Best Functional Mushrooms for Boosting the Immune System
Updated April 14, 2023.
With the steady rise in the use of functional mushrooms throughout the world, one of the most often spoken about benefits is that they seem to be good for the immune system. It seems apparent that this benefit is shared across all types of functional mushrooms.
But, how do they do this, and which is the best functional mushroom for the immune system?
How Do Functional Mushrooms Boost the Immune System?
There are a number of different ways that functional mushrooms can benefit the immune system. Most mushrooms are rich in beta-glucans, which are a type of polysaccharide. According to a study done by the Elsevier Public Health Emergency Collection journal, polysaccharides "Stimulate immune cells by means of specific receptors" as well as "Stimulate the production of nitric oxide and pro-inflammatory cytokines."
In fact, the relationship between mushrooms and the immune system is nothing new. Various cultures throughout human history have used functional mushrooms for the immune system long before we even understood how the immune system worked.
In addition to this, most functional mushroom vitamins exhibit some degree of antioxidant or anti-inflammatory properties that can also be beneficial for the immune system.
What is the Best Mushroom For the Immune System?
Not all functional mushrooms come with identical immune-boosting benefits, for some are better at certain things than others.
Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)
Reishi mushrooms contain around 50 types of polysaccharides that have strong antioxidant effects, as well as an amino-polysaccharide fraction that inhibits the progression of cancer. Additionally, aqueous extracts of the mushroom enhance the immune responses of individuals in severe stages of cancer, while similarly exhibiting anti-tumour effects when used in conjunction with cancer medications.
Aside from the cancer benefits, Reishi mushrooms have also been observed to disturb the entry of viral cells into other cells.
Shiitake (Lentinula edodes)
Shiitake mushrooms have been noted to, "activate macrophages, T-lymphocytes, and other immune effector cells that modulate the release of cytokines, which in turn account for its indirect anti-tumour and anti-microbial properties"(1).
Aside from acting as an anti-cancer treatment, shiitake mushrooms also appear to improve stamina and health, as well as alleviating colds and symptoms of viral hepatitis B.
Maitake (Grifola frondosa)
According to a scientific study, "The polysaccharides and polysaccharide-protein complexes from this mushroom have been shown to have significant anti-cancerous activity"(1) as well as increasing the body's immune response to a number of diseases such as flu and common infections, AIDS-HIV, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, and hypercholesterolaemic and urinary tract infections.
Cordyceps (Cordyceps militaris)
The same study listed above also looked at Cordyceps and found that they also exhibit anti-tumour effects, particularly in inhibiting the progression of leukemia, as well as increasing innate and cell-mediated immune responses to combat a variety of diseases such as colds, tinnitus, hyposexuality, and more.
Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor)
Another study that looked at multiple species of functional mushrooms found that Turkey Tail also exhibited anti-tumour properties, particularly in breast cancer patients(2), and it is also used in treating fungal and viral conditions.
Lion's Mane (Hericium erinaceus)
Like all functional mushrooms, Lion's Mane appears to exhibit some anti-tumour properties, as well as boosting the immune response to a number of diseases by "effective regulation of intestinal mucosal immune activity"(3), which could be particularly beneficial for the inhibition of bacteria that can attack the gut lining and lead to stomach ulcers.
Chaga (Inonotus obliquus)
The main immune-boosting properties of Chaga are labeled as "inhibit hepatitis C virus14 and human immunodeficiency virus15 and demonstrated strong antioxidant and immunostimulatory activities"(4).
How to Tell Which Mushroom to Choose
Can You Mix Functional Mushrooms?
This particular topic is still up for debate, with strong arguments to either side. Some individuals claim that the benefits of mushrooms are better experienced separately, thus you should make the decision on which mushroom you buy depending on the symptoms you are wishing to treat as they could lower each other's efficacy when taken together.
However, others claim that many of the benefits can work in conjunction with each other to contribute to a supercharged immune system, similar to the entourage effect in cannabis constituents. In fact, you can even buy functional mushroom pills or supplements for the immune system that have multiple species mixed together already.
Where Should You Start?
Depending on the condition you are wishing to treat, it does seem that some mushrooms can be more beneficial than others. However, it doesn't appear that any can actually harm your system. What this means for you is that you might have to experiment with some trial and error to find the particular combination of products that work best for your body, since everyone is different.
If you're ever unsure, a doctor should be able to help you make the decision.