An extract product from the mushroom Coriolus versicolor.

MUSHROOM Superfoods and Immunoceuticals Combat Cancer

The earliest written texts on medicine and healing talked about mushrooms. More than two thousand years ago, the Chinese emperor Ti sent a fleet of ships searching for supplies of the Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum), thought at that time to confer not just long life but immortality. Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis) was so hard to find that only emperors were allowed to use it. Mushrooms were the First of what we now call "superfoods."

The superfood mushrooms are "adaptogenic"--they tend to up-regulate organ functions that are depressed and down-regulate functions that are elevated. They are pro-homeostatic, providing nutritional support that enhances the body's capacities to manage the processes of life. Many of them also carry glycan immunoceuticals--substances that enhance immune system activity when dosed by mouth or by injection.

The immunoceutical glycans are non-sweetening sugars (different from sucrose), and include many different beta glucans and proteoglycans. Some are small enough to be absorbed when taken by mouth, others so big they have to be injected. Glycans improve immunity through multiple mechanisms:

• Increasing immune cell numbers, via the bone marrow, thymus and spleen.

• Enhancing the functional activity of the dendritic, helper, killer cells, others.

• Stimulating cytokines, messenger substances that regulate immune cell behavior.

More than 50 mushroom species produce glycans with anticancer activity, and of these at least seven have been investigated in cancer patients. Lentinan and Schizophyllan can be given only by injection. The other five, bioavailable by mouth, are PSK, PSP, Maitake D-fraction and MD-fraction, and AHCC (Active Hexose Correlated Compound).
PSK and PSP are the glycan extracts best validated against cancer to date. Both come from Coriolus versicolor, a "shelf" mushroom that grows on tree trunks. Coriolus is too woody to be a food but is an established medicinal. PSK (Polysaccharide-K) was researched in Japan mainly in the Western scientific style, and as an adjunct (addition) to chemo- and radiation therapy. PSP (Polysaccharide-Peptide) was worked up by Chinese researchers, who had some elements of the Western style but pursued a more whole-body, holistic approach. Interestingly, the clinical results from these closely-related glycan preparations complemented each other.

In Japanese trials conducted since 1970, PSK improved 5-year survival in cancers of the nasopharynx, esophagus, stomach, colon-rectum, and lung (non-small cell types), and in breast cancer cases positive for HLA B40. PSK may double the survival time of stomach cancer patients. In China, PSP improved 5-year survival in esophageal, stomach, lung, ovarian and cervical cancers.

Without doubt, both these products are proven safe and effective for reducing tumor size and total tumor load. They ameliorate (ease) the bad side effects of the "cut, slash and burn" oncology establishment, and they noticeably improve energy levels and well-being in the patient. In an estimated 70-97 percent of the patients, PSP and PSK significantly improved quality of life, gave substantial pain relief and' enhanced measures of immune status.

PSK and PSP are safe to take and are well tolerated. They have just one problem: they are prohibitively expensive. A month's supply can cost more than $1,000. Since these are not monotherapy "magic bullets" for cancer AND are not easily covered by insurance, they're not getting a lot of attention in North America.


AHCC is prepared from several mushroom species cultured together. This is a proprietary (part-secret) formulation that contains especially small glycans of the rare alpha-1,3 type.

In 1966 The AHCC Research Association was formed in Japan to nurture AHCC as an anticancer therapy. They state research is ongoing with AHCC in hundreds of hospitals in Japan. Cancer patients have been recruited beginning in 1992. In 2002, findings were published in the Journal of Hepatology on 269 post-operative liver cancer patients followed for 9 years. A total 113 patients received AHCC orally after undergoing surgery. Compared against the control group, the AHCC group had a significantly longer period with no disease recurrence, and a higher survival rate.

In one study in China led by Du Jiang, 189 patients with advanced malignant tumors at a number of different primary sites were enrolled. AHCC was reported to partially protect against damage to the helper and killer cell populations from chemotherapy. AHCC may well enhance NK activity, perhaps by twofold, in patients with breast cancer and myeloma.
Anecdotal case histories also suggest AHCC is helpful against chronic hepatitis c infection, and could be helpful for improving immunity in patients with diabetes or hypothyroidism. Intensive research is being conducted with laboratory animal "models" of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, intestinal immunodeficiency, prostate cancers and other human diseases.


This mushroom (Grifola frondosa) makes a delicious stir-fry and has been a food in Japan for hundreds of years. Supposedly in feudal times it was worth its weight in silver. Dr. H. Nanba and many colleagues produced their "D-Fraction" of Maitake glycans and started giving it to patients in the early 1990s.

In 1997, the Nanba group published an informal summary of an open-label, non-randomized study conducted in Japan. A total 165 patients with various stage III or IV cancers was treated with D-Fraction plus tablets of dried crude extract of Maitake. Patients with breast, lung and liver cancers seemed to benefit, while bone and stomach cancers and leukemia cases did not do well. The D-Fraction reportedly relieved chemotherapy side effects and pain in more than 80 percent of the patients. Also, in 7 out of 7 patients who were studied, the D-Fraction had activated their NK (natural killer) cells, which directly attack cancer cells.

In 2002, Nanba and team reported on the MD-Fraction, purified from the D-Fraction. They studied 36 cancer patients, stages II-IV, and claimed the MD-Fraction caused tumor regression or significant clinical improvement in a majority of the breast cancer patients (11 of 16), liver patients (7 of 12) and lung patients (5 of 8).

These researchers also have used animal experiments and cell cultures to show that the D-Fraction stimulates dendritic cells, often the first to detect cancerous cells in the tissues. Also turned-on are the T helper cells, which help coordinate the immune response particularly against viruses and various cytokine messengers that help activate the helper and the NK cells. The Maitake fractions also may slow tumor spread by inhibiting angiogenesis (new blood vessel supply to the tumor).


Some experts on medicinal mushrooms assert that the whole vegetative mycelial body, more so than the fruiting body, has the most complete profile and highest concentration of glycans and therefore should be most effective at stimulating immunity and fighting cancer. Clinical research is being conducted with such WMP in the United Kingdom, Portugal, Italy and the USA. WMPs mostly from Coriolus, the parent of PSK and PSP, are being tested against cancers, HIV and HPV (human papilloma virus) infection and other conditions with immune system suppression such as chronic fatigue syndrome.

This WMP work is going well. In the UK, Dr. Jean Monro is using it for a variety of conditions. Dr. Julian Kenyon at the Dove Clinic also in the UK has been using a highly potent Coriolus WMP to make dendritic cell therapy vaccines. The dendritic cells are "early-warning" immune cells. Posted throughout the tissues and having long-finger-like extensions, they're sensitive to trouble. They initiate and coordinate immune system response to the perceived challenge. It's been found in cancer patients that those with the most active dendritic cells tend to survive the longest. Anticancer vaccines made from dendritic cells are now an intense area of research.

Dendritic cells can be collected from the body, stimulated in a test-tube using cytokines or other immune cell stimulants, then replaced in the patient and sometimes successfully eliminate tumors. Dr. Kenyon has found that Coriolus WMP is very good at turning on the dendritic cells. He finds he must individualize the vaccine for each patient. Also, patients who take high doses (3 grams a day, grading up to 13 grams a day or more) show activation of anticancer cytokines.
Another area of good progress with Coriolus WMP is for HIV-1/AIDS management. Physicians in the UK and Italy found this WMP raised helper cell (CD4) counts in their patients, caused partial remission of their Kaposi'Js Sarcoma lesions and markedly increased their energy and well-being. The current enthusiasm that surrounds the anti-HIV drugs has obscured their penchant for really bad side effects, and so there is still an important role for WMP and other nutrients in this population.

Still, considering what we already know after more than thirty years of controlled clinical research with mushroom glycans, and considering the urgency of the cancer epidemic, they deserve a far more intensive research focus. There's still too much emphasis on pharmaceuticals (read, toxic) and biotech (read, expensive) approaches to cancer management. These have their place in the pantheon of treatment options, but truly patients' lives are being sacrificed in not pursuing nutritional-immunoceutical options that are safe and effective.

These approaches come out of ancient civilizations AND are thoroughly validated by modern science. So why aren't they being used more in cancer treatment.)

It's time for the research community to embrace mushroom products for integrative cancer trials. The mushroom immunoceuticals would be used along with all the nutritionally essential vitamins and minerals, digestive enzymes, thymic extract, coenzyme Q10, omega-3 fatty acids and other positive-acting immunoceuticals. The "complementary" medicine community can help them design such trials.

Two caveats: First, mushroom supplements preferably should be started before the patient enters harsh chemo/radio-therapy, because they need some degree of immune system integrity from which to rebuild. Chemo/radiotherapy can almost totally wipe out immunity. Second, mushrooms can accumulate bad things from their growth substratum. It is essential that your products be organically grown, screened against aluminum and other heavy metal contamination and pre-sterilized to discourage undesirable organisms.

The mushroom superfoods and their derivative immunoceuticals offer a beacon of hope not just for cancer patients but for people carrying HIV and other viruses, and for still others whose immune systems are dis-integrated by toxins or other stressors. Too many patients have paid the ultimate price for society's neglect of their usefulness. The time has come to implement them in the vanguard of complementary health and medicine.
By Parris M. Kidd, Ph.D.

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I've heard about research in which some mushrooms are being studied for cancer-fighting abilities. Which ones are they?

Scientific research shows that the phytonutrients in plants may protect against chronic diseases, including cancer. That's why the National Cancer Institute (NCI) has allocated millions of dollars to study these substances and the plants that contain them, including some of the 50 species of "medical mushrooms" that appear to help prevent disease. Mushrooms also provide minerals, vitamins D, B(1) (thiamin), B(2) (riboflavin), B(3)(niacin) and all the essential amino acids.

Most of the mushroom studies done in Japan have centered upon the reishi, shiitake and maitake mushrooms that stimulate T-cells, potent anti-cancer agents in the immune system. At least three different anti-cancer drugs approved for use in Japan are made from mushrooms. One of them, PSK, is cited as the bestselling anti-cancer drug in the world.
In studies, the reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum) helps lower cholesterol, reduce platelet stickiness (thereby helping to thin the blood) and lower high blood pressure. No toxicity has been reported, even at high levels (350 grams a day). This mushroom is also viewed as a tonic and an adaptogen that helps the body adapt to stress.

The most popular exotic mushroom in the world, shiitake (Lentinus edodes), is also the most researched. In China, it's used to boost qi, or life-force energy. Scientific literature notes its anti-tumor activity due to the polysaccharide, lentinan.
Sought after for taste, maitake (Grifola frondosa) mushrooms, in extract form, also help reduce the risk of hepatitis and tumors. They help regulate normal serum cholesterol, serum glucose and normal blood-pressure levels. One component, beta-glucan polysaccharides, may help enhance the immune system and fight tumors. Data also suggests that using maitake-mushroom extracts can significantly reduce the side effects of chemotherapy treatment.
Article copyright Natural Way Publications, Inc.
By Deralee Scanlon