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Mushroom Miracles

old message Mushroom Miracales Darrell Miller 06/18/05


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Date: June 18, 2005 09:11 AM
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Subject: Mushroom Miracales

Mushroom Miracles by Bert Hoffman Energy Times, April 12, 2004

Mention mushrooms and few people immediately recognize these humble fungi as important tools that can be used to boost well-being. More often, folks identify mushrooms as food with a peculiar appeal. But mushrooms' potential impact on health far surpasses their culinary reputation.

You don't have to stretch your imagination too far to understand why mushrooms have been much neglected in the modern, Western medical search for plants that can boost health.

Unable to make chlorophyll, often dependent on the kindness of other nutrient-producing organisms for their survival, these humble fungal denizens of dark, damp spaces seem to prefer an anonymous existence that is out of sight and out of the consciousness of the scientific mind.

However, mushrooms have now assumed a spot in the center of the research spotlight. Because of their potent content of natural chemicals that appear to have a strong influence on human health and well-being, during the past decade mushrooms have been the subjects of intensive studies on how they can be used to reduce the risk of cancer and to treat these diseases.

Appropriately, this recent round of research began in a place that has long revered these diminutive organisms: Japan. Japan and other Oriental countries have traditionally recognized the immense value of mushrooms as both food and medicine.

Food and Medicine

As an ancient Chinese saying notes, "food and medicine share a common origin." And one of the very earliest Chinese medical books, Shen Noug's Herbal (Shen Noug Pen Ts'ao Jing), first noted the extraordinary beneficial effects of eating mushrooms 2,000 years ago, back in the first century.

More recently, but still well ahead of Western medical experts, in 1575, Pen Ts'ao Kang Mu (a Chinese compendium of medicinal therapies), written by Li Shi Zhen, outlined the medical benefits of about 20 mushrooms.

Nowadays, modern researchers believe mushrooms' usefulness stems from the fact they contain a wealth of antioxidants. But these aren't just any antioxidants. Scientists think that some of these chemicals can potentially drop your risk of cancer, significantly lower blood pressure, help the body fight diabetes, offer protection for the liver, alleviate some of the ill effects of inflammation, lessen the chance of blood clots and help the body's immune system fend off viruses and other microbes. Quite a collection of benefits for these lowly beings!

The 10,000-Year Mushroom

Through the ages, the reishi mushroom (also known variously as the Mannetake, or 10,000-year mushroom, and the Immortality Mushroom) has been the most popular mushroom in Chinese, Korean and Japanese cultures. The reishi mushroom is frequently depicted in a wide variety of traditional Oriental artwork and even puts in an appearance in Chinese royal tapestries.

To some, reishi's power goes beyond the natural and include the supernatural. Originally grown on aging plum trees, reishi is also sufficiently well regarded to be employed by the Japanese as a good luck charm. But you don't have to believe in the supernatural to be superbly impressed with reishi. The beneficial natural substances in reishi include steroids, lactones, alkaloids, triterpenes and polysaccharides.

Large Molecules

Of these chemicals, polysaccharides (complex chains of sugars) in particular have intrigued researchers looking into the way mushrooms help health. These polysaccharide macromolecules are very large (for molecules) and complex, a complexity that leads researchers to believe they are capable of conveying a huge amount of biological information that help the immune system stop cancer in its early stages. The differences in the benefits of various polysaccharides stems from their intriguing geometrical shapes.

Distinctive Differences

Even though two distinctive polysaccharides may contain the same number of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms, their three-dimensional differences-the way they are structured and branch off in different directions-can endow them with very different health benefits.

Though they all share a basic structure (usually, these molecules consist of a main chain of atoms with various side chains), the slight variations of the side chains changes their effects.

By deciphering the microscopic structures of these molecules, scientists think they are beginning to uncover which ones are most effective against cancer. For instance, in isolating a particularly useful polysaccharide called beta-D-glucan from reishi, researchers have found that this substance fights tumors in lab experiments (Chem Pharm Bull 1981; 29: 3611).

Maitake Benefits

Meanwhile, beta-D-glucan and other extracts taken from the maitake mushroom have also been shown to possess powerful anti-cancer effects in lab experiments (Immunopharm Immunotox; 19:175).

In one instance, researchers in the laboratory who were trying out various substances on prostate cancer cells found that applying extracts of maitake results in a kind of programmed self-destruction (apoptosis) of these undesirable cancer cells (Molec Urol; 4:7). In addition, another substance known as maitake d-fraction has been shown to strongly fight cancer in lab animals-in one study, their liver cancer growths were reduced by up to 90% (Ann NY Acad of Sci; 833:204).

At the same time, research in China on people has demonstrated that maitake may help reduce tumors and alleviate the effects of leukemia (Alter Comp Ther 12/98; 420).

According to A.S. Daba and O.U. Ezeronye (Afr Jrnl Bio 12/03; 672), "Mushroom polysaccharides offer a lot of hope for cancer patients and sufferers of many devastating diseases.

" [These substances support]...a fundamental principle in Oriental medicine...[they help] regulate homeostasis of the whole body and... bring the diseased person [back] to his or her normal state."

The Activity of Active Hexose Correlated Compound Active Hexose Correlated Compound (AHCC), an extract taken from shiitake and other mushrooms, is a relatively new substance that is also being researched for its anti-cancer benefits.

Studies on AHCC began in Japan in the 1990s when scientists looked at how it could potentially help people recovering from liver cancer. In those tests, researchers found that giving people AHCC apparently helped them survive longer.

In the future, scientists feel certain that they will uncover even more anticancer uses for mushrooms and the chemicals they contain. A key advantage to these natural substances is their lack of side effects. For instance, in research on an anti-cancer chemical called lentinan, taken from shiitakes, investigators have found that less than one percent of people experience the kind of discomfort that make them discontinue treatment. (This chemical has been used to treat stomach cancer.)

But a long list of beneficial mushroom substances are probably still waiting to be discovered. More evidence of mushrooms' benefits: A study of mushroom workers in a part of Japan called the Nagano Prefecture found that these farmers enjoyed a significantly lower cancer rate than other inhabitants of that part of the country.

In the rest of Japan, about one in six hundred people dies of cancer. But that rate death rate drops to about one in a thousand for mushroom raisers who eat a diet heavy in mushrooms.

John Smith, PhD, from the University of Strath-Clyde, notes that "...increasing evidence [shows] mushrooms offer a remarkable array of medicinally important compounds that have yet to be evaluated by Western medical scientists." Mushrooms offer the best of both worlds: good health that tastes great.



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