The use of medicinal mushrooms dates back to ancient times, and in the last half-century, science has only just begun to scratch the surface of this deep folk wisdom. As modern science unravels more information, we are now seeing an exciting boom of mushroom treatments. From cancer to HPV, medicinal mushrooms are tranforming the way the “Western” world views medicine.
In the 1980s, a researcher working for the National Cancer Institute of Japan named Dr. Ikekawa noticed that cancer death rates in families who grew Enoki mushrooms were much lower than the rest of the population. His trailblazing long-term study of almost 200,000 people living in Japan’s Nagano prefecture sparked a growing scientific interest in the therapeutic use of mushrooms in China and Japan. It wasn’t long before Western scientists began to sit up and take notice.
We are now learning that medicinal mushrooms are miniature pharmacies, producing a complex array of beneficial substances like antioxidants, anti-inflammatory triterpenes, and steroids. Antioxidants are protective against multiple diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. One of the main bioactive compounds these mushrooms have in common is high levels of a complex carbohydrate called beta-glucan. Also referred to as polysaccharides, they are known for their many health benefits. Medicinal mushrooms can fight infections and regulate the immune system without harmful side effects (1).
The new research regarding medicinal mushrooms is good news for people with health conditions related to the immune system, like human papillomavirus (HPV). In 2018, 43 million people were diagnosed with this common viral infection that is transmitted sexually or via skin-to-skin contact – many of them in their late teens to early 20s. Risk factors for becoming infected with HPV include multiple sex partners, having a compromised immune system, being male, and having broken skin. HPV typically manifests as warts on the skin or mucous membranes. Once it becomes established, it can lead to chronic inflammation and, in a small percentage of people, can lead to various types of cancer (2).
Currently, the CDC recommends routine vaccination of girls and boys against infection starting around eleven to twelve years old (before they become sexually active, ideally).
For women, cervical cell samples are used to diagnose the infection. Currently, no test is available to detect the virus in males. HPV can last from a few years to a lifetime, and there is thought to be no known cure.
Understandably, an HPV diagnosis can feel scary and confusing, but there is hope. Several ongoing clinical studies have shown that certain medicinal mushrooms can safely and effectively treat HPV infections.
Historically, Coriolus versicolor or Trametes versicolor (also known as turkey tail mushroom based on its resemblance to a turkey’s feathered tushy) has been used for millennia in the formulations of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to promote general health, strength, and longevity. For the last three decades, doctors in Japan and China have been using approved turkey tail mushroom products Polysaccharide-K (PSK) or krestin and Polysaccharopeptides (PSP) alongside more conventional cancer treatments like radiation and chemotherapy (3). Somehow, turkey tail mushrooms can tell the good cells from the bad and trigger an immune response to destroy the cancer cells strategically.
If turkey tail can work such wonders on cancer treatments and overall immunity, we can only imagine its effects on other diseases and infections that can compromise the immune system. Though more clinical research could be done to scientifically support the benefits of turkey tail, many individuals on online forums have credited the mushroom for treating various forms of HPV infections. Studies have also found that combining turkey tail with other immune-boosting medicinal mushrooms can be an effective treatment for those looking for a natural way to manage their HPV symptoms.
Stacking mushroom supplements can significantly enhance the effectiveness of HPV treatment. Many medicinal mushrooms have varying beneficial compounds crucial to fighting infections and boosting immunity when taken together.
Each of these mushrooms is a superstar in their own right, but when they team up, they can have even more potent health benefits.
In Chinese Medicine, Reishi mushroom is known as the Mushroom of Immortality. With its long list of health benefits: antiviral, anti-cancer, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory, we can certainly see why.
In a clinical trial using a combination of turkey tail and reishi mushrooms in people with oral HPV, 88% of participants became infection free in as little as two months (4).
At this time, the exact dosage for turkey tail and reishi is undetermined. Begin by experimenting with 1,000-2,000mg/daily of each.
Shiitake mushrooms are packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds that are known to balance the immune system. The second most cultivated edible mushroom in the world (after button mushrooms), they have an earthy and smoky flavor profile that can seriously upgrade any stir fry, soup, or pizza.
Recently, a small but significant clinical trial found that supplementation with a standardized shiitake mushroom extract called AHCC is a safe and effective treatment for HPV, helping to clear nearly 64% of infections in participating women within a six month period. The same women were tested again six months after they stopped supplementation, and the majority of them continued to test negative (5).
For optimal results, AHCC should be taken on an empty stomach in divided doses for a total of 3g daily.
Many other medicinal mushrooms have anti-viral and immune-modulating properties. For additional immune support, Agaricus blazei, Chaga, Cordyceps, and Maitake (Hen of the Woods) are some other mushrooms you may want to explore individually or in an immunity blend.
The debate around the potency of fruiting body versus mycelium is a hot one, with the general consensus pointing to the high beta-glucan content of the mushroom cap (fruiting body) as superior to products made from mycelium (the mushroom’s root system). Mycelium supplements may also be packed with fillers since the grain mycelium grows on is typically ground up into the product.
For a consistent, clean, sustainable, and bioactive product, look for a long-standing reputable brand that lists a high beta glucan percentage on its label. Additionally, look for tinctures that process the mushrooms through a dual-extraction process. Dual extraction uses both alcohol and hot water to ensure that all of the beneficial compounds are pulled from the mushroom, leaving nothing behind.
The fantastic thing about medicinal mushrooms is that they are adaptogenic. Rather than boosting the immune system, they gently nudge it in the direction most needed by the individual consumer. With an impressive array of health benefits with little to no adverse side effects, it is easy to see why so many people seek a more proactive and natural approach to their HPV diagnosis.