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Mushrooms that Fight Cancer and Boost the Immune System

Cancer is a term used for diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control and are able to invade other tissues. Cancer cells can spread to other parts of the body through the blood and lymph systems. Cancer is not just one disease but many diseases. There are more than 100 different types of cancer.


Mushrooms have been consumed for their health benefits for thousands of years in China, and the main active component was recently identified as beta-glucan. Beta glucans (β-glucans) are polysaccharides – long chains of sugar molecules – found on the surface of microor­ganisms such as bacte­ria and yeast, as well as in some plants and edible fungi such as mushrooms. Natural foods containing β-glucans, including Shitake mushrooms, have been used for centuries for treating both infectious diseases and cancer in traditional Asian medicine, but with mixed success.

The immune-stimulating effect of beta-glucans has been well studied, and several beta-glucan receptors have been identified on the surface of immune cells. In addition, mushroom extracts with high levels of beta-glucans have also been shown to have direct cytotoxic effects on cancer cells, and beta-glucans are used for the treatment of cancer.

β-glucans are also used to boost the immune system in people whose body defense has been weakened by conditions such the chronic fatigue syndrome, or physical and emotional stress; or by treatments such as radiation or chemotherapy. β-glucans are also used for colds (common cold), flu (influenza), H1N1 (swine) flu, allergies, hepatitis, Lyme disease, asthma, ear infections, aging, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis.

Numerous animal and human studies have demonstrated the efficacy of beta glucan in:

  • Preventing and fighting post-surgical infections, antibiotic-resistant infections and sepsis.
  • Treating cardiovascular disease, lowering cholesterol and reversing arteriosclerosis.
  • Stimulating the immune system to destroy cancer cells.
  • Speeding tissue regeneration and repair, particularly stimulating wound healing of diabetic and venous stasis ulcers.
  • Enhancing the formation of white blood cells (hematopoiesis) in patients undergoing radiation and chemotherapy or recovering from bone marrow transplants.
  • Creating targeted drug- and antigen-delivering systems.

Beta glucan works to stimulate the two main components of the body’s immune system, the innate and the acquired immune systems. In the innate immune system, beta glucan binds with the macrophages, a type of white blood cell whose job is to detect bacteria, viruses and other pathogens and coordinate the body’s defenses against them. When activated by beta glucan, macrophages have an increased ability to identify and destroy foreigner intruders. After devouring pathogens through a process called phagocytosis, the macrophages then communicate the intruder’s presence to the body’s other defenders. Research shows that macrophages fortified by beta glucan are better able to rally the body’s defenses.

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