Medicinal Mushrooms for the Immune System

Chaga Mushrooms for Improving the Immune System

Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) is a wonderful medicinal mushroom, and people in Asia, notably in the Siberian Region, use them for many health purposes.  One of them is for improving the immune system, and that attracted me to read more about this herb or mushroom to be more accurate since it is from the fungi kingdom regarding its scientific classification.   

The herb Chaga is considered an excellent adaptogenic herb.  It provides the necessary nutrients that it gets from the tree which makes it edible for human consumption, and this herb nourishes the cells to be more adaptable to day-to-day stress and environmental stress too.  Chaga grows on living trees and, in particular, it grows on the bark of the birch tree. 

I learned about the Chaga mushroom about 4 to 5 years ago, and I was impressed by its strange charcoal-look growing on a tree just like a tumor.  Therefore, Chaga is a tree parasite.  Then its magnificent appearance was observed from the inside which is a beautiful golden color.

Benefits of Chaga 

-Chaga is an immune system enhancer due to one of its nutrients--beta-glucans which are complex polysaccharides.  Chaga enhances the immune system through its immune modulator properties.  That means this mushroom will raise the activity of your immune system when it is suppressed, and it can reduce it when it is hyperactive.  So from my understanding, this wonderful mushroom tries to bring the immune system to the homeostasis balance, and that’s why I value Chaga.

  • It is a potent antioxidant and contains one of the highest ORAC values.  ORAC stands for Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity, and it is a good measure to see the value of antioxidant ability of foods. 
  • Chaga has an anti-cancer property that can prevent the development and spread of cancerous cells.
  • It is an anti-inflammatory herb due to one of the fungus chemicals called Terpenes.  Terpenes not only have anti-inflammatory action, but there are many and some of these effects to my amazement is it contains antibacterial, immunomodulating, and antiviral actions.     

Reishi for a Healthy Immune System 

Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) is another mushroom that is considered an immune system stimulator by stimulating the production of lymphocytes which are certain types of white blood cells. The herb Reishi also stimulates the proliferation of another type of white blood cells called phagocytes. 

These two types of white blood cells are essential factors in helping the immune system to function and fight off microbial pathogens.  Reishi has also been found to be beneficial for the organ thymus that plays an important part in coordinating the Immune System Activities. 

Parts Used in Reishi: The books I have researched most use the fruit part, and some include the mycelium, too.

How Do You Take Reishi: You can use it in powder, capsule, or tincture form.  I use the latter, but all these forms as I understand them are equally effective.

Adverse Effects: I have not had any, but that does not mean you won’t have any adverse effects such as stomach sickness, sleepiness, bloating, sweating, and frequent visits to the bathroom for urination.   

Drug Interactions: The synergistic effect with an antibiotic is called cefazolin. Check also Interferon-Alpha, interferon-gamma, and acyclovir.  Be advised if you are taking immunosuppressive drugs.  The possibility of an additive effect may be with blood-thinning medications like warfarin or aspirin (5). 

Another Great Medicinal Mushroom...Cordyceps for Boosting the Immune System  

First, I want to say that I have not used this medicinal mushroom as of the writing of this article.  But from my original research on Chaga and Reishi, they enhance the Immune System; Cordyceps is almost always mentioned too.  Like Reishi and Chaga, Cordyceps is a medicinal mushroom that has chemical properties for boosting the Immune System, and it has many other health benefits.  But I will share with you specifically about improving the immune functionality.

Cordyceps Sinensis Mycelium has an odd appearance from the first time I saw it because it does not have the typical cap that mushrooms typically display, and it looks something like a small rod or a twig.  Caterpillar fungus is another name for Cordyceps because it grows on the larva of a caterpillar.  On a quick sidebar, there is the mention and a scene of this amazing mushroom on “Planet Earth BBC Wildlife” by David Attenborough where Cordyceps attack different types of insects in the jungle and kill them eventually as control of overgrowth population.  To me, this is fascinating how nature works and balances things out. 

Historical View of Cordyceps: Like many other mushrooms, the Cordyceps mushroom has been part of traditional Chinese medicine and also Tibet for centuries.

Cordyceps Sinensis has more of a sweet taste--unlike some other medicinal mushrooms such as Reishi and Chaga.  This immune-boosting mushroom grows in the harsh environment at the elevation of 9,000 to 16,000 feet in the mountains of Tibet, Nepal, and China. 

However, in our present time in the West, the Cordyceps mushroom can be grown in controlled conditions by feeding it grains such as brown rice.  According to Dr. Valkov, the author of Cordyceps book (6) the potency of its medicinal property is not being negatively affected when it grows in a controlled environment.

Cordyceps for Boosting the Immune System

This medicinal mushroom enhances the Immune System's functionality through different biological mechanisms.  One of them is by stimulating the activities of NK Cells or Natural Killer Cells, and it also enhances macrophage production.    

Cordycepin is one of the major active chemicals in the mushroom to enhance immune health and beta-glucans is a polysaccharide nutrient that also has an immunomodulant enhancement(7).

Cordyceps indirectly improves the immune system by enhancing other organs in the human body like strengthening the kidneys and improving physiological mechanisms by delivering oxygen to the cellular level, and by raising the number of ATP noticeably in the human body for extra energy (8).

There are many other health benefits offered by Cordyceps; therefore, it is no wonder these mushrooms have a magical status in the Chinese and other ancient cultures.  This mushroom will be on my list to utilize; not only using Cordyceps for boosting the immune system, but also for the other health benefits such as enhancing insulin sensitivity, increasing energy for exercise performance (hiking in my case), and an anti-cancer herb.     

Chaga and reishi references

  • Source (1)
  • Source (2)
  • Source(3)
  • Source(4)
  • Source (5) Buhner, S. H. (2012). Herbal Antibiotics, 2nd Edition: Natural Alternatives for Treating Drug-resistant Bacteria. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing

Cordyceps References

  • Source (6) Valkov, N. (2010). Cordyceps: Treating Diabetes, Cancer, and Other Illnesses
  • Source (7)
  • Source (8)