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Mushrooms As Medicine With Paul Stamets Graphic © healthpowerboost.com. Background photo: Pixabay (PD)
Mushrooms have long been revered for their nutritional value and medicinal properties. According to an article published in A Clinician’s Journal, the fungi have been a part of our “dinner tables” and “medicine cabinets” for thousands of years—with the likes of Hippocrates (circa 450 BCE) describing the Fomes fomentarius mushroom as an anti-inflammatory. 
Despite the long history of mushrooms as medicine in many cultures, modern science is only starting to rediscover what the ancients somehow knew regarding the healing properties of mushrooms. While we’re still a long way from knowing all there is to know about medicinal mushrooms, we’re seeing a renaissance of public and scientific interest.
One of the leading names in the resurgence of mushrooms as medicine is Paul Stamets—a mycologist and entrepreneur dedicated to harnessing the inherent power of mycelium and mushrooms. In a presentation appearing on the Exponential Medicine YouTube channel, Stamets shares his work exploring the importance of medicinal mushrooms in promoting our health and protecting the ecosystem.
Mushrooms As Medicine
Mushrooms have diverse chemical constituents. Some are nutrient-packed and great for culinary use. There are ‘magical’ ones that can send you to an altered state of consciousness. Others can kill you. And then there are those that boast of potent healing properties.
Research shows that some mushrooms are rich in bioactive compounds such as indoles, carotenoids, polysaccharides, and polyphenols that may exert anticancer, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant effects. 
Mushrooms And Immune Function
According to a 2014 study in the Biomedical Journal, mushrooms may help improve the immune system in a number of ways—such as boosting innate and adaptive immune responses.  They may also promote the production of cytokines and activation of macrophages, NK cells, dendritic cells, and Tcells.  These findings were supported by a 2018 study appearing in the Oncotarget, which also claimed that medicinal mushrooms may modulate and activate different types of immune cells. 
For example, a couple of animal studies suggest that lion’s mane mushrooms may help strengthen immunity by enhancing the activity of the intestinal immune system, including promoting the growth of friendly gut bacteria.  And although more research is needed, a 2011 study in the International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms found that topical application of extracts from lion’s mane mushroom may promote faster wound healing. 
Similarly, a study published in the International Journal of Microbiology claims that Reishi (Ganoderma lingzhi) could be significant in the prevention and treatment of various diseases.  These health benefits are linked to its antioxidants, immunomodulation, anti-allergic, anti-inflammatory, antiparasitic, and antitumor effects. The mushroom may also benefit the metabolic, endocrine, respiratory, and cardiovascular systems. No wonder Reishi is nicknamed the “mushroom of immortality.”
Interestingly, some medicinal mushrooms may suppress your immune response—which could contribute to anti-allergic effects. 
Mushrooms And Cancer
Cancer has long been a huge challenge for the public and medical community. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that cancer is the world’s leading cause of death—accounting for around 10 million deaths (1 in every 6 lives lost) annually.  In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported nearly 1.8 million new cases of cancer and approximately 600,000 deaths in 2019. 
With cancer’s high prevalence and devastating impact on society, it’s important to explore the potential of medicinal mushrooms to help curb the chronic condition. And according to research, the anticancer and antitumor effects of mushrooms may be promising.
Paul Stamets talks about the potential of medicinal mushrooms in preventing or treating cancer. He references the cases of a patient who experienced spontaneous recovery from Merkel cell carcinoma after taking dietary blends of 7 mushrooms (Chaga, Maitake, Royal Sun Blazei, Lion’s Mane, Cordyceps, Mesima, and Reishi)—among other dietary and lifestyle modifications. 
This is in line with the findings of several other studies that suggest mushrooms contain compounds that may play a role in preventing (or even treating) different types of cancer—including breast, prostate, lung, liver, colon cancer, and leukemia. 
Mushrooms And Ecosystem Health / Biosecurity
As Paul Stamets explains in his presentation, the magic of mushrooms goes beyond their potential health effects on our bodies. The immune-boosting properties of mushrooms and their mycelia (vegetative root-like structure) also play a crucial role in the ecosystem.
More specifically, he explains the remarkable interconnectedness of bears, mushrooms, and bees. As elaborated in an article by the non-profit American Forests, when bears scratch trees to sharpen their claws or to access sap, they facilitate the right conditions for mushrooms to grow between the removed barks.  Bees then come and feed on the mycelium of the growing mushrooms. The extracts from the mushroom mycelium help bolster the insects’ immune system—protecting them from toxins and diseases.
All this goes to show that mushrooms play a crucial role in the health of the ecosystem – and they have numerous benefits for our health. Here’s well-known mycologist Paul Stamets’ video on the topic:
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