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Can mushrooms boost your immunity? Mushrooms, in general, are a rich source of minerals, vitamins, fibres and bioactive compounds and are considered as a healthy addition to your diet. But can these fungi be particularly beneficial in supporting your immune health?
Mushrooms are popular around the world. Some varieties like white button, shitake, oyster and portabella are commonly used in many delicious recipes, adding that umami like or nutty flavour to many dishes such as soups, sauces and stir-fry.
However, some varieties are more medicinal in nature than others. And while they may not have that edible quality that mushrooms are known for, these medicinal mushrooms are very well-established for their healing and health boosting properties.
For example, these nutritional powerhouses are known to reduce stress, lower inflammation, support immunity, increase stamina, relieve fatigue, improve sleep, support brain health and may even work as an aphrodisiac. Many cultures around the world have been known to use these medicinal mushrooms in a variety of ways to heal the body.
So, what mushrooms boost immunity? Reishi mushroom, Lion’s Mane mushroom and Cordyceps are three mushrooms that are amazingly versatile when it comes to health benefits. In this article, we are going to talk about these top three mushrooms and how they pack an especially powerful punch when it comes to boosting immunity.
So, how do these immunity boosting mushrooms work?
Benefits of Reishi Mushrooms For Immunity
Scientific name: Ganoderma lucidum
Also known as: Lingzhi mushroom, Mushroom of Immortality, The King of Mushrooms and Divine Mushroom
This reddish brown, woody mushroom has been used by Traditional Chinese Medicine and other Asian cultures to improve overall health and increase the body’s ability to deal with stress.
Reishi mushroom is loaded with hundreds of bioactive compounds that work hand in hand to improve your health. It gives your body an antioxidant boost and strengthens your immunity.
One of the most important qualities of Reishi mushroom is that it is adaptogenic in nature. What does this mean?
Adaptogens are unique herbs or natural substances that maintain balance in the body. Just like a thermostat works, adaptogens strive towards maintaining an equilibrium in the body. Adaptogens don’t work in a linear manner. They can sense what is missing or what is extra, and work towards maintaining a balance. So, if your immunity needs a push, adaptogens stimulate a sluggish immune system . And they tone down the immune responses in case you have an overactive immune system at work.
You can see adaptogens as tonics that control stress hormones, calm down the nervous system, maintain hormonal balance, reduce fatigue and improve stamina. Adaptogens also give your body more strength to deal with stress. This helps with fast recovery from disease and infection.
Nowadays, you can see many nutritionists and functional medicine practitioners recommending using adaptogens. Ginseng, ashwagandha, maca, Rhodiola rosea, jiaogulan, cordyceps mushrooms and reishi mushrooms are some popular adaptogens that you may have heard of.
Reishi Mushroom and immunity
Reishi mushroom helps your body maintain a healthy and balanced immune system. It not only improves your body’s ability to fight infections and disease but also prevents the immune system from becoming hyperactive and out of control.
What makes Reishi mushroom important for a healthy immunity? As discussed earlier, reishi mushroom is an adaptogen, which means it can either stimulate or supress a function according to the body’s requirements. So, if you have an immune system that does not work as actively as it should, reishi will help energize it. On the other hand, it may calm down an overactive immune system, which is commonly seen in allergies and autoimmune disorders.
Reishi mushroom contains many bio-active compounds. The most prominent ones are polysaccharides and triterpenes, which are mostly responsible for making reishi mushroom adaptogenic and immune balancing.
Polysaccharides in Reishi
These compounds, present in the form of Beta-glucans, are known to stimulate immune cells. This helps to improve your body’s natural immunity against virus, bacteria, and fungi.
Research suggest that Reishi mushroom extract can be helpful in conditions such as ‘flu, Herpes simplex, Hepatitis B, Herpes zoster, and Epstein-Barr virus . It is also believed effective against Candida , the fungi commonly associated with causing vaginal yeast infections. Candida can also cause infections in the mouth.
In addition, reishi mushroom may also improve the efficiency of antibiotics in killing and preventing the growth of harmful bacteria.  Polysaccharides act as powerful antioxidants and reduce inflammation in the body, thus protect and heal the body from disease.
Some preliminary research suggests that active compounds in reishi act as prebiotics in the gut and improve gut health. This could be another way in which reishi mushroom boosts immunity, and more studies are needed in this area.
If you are considering taking reishi mushroom supplements to boost your immunity, add vitamin C. It helps improve the absorption of polysaccharides found in the mushroom. Reishi mushroom supplements are available as reishi dried mushroom slices and reishi powdered spore capsules.
Triterpenes in Reishi
Triterpenes, present in the form of ganoderic acid, are compounds that have steroid-like properties. The bitter taste of Reishi is due to the presence of triterpenes.
These compounds inhibit the release of histamine in the body. Histamine is a chemical that is produced by the body during allergic reactions and causes inflammation. By inhibiting histamine release, triterpenes help in reducing symptoms of allergy and inflammation. This is how reishi mushroom may be extremely helpful for people with asthma and bronchitis.
Along with all these functions, there is evidence that reishi mushroom can boost immunity in cancer patients and reduce the side effects of chemotherapy. In fact, in Japan doctors use reishi mushroom along with conventional cancer treatment to improve the effectiveness of conventional anti-cancer treatments and also to minimize the side effects such as fatigue and nausea. 
Reishi mushroom activate natural killer cells, specialized immune cells that can kill cancer cells. Studies confirm that it can be effectively used as an adjunct to chemotherapy and radiotherapy. 
Reishi mushrooms benefits include:
- High in antioxidants
- Help the body deal with stress
- Fight fatigue
- Reduce anxiety
- Support liver health
- Protect heart health
- Maintain hormonal balance
Reishi mushroom supports immunity. Most importantly, it balances your immune system – activating components that fight infections and controlling immune responses that aggravate allergies and auto-immunity.
Cordyceps mushroom benefits for immunity
Scientific name: Cordyceps senesis
Also known as: Caterpillar fungus, Yartsa gunbu (“summer grass, winter worm”) in Tibet, Dong chóng xià cao in China, Keera jhar and sanjeevani booti in Nepal and Tocheikasa in Japan
There are more than 400 species of cordyceps and out of these Cordyceps senesis is the most well-known.
So, what is cordyceps? It is not a mushroom but a fungus that grows in high altitude areas of Tibet, Nepal, China and India. Native people have been using cordyceps for more than hundreds of years to treat a range of conditions such as asthma, cough, inflammation, chronic kidney disease, lung diseases and liver diseases. It is also known to reduce stress.
It is rare fungus that grows in such an incredibly unique and interesting way. In fact, it grows on the back of caterpillars. Spores of the fungi infect hibernating caterpillars in winter and the fungi start to grow inside the insect’s body, feeding on its nutrition to survive. Around springtime, the fruiting body shoots out of the insect’s head. This orange tube shaped structure can grow up to six inches in length above the soil. Cordyceps are hand-picked and dried and are used in various forms as a supplement.
Cordyceps supplements are mostly used as a tonic to boost health and improve immunity. Like other medicinal mushrooms, it contains various types of bioactive compounds, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. All these ingredients make it a powerful adaptogen and immune booster.
As a good source of B complex vitamins and vitamin K, they bring nutritional value, that also help in improving stamina and energy levels. Adding cordyceps powder into your coffee can be a great way to energize yourself.
Let’s now look at health benefits of cordyceps in immunity.
Cordyceps mushroom and immunity
Firstly, cordyceps is an adaptogen. And as already discussed, adaptogens regulate your immune functions.
So, as an adaptogen, cordyceps mushroom works in two ways. It stimulates the production of different types of immune cells. Cordyceps also regulate innate immunity and prevents the immune system from overreacting.
The fruiting bodies of cordyceps contain polysaccharides, in the form of beta-glucans. These sugars have been found to play an important role in supporting immune health and boosting overall health.
In other words, cordyceps will lend our immunity a helping hand if its falling short. And if your immune system is in a self-destructive mode, it can also slow down over-active immune responses.
A 2019 randomized and double-blind clinical trial studied the effect of cordyceps extract on the immunity of healthy adults. The results indicated that cordyceps improves immune function and lowers inflammatory responses. 
This 2016 clinical trial found that cordyceps sinesis improved asthma symptoms and lung function in patients with moderate-to-severe asthma, when used with corticosteroids. This can improve the quality of life in asthmatic patients. The study also found that cordyceps lowers inflammation that is caused by asthma. 
More studies are underway to confirm the health benefits offered by cordyceps mushroom supplements, and traditional Chinese medicine has been using cordyceps effectively to treat adrenal fatigue, poor stamina, improve stamina and maintain overall balance in the body for many centuries and is well documented.
Cordyceps mushrooms benefits include:
- Boosts energy and exercise performance
- Reduces stress
- Improves stamina
- Supports cardiovascular health
- Supports kidney function and helps in chronic kidney disorders
- Beneficial to people who have received kidney transplants  
- Regulates blood sugar levels
- Maintains hormonal balance
Research suggests that cordyceps mushroom improves immunity without increasing inflammation. Cordyceps reduces asthma symptoms and also improves the quality of life in asthmatic patients. The mushroom offers many other incredible benefits, especially in people with chronic kidney disease.
Lion’s Mane Mushroom Benefits in Immunity
Scientific name: Hericium erinaceus
Also knowns as: Japanese Yamabushitake, Hedgehog mushroom, Bearded hedgehog, Pom Pom and Satyr’s beard
Lion’s mane mushroom provides some extraordinary benefits to brain and nervous system health. It can increase Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) levels. NGF is a protein that promotes the growth and regeneration of neurons and plays an important role in the production of myelin sheath.
The furry mushroom also increases the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that repairs damage to nerve tissue and protects brain cells from damage caused by toxins, age and stress. Studies show that it may improve brain function in older adults.
NGF and BDNF are also associated with learning, memory and focus.
The edible fungus, that taste like lobster, is known to reduce inflammation and prevent coagulation. Its many uses in treating ulcers are also well-known.
So, how does lion’s mane mushroom boost immunity?
Lion’s Mane Mushrooms and Immunity
Lion’s mane mushroom, like other immune boosting mushrooms in our list, contains some important bioactive compounds such as ß-glucan polysaccharides. These sugars act as antioxidants, lower inflammation, protect the nervous system and regulate the immune system.
These polysaccharides not only power up your immune system but also work alongside other compounds to protect brain function and prevent decline in cognitive functions.
Lion’s mane mushroom benefits include:
- Improves digestion
- Protects against ulcers and gastritis
- Reduces inflammation
- May be helpful in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
- May help alleviate depression and anxiety 
Lion’s mane mushroom improves brain health and it may boost cognitive functions. It may work as a powerful immunity booster because of ß-glucan polysaccharides.
As a word of caution, it is important that you consult your healthcare practitioner before you start using any mushroom supplement to support your immunity. These products are not usually recommended for:
- Pregnant or breastfeeding women
- People on immunosuppressants
- People with auto-immunity
- People with any bleeding disorder or those taking drugs that thin the blood
- People scheduled for surgery
- People taking drugs for blood pressure and diabetes
- Dong-Shu Zheng and Liang-Shu Chen. Triterpenoids from Ganoderma lucidum inhibit the activation of EBV antigens as telomerase inhibitors. Exp Ther Med. 2017
- Naveen Kumar et al. Screening of Antifungal Activity of Ganoderma Lucidum extract Against Medically Important Fungi. Indian Journal of Public Health Research & Development. 2018
- Karwa et al. Naturally occurring medicinal mushroom-derived antimicrobials: a case-study using Lingzhi or Reishi Ganoderma lucidum (W. Curt.:Fr.) P. Karst. (higher Basidiomycetes). Int J Med Mushrooms. 2012
- Zhao et al. Spore Powder of Ganoderma lucidum Improves Cancer-Related Fatigue in Breast Cancer Patients Undergoing Endocrine Therapy: A Pilot Clinical Trial. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2012
- XingZhing et al. Ganoderma lucidum (Reishi mushroom) for cancer treatment. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2016
- Jung et al. Immunomodulatory effects of a mycelium extract of Cordyceps (Paecilomyces hepiali; CBG-CS-2): a randomized and double-blind clinical trial. BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies. 2019.
- Wang et al. Herbal Medicine Cordyceps sinensis Improves Health-Related Quality of Life in Moderate-to-Severe Asthma. 2016.
- Hong et al. Cordyceps sinensis (a traditional Chinese medicine) for kidney transplant recipients. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015
- Ding et al. Efficacy of Cordyceps sinensis in long term treatment of renal transplant patients. Front Biosci (Elite Ed). 2011
- Nagano M, Shimizu K, Kondo R, et al. Reduction of depression and anxiety by 4 weeks Hericium erinaceus intake. Biomed Res. 2010