Mushrooms and Immunity

Mushrooms and Immunity
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There’re lots of products that promise to boost your immune system—who wouldn’t want that? Well, millions of people suffer from autoimmune diseases, inflammatory diseases, and allergies.  Their immune systems may already be a bit too active.

I try to make sufferers of seasonal allergies feel better by explaining that having an overactive immune system is not all bad. Individuals with allergies have a decreased risk for cancer (compared with the general population). Yes, your immune system may be in such overdrive it’s attacking things left and right (like tree pollen), but that heightened state of alertness might also help bring down any budding tumors in the body. So it’s tricky; we want to boost the part of the immune system that fights infection, while down-regulating the part that results in chronic inflammation. And mushrooms may fit the bill.

There are thousands of edible mushrooms, though only 100 are cultivated commercially, and only 10 of those on an industrial scale.  And I do mean industrial, rising to over 20 million metric tons a year, and for good reason. They accelerate immunoglobulin A secretion. Let me explain.

Though skin is considered our largest organ, we actually interface with the outside world more through our mucous membranes, which occupy our largest body surface area. These include the lining of our mouth, our entire digestive tract, our reproductive and urinary systems, inside the breast glands, and on our eyeballs. Our gut alone covers more area than a tennis court and much of it is only one cell thick.  One microscopic layer is all that separates us from all the toxins, viruses, and bacteria out there, and so we need one heck of a first-line defense. That defense is called IgA, immunoglobulin A, our type A antibodies. Dietary intake of certain foods may improve mucosal immunity by accelerating IgA secretion, but no studies have ever been conducted on mushrooms, until now.

In the study “Dietary Intake of…White Button Mushroom Accelerates Salivary Immunoglobulin A Secretion in Healthy Volunteers,” people were split into two groups. Half ate their normal diet; half ate their normal diet with cooked white button mushrooms every day for a week. Then using the “passive dribble method” for collecting saliva, scientists just measured the amount of IgA they were pumping out. If you check out my 5-min video Boosting Immunity While Reducing Inflammation you’ll see the graph. There was no change in the control group, but after a week of mushrooms, IgA secretion jumped 50% and even stayed up there for a week after they stopped the shrooms, before falling back to baseline.

But if you continue to churn out 50% more antibodies, might that contribute to chronic inflammation, which is implicated in the development of a variety of diseases? No, in fact mushrooms appear to have an “anti-inflammatory capacity in vitro, suggesting that they could be regarded as a potential source of natural anti-inflammatory agents.” I show in the video a comparison of the anti-inflammatory properties of a variety of different varieties of mushrooms. Researchers think it might be the phytonutrient pyrogallol, found in mushrooms as well as in our old friend amla (Indian gooseberries), that similarly appears to reduce inflammation while at the same time boosting immune and anticancer function.

See how else we can improve our immune function in Boosting Immunity Through Diet, Kale and the Immune System, and Sleep & Immunity.

The balance between immune function and cancer is not always as straightforward as I noted. See my video series that starts with Cancer as an Autoimmune Disease.

More about mushroom magic in:

Probably best to eat cooked, though (Toxins in Raw Mushrooms?).

How else to decrease inflammation? See:

What can we do about allergic diseases? See:

And if amla is not your old friend, become acquainted:

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here and watch my full 2012 – 2014 presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

Image credit: Mario Spann / Flickr

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  • Brian R Gard

    I read an article about mushrooms anti cancer properties that Michael Gregor presented July of 2013 and started eating more mushrooms. I started my back pack season and spent 12 days in the Wilderness, on the last day I found some curious yellow orange mushrooms with a sweet taste and pleasant aroma and sampled them, no ill effect so two hours tried more and it ‘knocked’ me out for 12 hours, I was convulsive and had muscle spasms, had to be extracted by Black Hawk Helicopter by 101st Airborne division out of Boise Idaho, spent 2 days in the hospital. I had many strange dreams, was delirious, hallucinating, saw devils, talked to God and sat on Jesus lap, visited by Satan and his 6 ‘agents’ who were there to kill me but was rescued by Muhammad Ali, Smoking Joe Frazer and George Foreman at the last second. Took nine days for the drug effect to watched out. It was a mushroom of the Genus Aminita, full of Muscarine and Isobetic acid. I still eat wild mushrooms, but just the few I know well!

    • Eve

      Apparently you didn’t see the film “Into the Wild” before that trip. (Trip bring used both ways.)

      • Brian R Gard

        Yes I saw it, I thought by testing (with 2 small bites) before I hate 2 big handfuls I would be alright, but was mistaken. It was quite an experience, I was euphoric for 9 days after I woke up, took a month to get my strength in upper body back, had about 9000 dollars in medical bills, my insurance covered 6,500 of it. Got to ride on a black hawk helicopter, but my long time friend Bill Hickey died of a heart attack recovering my backpack gear in the Frank Church Wilderness 2 days later, that was what really hurt….

        • Thea

          Brian R Gard: When I saw your first post, my eyes got big and I read it with a big grin on my face as it read like a cautionary, but amusing tale.

          This second post though, shows a real, tragic cost. I’m sorry to hear that you went through all that. It is kind of you to share it with [us].

          I wish you future health and more successful experiments.

          • Brian R Gard

            Thanks Thea, my friend Bill Hickey had an obvious medical condition but was too stubborn to deal with it, he had Pernicious Anemia and had medicine for it, He was really a tough fellow and a modern day mountain man, he was really mad at me when we talked on the phone in the hospital, but set out to recover my gear, I was cautioning him not to do it in one day, just getting there in that rough terrain was a full day, but he had reputation of over doing things and would of likely died the same way eventually, his family told me that. I just miss him…

  • Turtle

    How does one equate immune enhancers with illness like MS where immune suppression is the treatment of choice ?

  • http://www.dietkart.com/ ✪ DietKart.com ✪

    Dietary intake of certain foods may improve mucosal immunity by
    accelerating IgA secretion, but no studies have ever been conducted on
    mushrooms, until now.

    http://www.dietkart.com