Mushrooms and Immunity

Mushrooms and Immunity

Image Credit: Mario Spann / Flickr. This image has been modified.

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 and Kale and the Immune System.

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:

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 – 2015 presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

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