How Mushrooms Are Being Used to Treat Cancer

You may enjoy eating certain types of mushrooms. There are hundreds of varieties of mushrooms to choose from, and many cultures utilize mushrooms in their recipes. Many types of mushrooms are used to add flavor to dishes when cooking.

What you may not realize is the medicinal value of mushrooms. Throughout history, particularly in Asian countries, mushrooms have been used for multiple medicinal purposes. Whether eaten raw, cooked or brewed in teas, certain mushrooms have repeatedly proven themselves safe for human consumption and many have proven they have extra medicinal benefits.

In Asian countries, the primary use for mushroom therapy for many years has been as a treatment for infections. However, modern developments have expanded the number of medicinal ways in which some mushrooms are used. For example, Japan and China have been using mushrooms as supplemental cancer treatments in conjunction with traditional medicine for many years. Their governments have officially sanctioned that process for several decades. Below is more information about mushrooms commonly used in the battle against cancer.

Shiitake Mushrooms

Shiitake mushrooms are commonly used in cooking. They are popular ingredients in stir-fry and many other Asian dishes. They are also well known for being rich in phytonutrients. Those phytonutrients and other healthy components in shiitakes make them helpful in many ways, including:

In the fight against cancer, shiitakes have several helpful properties. Several studies, including one conducted by researchers at the University of Florida in 2015, confirm shiitake mushrooms have properties that boost immune system functions. They can help reverse the natural immune system decline that occurs with age. The immune system-boosting properties of shiitake mushrooms can assist in helping the body fight cancer also.

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Lentinan, a polysaccharide present in shiitake mushrooms, helps reduce tumor growth by keeping the immune system active. Studies show it reduces leukemia cell growth. It is also commonly used to treat gastric cancer in Japan and China. Extracts from shiitake mushrooms are injected and used in conjunction with traditional cancer therapies, such as chemotherapy and radiation.


Chinese Caterpillar Fungus (cordyceps sinensis) and cordyceps militaris are mushrooms often used in Asian medicinal treatments. Like shiitakes, cordyceps have many medicinal uses.  Cordyceps have a long history of use as energy and libido boosters. They are also commonly used by athletes to improve performance. Cordyceps increase blood flow in the body by helping it process oxygen in a more efficient manner. As a result, they are beneficial during exercise or participation in athletic events and also during muscle recovery after exercise. Although additional research is needed, early results also suggest cordyceps may assist with treatment for the following conditions:

  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Other types of kidney damage
  • Asthma (only in adult patients)
  • Hepatitis B treatment
  • Anemia
  • Liver disorders
  • Breathing disorders
  • Bronchitis
  • Cholesterol regulation

Use of cordyceps in non-Asian countries is becoming more frequent because of their many beneficial properties, including cancer-fighting properties. One study conducted in Korea in 2015, found cordyceps militaris treatments significantly reduce colorectal cancer cells in human patients. Cordyceps help fight cancer by increasing T cells and keeping white blood cells healthy for longer periods. Additionally, the kidney protection provided by cordyceps reduces the occurrence of kidney-related chemotherapy symptoms during traditional cancer treatments.

Turkey Tail Mushrooms (Trametes Versicolor)

Turkey tail mushrooms are named for their resemblance to the tails of turkeys. In China, the most common traditional medicinal use of turkey tail mushrooms, or Yun Zhi, is in the battle against diseases of the heart. However, in Japan, turkey tail mushrooms, known there as roof tile fungus (Kawaratake), are often used to prevent cancer. Use of turkey tail mushrooms as supplemental cancer treatments in the United States is also rapidly gaining in popularity. This is largely due to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approving a clinical trial of turkey tail mushrooms as cancer treatments in 2012.

Turkey tail mushrooms may provide cancer-fighting benefits due to their immune system-boosting capabilities. For example, they are rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants defend the body against cell-damaging free radicals. Since certain types of cancer and other health conditions are more common when such cellular damage occurs, antioxidants are essential for preventative purposes.

Turkey tail mushrooms also contain polysaccharopeptides like Polysaccharide Peptide (PSP) and Krestin (PSK). PSP increases the number of white blood cells in the body, allowing it to fight infection easier. PSK regulates the responses of the immune system and defends it from bacteria, as well as certain other toxins. Together, those properties are useful for cancer prevention and treatment. According to the results of multiple studies, turkey tail mushrooms have a positive impact on the treatment of many different forms of cancer, especially when used in conjunction with chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Among them are:

  • Breast cancer.
  • Colon cancer.
  • Hemangiosarcoma (in dogs).

Reishi Mushrooms

Reishi mushrooms (ganoderma lucidum) are called lingzhi in China. It grows only in hot climates in Asian countries. Like the other mushrooms listed above, reishi mushrooms are known for properties that can boost the immune system. They are prescribed by Eastern healers in many forms, including:

  • Fresh.
  • Extract.
  • Powder.

White blood cells are used by the human body to fight off infections and diseases. They come in several different forms. Some are called natural killer cells. Natural killer cells are among the top natural defenses the body has against cancer. Studies indicate reishi mushroom consumption makes natural killer cells more active. Reishi mushrooms can also help increase the overall number of white blood cells available to fight cancer and other medical conditions.

More research is needed to determine the exact effectiveness of reishi mushrooms in the battle against cancer. However, experts agree some benefits are apparent and there are no ill effects associated with including them in a cancer treatment plan. In fact, several studies indicate reishi mushrooms may help fight cancer in secondary ways as well. For example, preliminary findings show they may reduce symptoms of chemotherapy and other traditional cancer treatments by:

  • Reducing inflammation.
  • Alleviating depression.
  • Reducing fatigue.

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