According to data from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, cancer is the second leading cause of death in Americans behind only heart disease, claiming the lives of almost 600,000 U.S. citizens in 2019.
Caused by an imbalance in the progression of the life cycle of cells and programmed cell death, the majority of anticancer drugs seek to correct this imbalance by preventing the over proliferation of cells and inducing healthy, regular cellular death.
Yet many of the current anticancer drugs are quite destructive, killing cancer cells but also damaging and killing healthy cells as well, leading to some of the more difficult side effects of chemotherapy.
As a result of cancer’s continued growth worldwide and the difficulties of cancer treatments on patients, people have begun to search for alternative treatments. Medicinal mushrooms offer another approach.
Turkey Tail, the original Chemo drug
Trametes versicolor, also known as the Turkey Tail mushroom due to its resemblance to a turkey’s tail, has for decades been used in eastern medicine due to its anticarcinogenic properties.
The carcinogenic powers of turkey tail are well studied and primarily attributed to the presence of polysaccharaide Krestin — also known as PSK — within its cellular walls. Before today’s most common chemotherapy drug, Taxol, came into the fray, Krestin was the number one anticarcinogenic therapy on the market.
In Japan, turkey tail has a well-documented history since it was first approved as an anticancer prescription drug in 1977. By 1987 in Japan, PSK accounted for more than 25% of total national expenditures for anticancer drugs.
It’s also worth noting that mycology guru, Paul Stamets attributes PSK and turkey tail mycelium for helping his then 84-year-old mother overcome stage 4 breast cancer.
The Great Ganoderma
Reishi (i.e Ganoderma lucidum) mushrooms also have a relatively well-documented history of helping people with cancer treatments as well. One meta-analysis study on Reishi mushrooms and cancer found Reishi related natural products to be “significantly associated with lower risks of mortality and higher total efficacy” when used in addition to traditional chemotherapy treatments.
“In this meta-analysis, we found that...G. lucidum related natural products might have potential benefits on the overall survival and quality of life in cancer patients,” concluded the study’s authors.
In other preclinical studies, Reishi mushroom products also demonstrated the potential to enhance tumor response, augment the efficacy of radiotherapy, stimulate host immunity, and alleviate chemotherapy-induced nausea.
Many of the medicinal benefits of Shiitake mushrooms (i.e Lentinula edodes) are attributed to Lentinan, a beta-D-glucan polysaccharide compound within Shiitake mushrooms. Lentinan is considered to be a biological response modifier more than an anti carcinogenic compound, as it doesn’t seem to have a direct cytotoxic effect on cancer cells.
Nonetheless, preclinical studies with Shiitake extracts have demonstrated certain medicinal properties (e.g. immunostimulatory, antiviral, hepatoprotective, antiproliferative, cytotoxic) that may add up to an anticarcinogenic effect. Further, lentinan has been shown to help alleviate the adverse effects of chemotherapy, similar to Reishi.
Cordyceps militaris has also shown great anticarcinogenic potential via its main medicinal compound, Cordycepin, but much study needs to be funded and carried out before any real claims are to be made.
No matter your opinion of the claims of medicinal benefits made in this article, it is up to you to consult a doctor and decide whether utilizing our fungal friends in the fight against cancer is worthwhile.