, and anti-HIV characteristics due to their immunomodulatory effect. Ganoderans A, B, C and glucans have a blood sugar lowering (hypoglycemic) effect, while they protect the body against radiation and are anti-angiogenic. Numerous other compounds in Ganoderma lucidum include LZ-8, a fungal immunomodulatory protein that is also antihypertensive, anti-autoimmune, and anti-hepatitis B. There is also organic germanium, which has antitumor effects on hepatoma cells in the liver, bladder cancer, and Lewis lung carcinoma, while promoting blood circulation.
Within the human body, we have an immune system which depends on white blood cells, cytokines, lymphokines, and chemokines to defend us against invading bacteria, viruses, and other harmful micro-organisms. Since we live in open-air conditions where we are permanently exposed to a heavily polluted environment, it is obvious that we are a constant target to these unwelcome and highly dangerous micro-organisms as long as they can find weak points in our body defence mechanisms. If you want to leave fitter, healthier, and happier you certainly need to maintain a good balance of your immune system. EAT MUSHROOMS! They are superior immune enhancers. Scientific evidence is increasingly suggesting that the numerous compounds found in mushroom generate an immense immuno-response enhancement through concerted effects. It is like a situation with a good orchestra where each member contributes something with his own instrument for greater effect than what could otherwise be achieved through solo performance using a single instrument.
Several types of Ganoderma lucidum products are currently available on the world market. These include:
Whole fruiting bodies ground into a powder and then processed into capsule or tablet form. The dose is usually six capsules or tablets (of 220 mg strength) daily in three divided doses taken before meals.
Dried and pulverized mycelia harvested from submerged liquid cultures grown in fermentation tanks.
Dried and pulverized preparations of the combined substrate, mycelia, and mushroom primordia, following inoculation of a semisolid medium with fungal mycelia and incubation until the primordia appear.
Hot water extracts of mycelia harvested from submerged liquid cultures grown in fermentation tanks that have been evaporated to dryness and made up into capsule or tablet form.
Hot water and alcohol extracts of fruiting bodies, mycelia, or spores that have been evaporated to dryness and made into capsules or tablets.
Other forms of Ganoderma preparations made as mixtures with other medicinal mushrooms or herbal products.
Classification has always been a contentious issue. Should Ganoderma products be classified as “health foods”, nutriceuticals, or pharmaceuticals? Traditionally, Ganoderma products have always been looked upon as being medicines and not food. Some producers label them as “health food”. This could possibly be because of the fact that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the USA only classifies such products which have been rigorously tested for safety and efficacy as foods. Traditional medicines can thus be sold and distributed only under the classification of “food”. In the strictest sense,
Ganoderma should essentially not be classified as food because it is not edible and, therefore, not part of our everyday diet. Ganoderma lucidum is simply a kind of medicinal mushroom, and it may not be proper to classify its products as “health foods”. Ganoderma products may not be classified as pharmaceuticals either. Generally, conventional drugs would contain just a single active ingredient which has been extensively tested and tried for safety and efficacy through controlled animal studies and clinical trials. For that reason especially, Ganoderma products become difficult to sell as drugs or pharmaceuticals since they still have to meet pharmaceutical and government drug control requirements and regulations. Yet, going by their long time therapeutic effects and observational experience; let alone the numerous systematic studies and trials carried out on animals and otherwise for the past twenty years,
Ganoderma products (particularly those extracted with hot water and alcohol) do contain two major active ingredients – polysaccharides and triterpenes, which have a great potential as superior nutriceuticals for enhancing human immune responses. It is very important to note that Ganoderma products have repeatedly been proven to be without toxicity and side effects, and they have been in use since time immemorial. In China, they have been used as dietary supplements for over 4000 years.
Although the general public still remains cautious about the therapeutic effects of Ganoderma products, greater awareness and interest towards alternative treatment and therapies have been increasing over time. It is a known fact that at least one out of three people around the world use unconventional therapies for certain conditions and ailments, although they may not admit it. In the developing world, 70% of medical practitioners would, at some point in their practice, refer some of their patients to alternative medicine. In present times, most nations are heterogeneous societies. Their approaches to therapeutics reflect that diversity. There is no doubt about the fact that Ganoderma products can serve as superior nutriceuticals.
One thing worth noting at this juncture is that they are extremely diverse, and there are no standard protocols for guaranteeing uniform products. Some Ganoderma products marketed in some quarters are thus not enjoying public credibility. Standardization is really important. Fortunately, a number of sources of tested high quality Ganoderma products do exist and are known.
Mushrooms and HIV/AIDS:
As strategies evolve to provide treatment to economically disadvantaged populations worldwide, antiretroviral (ARV) therapy has largely become more available to an increasing number of infected individuals. The increased availability of therapy for HIV patients warrants the use of chemoprophylactic regimens in pregnancy and during labour, for example, that will not compromise the effectiveness of future antiretroviral therapy by the selection of resistant virus. Increased understanding of the pharmacokinetics of single-dose prophylaxis such as Nevirapine, therefore, may help to clarify how selective pressure in a minority of women results in the emergence of resistant virus in breast milk and how short course combined therapy may subsequently reduce maternal viral load, limit exposure of the newborn, and prevent the rapid emergence of resistant virus.
More studies are therefore needed to understand the impact of maternal antiretroviral treatment on breast-feeding HIV-1 transmission, infant toxicity, and HIV-1 resistance mutations among infected infants; bearing in mind that persistence of minor variants or proviruses with Nevirapine mutations in breast milk could potentially limit the use of Nevirapine or other non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase ( RT) inhibitors for subsequent treatment of HIV-1 infection in the infected mother and infant.
The HIV virus is by any means a genetically complex entity. An array of regulatory genes enables it to remain latent or replicate at various rates in the host cell. This intricate control may underlie key features of the accompanying AIDS disease. Infection with the AIDS virus often takes many guises. Initially the virus would replicate abundantly, and free virus appears in the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord and in the bloodstream.
Fevers, rashes, flulike symptoms and sometimes neurological complaints can accompany this first wave of HIV replication. Then, within a few weeks, the amount of virus in circulation and the cerebrospinal fluid drops precipitously and the initial symptoms disappear. Yet the virus is still present! It can now be found not only in the T4 lymphocytes, but also in other classes of immune system cells, in cells of the central nervous system and intestine, and probably in some bone marrow cells. From two to ten years after the start of this asymptomatic period, replication of the virus flares again and the infection enters its final stage.
Underlying this variable course are complex interactions between HIV and its host cells. The virus behaves differently depending on the kind of host cell and the cell’s own level of activity. In T cells it can lie dormant indefinitely, inextricable from the cell but hidden from the victim’s immune system; when the same cells are stimulated, however, it can destroy them in a burst of replication. In other cells, such as the immune system cells called macrophages and their precursors, the monocytes, the virus grows continuously but slowly, sparing the cell but probably altering its function. What accounts for this diverse behavior of HIV and its destructive consequences? The answer is to be found in the life cycle of the virus, and in the tiny package of genetic instructions that controls it. HIV governs its life cycle in novel and intrigueing ways, and their study may hold the key to the control of AIDS.
An elaborate set of genetic controls usually determines whether this cycle of replication or that will be played out and how fast it will proceed. Apart from three genes that encode the viral proteins of the core and the envelope that surrounds the virus, the HIV genome includes at least six other genes. Some and perhaps all of these genes act to regulate the production of viral proteins. One regulator speeds up viral protein synthesis generally, another speeds the production of only some types of viral proteins, and a third gene represses protein synthesis. Since the regulatory genes themselves encode proteins, each one affects not only the structural genes but also the regulatory genes, including itself.
The constellation of cellular factors acting on the viral genome presumably varies depending on both the condition and the kind of host cell. Some resting cells may simply lack the proteins needed for host cell RNA initiation, so that the infection remains quiescent. In other cells the rate of viral growth may be constrained by a low concentration of initiation factors or by an abundance of proteins that inhibit mRNA synthesis. Thus the host cell, through its array of transcription factors, creates a molecular environment that influences the working of HIV’s own regulatory mechanisms.
What is the molecular basis for the cellular devastation that accompanies this intricately controlled cycle of growth and dissemination, anyway? HIV infection practically eliminates the entire population of T4 cells and may also kill their precursors in the thymus gland and the bone marrow. It does so even though the number of infected T cells at any given time is quite low. Moreover, the virus is just as common in other cell populations, such as macrophages and monocytes, and yet it kills relatively few of those cells.
As with so many illnesses, there is no cure today for HIV/AIDS. But there has been an accelerated, worldwide effort to develop effective treatments – an effort that is not quite producing encouraging results so far. A variety of alternative treatments have been tried too that have great promise because – in the laboratory setting, at least – they can equally suppress HIV in the same way as conventional ARVs do or fight some of the microbes that cause the opportunistic infections seen in HIV/AIDS.
Many of these alternative treatments, including herbal medicines, seaweeds, and mushrooms are now being tested in human volunteers with various stages of HIV disease. Such medical research is essential for the development of treatments that will be safer and optimally effective. If you were to be told today – after very careful and competent medical evaluation, of course – that you are HIV-1 positive and may be incubating AIDS, just try to remember one thing. While a diagnosis of HIV/AIDS may certainly not be anybody’s idea of good news, it is not necessarily an instant death sentence. In some individuals, even full-blown AIDS has not proved fatal for many years.
There are no hard-and-fast rules about how quickly HIV disease progresses. By and large, most patients and their loved ones have ample time to consider their options carefully. It is therefore crucial to seek thoughtful medical advice from a personal physician you trust while you think of alternative remedies too that could, alongside conventional ARVs, help fend off the disease and the accompanying opportunistic infections plus possible complications emanating from conventional ARV treatment for a longer life. In general, alternative therapies are cheaper compared to ARV regimens. Balanced nutrition through the use of seaweeds or mushrooms, as we have seen earlier, may play a wonderful role in healing for many individuals as their body defence mechanisms are bolstered and subsequently repaired.
With the now well-established fact that Ganoderma lucidum has potent anti-HIV activity, it becomes imperative that this mushroom be included as a dietary supplement to HIV/AIDS victims.
As indicated earlier Ganoderma, otherwise known as Reishi, has been well used and documented as medicinal treatment throughout China for over 4000 years. The Chinese refer to it as “spirit medicine”, and use it to promote longevity. In ancient times, this mushroom was reserved for the Kings, as it was relatively rare and hard to come by. Now, thanks to the advent of modern technology, this mushroom can be farmed, making it more affordable and accessible to the average person. It is often used as a tonic against any possible future health problems due to its ability to enhance the immune body defence mechanisms, and is actually prescribed to people suffering from cancer and currently undergoing chemotherapy to fend off hair loss, lethargy, vomiting, and lack of appetite.
Reishi is also thought to help reverse some of the signs of ageing, including skin wrinkling. A large number of mushroom products have been shown to affect the human immune system and could thus be used to treat a variety of disease conditions. Those which appear to enhance host resistance are mostly sought after for the treatment of cancer, immunodeficiency diseases such as HIV/AIDS, and for generalized immunosuppression after drug treatment. Apart from Ganoderma, some of the medicinally active mushrooms available in a variety of forms such as whole, dried, powdered, tinctures, capsules, tablets, and tea include Grifola frondosa (Maitake) and Lentinus edodes (Shiitake).
In Japan Grifola frondosa is known as the “dancing mushroom” while for American mushroom hunters it is called the “hen of the woods”. An extract from Grifola frondosa known as D fraction is marketed in Japan and the USA as a dietary supplement. D fraction has been shown to stimulate production of immune cells and increases their effectiveness. As well as protecting healthy cells from cancer, D fraction helps prevent the spread of cancer (metastasis) and slows the growth of tumors. Unlike other mushroom extracts, D fraction is effective not only in injectable form but orally as well.
Two other factions, X and ES, have been used to lessen the side effects of chemotherapy in cancer treatment. As an HIV/AIDS alternative treatment, Grifola frondosa may help prevent the destruction of T-cells. In animal studies, Grifola frondosa extracts have lowered blood pressure and glucose levels. Grifola frondosa mushrooms, fresh or preserved, taste good and could be used in a variety of preparations. Grifola frondosa tea, juice, powder, and granules are available on the market. A liquid extract of Grifola frondosa D-fraction is available to health professionals.
Lentinus edodes (Shiitake) extract can be used to boost the immune system, protect the body from cancer and even shrink existing tumors, lower blood cholesterol levels, reduce blood pressure and combat viruses and bacteria. Lentinus edodes contains vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and a number of polysaccharides, which are linked to countering cancer, primarily by promoting immune function rather than attacking cancer cells directly. Following the discovery that cancer patients given lentinan have increased their survival times and a more positive prognosis, the Japanese have recently begun prescribing the polysaccharide as an adjunct to chemotherapy. Other studies have also indicated that Lentinus edodes extracts may help in the treatment of HIV/AIDS. Therapeutic daily amounts could range between 3 – 7 gms per day of Grifola frondosa and 1.5 – 9 gms daily of the crude dried Ganoderma lucidum.
Lentinus edodes products normally vary in potency, and it is always suggested that dosage directions on product labels should be strictly followed. There are no reported side effects with Grifola frondosa, while continued use of Ganoderma lucidum for over 3 -6 months may precipitate dizziness, dryness of the mouth and throat, nasal bleeding, and abdominal upset; although, admittedly, such side effects are very rare. Lentinus edodes is safe and non-toxic, even in very large doses.