The medicinal use of mushrooms have been employed for over 3,000 years in the treatment of many conditions. Hundreds of peer-reviewed studies have been published indicating the wide-range of positive health effects of fungi (click on this link to see a breakdown of effects for various mushroom species), with much of the research focusing on varieties more commonly found in Asia. Human studies have found:
- immune stimulating/enhancing effectsanti-viral effects (active against: herpes, human papilloma virus, Epstein Barr virus)
- stimulation of cytotoxic T cells and enhanced natural killer (NK) cell activity
- anti-bacterial effects
- anti-cancer effects(i.e. pro-apoptosis, anti-angiogenic, inhibition of tumor cell migration and invasion, etc.)
- The extract “PSK” (see below) has shown to have anti-cancer (improving progression free survival and/or overall survival) as an adjuvant therapy in a variety of cancer types: gastric, esophageal, colorectal, breast and lung cancers.
One of the fungi that seems to be most consistently associated with these beneficial effects is, Coriolus versicolor (also known as: Trametes versicolor, Polyporus versicolor, Polystictus versicolor, Turkey Tail, Yun Zhi, Kawaratake). Extensive research has identified 2 polysaccharide-protein (proteoglycan) components of Coriolus versicolor (CV) that are responsible for most of these effects:
- Polysaccharide Kurcha or Polysaccharide-K (PSK or Krestin)
- Polysaccharide-protein complex (PSPC or PSP).
PSK and PSP are widely used in China and Japan to improve the outcomes of patients with cancers of the gastrointestinal system, breast cancers and lung cancers. Frequently these extracts are combined with conventional therapies (i.e. chemotherapy, radiation therapy). Complications and side-effects attributable to PSK, PSP or whole mushroom supplements are rarely reported.
Processing the mushrooms through hot water or alcohol extraction enables manufacturers to obtain concentrations of the bioactive components at levels significantly higher than can be consumed from the whole mushroom. For thousands of years, traditional Chinese medicine practitioners have similarly employed the use of hot water preparations (called “decoctions”) to dissolve and extract the medicinally active compounds from various botanicals, including mushrooms.
Although most of the scientific studies have been conducted using single agent hot water extracts (i.e. PSK and PSP), I typically recommend taking a supplement that contains a variety of different mushroom extracts. Combining multiple extracts together may have a synergistic advantage (over a single extract). Many supplement manufacturers offer combination mushroom supplements that include a variety of fungi that have been reported to have beneficial health effects. Only select supplements from manufacturers who practice the highest quality control.
**Always discuss the use of any supplements with your cancer care team before starting them**
Here’s a nice review on the potential anti-cancer effects of Coriolus Versicolor.
Conclusion: “The many studies are quite clear: While there is not enough evidence to support using Coriolus versicolor alone for cancer treatment, there are mountains of evidence showing its efficacy as an adjuvant therapy. Particularly in cases of breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and gastric cancer, this mushroom therapy should be a component of the treatment plan, both during and after conventional treatments.”