Medicinal mushrooms found to strengthen the immune system
10/29/2018 // Zoey Sky // Views

Despite the naysayers, several studies have proven that certain herbal remedies used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) can help treat various illnesses. A study even determined that two mushrooms often used in TCM, turkey tail (Coriolus versicolor) and lingzhi mushrooms (Ganoderma lucidum), may have potent immunomodulatory properties.

Asian countries such as China, Japan, and Korea often use TCM to boost the immune system of healthy individuals. TCM is also used to complement modern treatments for cancer, such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or surgery.

While TCM is promoted by practitioners because they are effective and safe to use, the majority of data on TCM is often from in vitro animal studies and laboratory experimental cellular models. Meanwhile, published limited in vivo clinical studies often involve "small patient numbers, equivocal explanation of the randomization protocols, and [a] lack of placebo controls."

Experts posit that TCM herbs, which have multiple chemical compounds, can be used to target multiple cells to produce the desired clinical effects. Over 270 medicinal mushrooms, which are defined as mushrooms used as medicinal agents, have certain immunotherapeutic properties.

The immunological activities of C. versicolor and G. lucidum

The researchers analyzed literature about turkey tail, which is also called Yun Zhi or Kawaratake, and lingzhi mushrooms because both allegedly have immunological activities that are used to address the symptoms of chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, among others.


Medicinal mushrooms have a bioactive ingredient called beta-glucan that is linked to multi-directional immunomodulation. Beta-glucans, which are polysaccharides found in mushrooms, are called "biological response modifiers" because they can activate the immune system. Data has shown that bioactive polysaccharides or polysaccharide-protein complexes from medicinal mushrooms can "enhance innate and cell-mediated immune responses and exhibit antitumor activities in humans." In fact, some of the mushroom polysaccharide compounds are now being widely used in Asia to cure certain kinds of cancers and other diseases.

For this review, the study authors wanted to analyze data from the clinical trials concerning two medicinal mushrooms: C. versicolor and G. lucidum. The review also sought to determine how the two kinds of medicinal mushrooms can alter different immunological populations.

For comparison, researchers also tabulated the results of three TCM herbs that are often used in cancer management for immunoregulation: Astragalus membranaceus (Mongolian milkvetch), Cordyceps sinensis (yartsa gunbu/caterpillar fungus), and Eleutherococcus senticosus (Siberian ginseng). (Related: Eat more mushrooms for a healthier brain.)

The researchers proceeded to systematically search articles on clinical trial studies published from 1985 to August 2015. The search was conducted on these four electronic databases: EMBASE, PubMed, Scopus, and Web of Science.

The search's outcome measures incorporated changes in the serum cytokines secretion and the number and functional activity of different immune cell populations. The search involved a total of 237 relevant articles, and the results identified 15 articles that met the researchers' criteria.

The English keywords for the search included:

  • Astragalus membranaceus
  • cancer
  • carcinoma
  • Cordyceps sinensis
  • Coriolus versicolor
  • cytokine
  • dendritic cell
  • Eleutherococcus senticosus
  • Ganoderma lucidum
  • immunomodulation
  • Medicinal mushrooms
  • natural killer cell
  • NK cell
  • Siberian ginseng
  • TCM
  • Traditional Chinese medicine
  • Trametes versicolor
  • tumor

There was no other special limitation for the search, and the reference lists of recent reviews related to the search terms were also examined.

The review first screened for the relevant area, which was then followed by a full reading of the text. Animal studies and in vitro studies were excluded and the final 15 articles were selected based on the four inclusion criteria:

  1. The articles were published as English language articles.
  2. The articles included full-text details.
  3. The articles were published as clinical trial studies
  4. The articles' outcome measurement involved immune cells or related products (e.g., natural killer (NK) cells, T lymphocyte/T cells, B lymphocyte/B cells, or cytokine.

The researchers examined the 15 articles and based on their findings, both C. versicolor and G. lucidum had immunomodulatory properties (innate and adaptive immunity). There were only a limited number of studies available for each mushroom or herb, and the study authors commented that because of this they were unable to draw unequivocal conclusions for the review.

The scientists concluded that even though C. versicolor and G. lucidum both had immunomodulatory properties according to data from the 15 articles, future larger trials of randomized and placebo-controlled clinical studies are necessary before the study on the mushrooms and herbs can determine a suitable evidence-based medicine approach.

You can read more articles about the health benefits of mushrooms like C. versicolor and G. lucidum at

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