Boosting Immunity while Reducing Inflammation

Boosting Immunity while Reducing Inflammation
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Cooked white mushroom consumption stimulates antibody production, while potentially still playing an anti-inflammatory role.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

There’s lots of products that promise to boost your immune system, and who wouldn’t want that? Well, there’s millions of people with autoimmune diseases, inflammatory diseases, allergies—millions of people whose 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 alert might also help bring down some 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 [about] 100 are cultivated commercially, and only 10 of those on an industrial scale.” And, I do mean industrial, rising to over 20 million tons, 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, that line our mouth, our entire digestive tract, our reproductive and urinary systems, inside the breast glands, on our eyeballs—occupying our largest body surface area.

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. And, that defense is called IgA, immunoglobulin A. Immunoglobulin means antibody; these are our type A antibodies. “Dietary intake may improve mucosal immunity by accelerating IgA secretion,” but no studies have ever been conducted on mushrooms—until now.

So, they had half the people eat their normal diet, half eat their normal diet, plus cooked white button mushrooms, every day for a week. Then, using the “passive dribble” method for collecting saliva, they just measured the amount of IgA they were pumping out. 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 eating the mushrooms.

“This study has shown for the first time that [a] dietary intake of [white button mushrooms—just regular white mushrooms, about a cup a day] resulted in higher IgA secretion.” And, the “elevated…secretion remained stable [into] week 2,” but then fell back to baseline. So, “[t]his suggests that, in arresting or slowing the decrease of IgA in individuals such as the elderly or those with immune compromise, a continuous daily intake of…[mushrooms] may be necessary to maintain an increased IgA secretion”—meaning you can’t just eat mushrooms once, and expect to be protected forever; you have to make them part of your regular diet.

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.”

For example, here’s an inflammatory response without mushrooms, and with mushrooms—both white, and a few other varieties. They think it might be the phytonutrient pyrogallol, found in a variety of mushrooms, as well as in our old friend amla (Indian gooseberries), that similarly appear to reduce inflammation, while at the same time boosting immune and anticancer function.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to artizone, ignaciofedz, & Óskar87jk via flickr, as well as mushroomcouncil.org and the British Mycological Society.

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

There’s lots of products that promise to boost your immune system, and who wouldn’t want that? Well, there’s millions of people with autoimmune diseases, inflammatory diseases, allergies—millions of people whose 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 alert might also help bring down some 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 [about] 100 are cultivated commercially, and only 10 of those on an industrial scale.” And, I do mean industrial, rising to over 20 million tons, 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, that line our mouth, our entire digestive tract, our reproductive and urinary systems, inside the breast glands, on our eyeballs—occupying our largest body surface area.

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. And, that defense is called IgA, immunoglobulin A. Immunoglobulin means antibody; these are our type A antibodies. “Dietary intake may improve mucosal immunity by accelerating IgA secretion,” but no studies have ever been conducted on mushrooms—until now.

So, they had half the people eat their normal diet, half eat their normal diet, plus cooked white button mushrooms, every day for a week. Then, using the “passive dribble” method for collecting saliva, they just measured the amount of IgA they were pumping out. 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 eating the mushrooms.

“This study has shown for the first time that [a] dietary intake of [white button mushrooms—just regular white mushrooms, about a cup a day] resulted in higher IgA secretion.” And, the “elevated…secretion remained stable [into] week 2,” but then fell back to baseline. So, “[t]his suggests that, in arresting or slowing the decrease of IgA in individuals such as the elderly or those with immune compromise, a continuous daily intake of…[mushrooms] may be necessary to maintain an increased IgA secretion”—meaning you can’t just eat mushrooms once, and expect to be protected forever; you have to make them part of your regular diet.

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.”

For example, here’s an inflammatory response without mushrooms, and with mushrooms—both white, and a few other varieties. They think it might be the phytonutrient pyrogallol, found in a variety of mushrooms, as well as in our old friend amla (Indian gooseberries), that similarly appear to reduce inflammation, while at the same time boosting immune and anticancer function.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to artizone, ignaciofedz, & Óskar87jk via flickr, as well as mushroomcouncil.org and the British Mycological Society.

Doctor's Note

The immune-boosting fruit and vegetable video I reference is Boosting Immunity through Diet. See also Kale & 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 begins with Cancer as an Autoimmune Disease.

More about mushroom magic in:

Probably best to eat cooked, though (see 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:

Check out my associated blog posts for additional context: Vitamin D from Mushrooms, Sun, or Supplements?Mushrooms & Immunity; and Probiotics during Cold Season?

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

36 responses to “Boosting Immunity while Reducing Inflammation

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  1. Really cool. Thanks, Dr. Greger. I’m hoping that with time you are able
    to find other foods that have this same and or similar effect
    as the mushrooms and amla do. A very interesting study and topic
    to start the week! Thanks.




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  2. Curious… in Italy there is a great culture of mushrooms(especially in autumn)… and even i really appreciate a cup of rice with boletus edulis… now i’ve only to find if the way i eat my mushroom is okay with the findings of the studies…




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      1. “Feeding studies using mushrooms and mushroom extracts have in general provided no evidence of toxicological effects of agaritine or mushroom consumption, in contrast to results of studies which have administered non-physiologically relevant concentrations of chemically synthesized hydrazine derivatives to mice. The available evidence to date suggests that agaritine from consumption of cultivated A. bisporus mushrooms poses no known toxicological risk to healthy humans.”

        Roupas, Peter, et al. “Mushrooms and agaritine: A mini-review.” Journal of Functional Foods 2.2 (2010): 91-98.
        http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1756464610000241




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  3. So this is the same mushroom that you need to freeze, thaw, boil, discard the water to remove the carcinogen. I’m guessing that would get rid of the good stuff too.




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  4. The subjects in the active group (n = 12, 41.4 ± 11.3 y old) consumed 100 g of blanched WBM daily with their normal diet for 1 wk,” Why were they blanched? Are these the same kind of mushrooms that are toxic in the raw state?




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    1. I would suspect the blanching would be to kill external bacteria. I know white button mushrooms are grown on manure normally. Even though it would be well-composted, perhaps bacteria (or viruses) can survive and contaminate the mushroom. Shiitake and oyster mushrooms are grown on wood substrates. I’m not sure about other mushrooms, like the brown/portabello, etc.




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  5. I’m curious if that cup of mushrooms is a measured cup cooked or a measured cup after cooked.

    I LOVE mushrooms, but I rarely get a whole cup of cooked mushrooms as part of my daily diet. I tend to consume 1 to 2 packages of 10 ounces worth of raw mushrooms each week. (I cook them before eating.) That seems like a lot right there to me…

    Great video! Thanks for all the background info.




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  6. Hi Dr. Greger,

    Get your videos daily and so appreciate all the
    information and take it to heart.

    I’m a vegetarian, 10 years and a vegan for 2 years.
    Eat 5 times a week, oyster and enoki mushrooms
    and have been for years. Diagnosed with Alopecia
    Areata last week. The autoimmune system is attacking
    the hair follicles I am told.

    Diet was not an issue per the derma doc but again
    most docs don’t address ones diet but happily give
    prescriptions for meds and wish me a happy day!

    My question to you, can eating too many mushrooms
    as I do, compromise the immune system into overdrive?

    Thank you,

    Barbara




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  7. NF-κB is a master transcription factor for the inflammatory response, and this review details some of the mushroom compounds that inhibit this pathway.

    Petrova, R., et al. “Fungal metabolites modulating NF-kappa B activity: An approach to cancer therapy and chemoprevention (Review).”Oncology reports 19.2 (2008): 299. http://ww.mushroomhunter.net/chaga%20pdf/metabolite%20and%20cancer.pdf

    Past work points to the caffeic acid phenethyl ester (CAPE), which blocks NF-κB binding to DNA, as the active agent in white button mushrooms.




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  8. How much mushrooms must one eat to gain the benefits of mushrooms in the diet? I’m not a fan of mushrooms but maybe I can hide them in some of my food. And must they be eaten daily or can I have them a couple times a week and be okay?




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    1. The research suggests to me that if you eat a pound a day for a week, you can skip a week and still get the outstanding benefits. Since there is no research (presumably) on minimum dose or frequency, I would aim for even a small amount each day. Since we have varied diets, that may be hard to do, but even eating mushrooms more frequently should help the immune system. At a minimum, once per two weeks, but because we are likely to consumer lower doses than in the study, more frequent consumption would be wise. As for taste, I do think they are an acquired taste, so try them with your favorite herbs, seasonings, etc. until you find a few ways you like them. I enjoy them steamed with my veggies, but they can be bland that way. Pan-fried with garlic and salt is usually a big hit with people. Depending on how crowded your fry pan is, they will turn out either soft or browned. Good luck with your mushroom adventures!




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  9. Australian researchers say that the “fresh” mushrooms eaten in the following study were mostly only white button mushrooms and that the “dried” mushrooms eaten in the following study were mostly only shiitake mushrooms:
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19048616

    Although the dried shiitakes were not as spectacular in preventing breast cancer in Chinese women as the freshly-eaten white buttons, freshly-eaten shiitakes might outperform freshly-eaten white buttons in another study – we don’t know:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medicinal_mushrooms

    The 2 reasons why Dr. Greger advises us to boil white buttons before eating them is because: (1)all Agaricus mushrooms, including white button mushrooms (Agaricus bisporus) and the Brazilian mushrooms known as “mushroom of God” (Agaricus blazei) are high in cancer-causing agaritine, which can be deactivated only by boiling in hot water (or by canning). (2)white button mushrooms usually have pathogenic, Gram-negative, horse manure bacteria on the top, which can be killed by boiling in hot water but the bacterial endotoxins cannot be eliminated and will enter the human bloodstream even after the horse manure bacteria are completely killed by boiling in hot water or by the hydrochloric acid in the human stomach. It might be better to eat white button mushrooms fresh (raw) despite these 2 formidable disadvantages because the overall net health benefit is greater.

    Shiitake mushrooms, on the other hand, can be safely eaten fresh because they don’t contain much cancer-causing agaritine or horse manure. However, freshly-eaten shiitakes can cause rare, allergic skin reactions in Asians (but never in Caucasians).

    As for pyrogallol, one website says that smoked foods are extremely high in pyrogallol and that pyrogallol causes DNA damage:
    http://www.goodguide.com/ingredients/102723-pyrogallol
    http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/cancer_biologists_find_dna_damaging_toxins_in_common_plant_based_foods




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    1. I would be really worried about harmful metals getting in your food. If you eat enough whole plant foods, you do not need to worry about getting enough minerals by cooking with pennies. In fact, mushrooms are an excellent source of zinc! I know this is the case for cremini mushrooms, I think white button may be a great source of zinc as well but I’m not sure. Shitake mushrooms are an amazing source of copper.




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    1. I don’t see an answer to this question , I also want info on Chaga as it is supposed to have immune boosting properties and possibly anti cancer if you look at it;s use in Russia




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  10. My problem with mushrooms is that I can never eat enough to prevent a significant portion from rotting. My solution was to dry the mushrooms at 200°f and then grind them in my blender into a powder. That powder is easy to sprinkle on just about anything and it does not rot. The strong mushroom flavor only seems to come out from cooking it, so I can add it to salad dressings and even smoothies, and adding it to soups and sauces of all types is a no brainer.

    My question is am I compromising the healthy benefits by drying and grinding them?




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  11. My Mom was recently diagnosed with Polymyalgia Rheumatica and Temporal Arteritis. What can she do to help reduce inflammation and help her reduce the amount of steroids she needs to take ?




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  12. thanks for this but what aout the natural toxin in mushrooms called agaritine? in some readings it can cause cancer but it is a weak carcinogen. how much of it can a human eat before it causes disease?




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      1. I eat raw mushrooms all the time and never experience any adverse effects. I read that a symptom is stomach pain and that simply doesn’t happen for me, at all. I also read that the problem is the hard cell wall which cooking breaks down, but blending them I imagine may do the same thing.




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  13. Do the mushrooms have to be cooked? I like to put raw mushrooms in my smoothies sometimes… I know it sounds gross, but honestly you can’t even taste them over the fruit. I imagine the cooking process is what helps make the compounds in them more bioavailable, but what about blending them?
    Also, what about cremini mushrooms and shitake mushrooms? Cremini mushrooms are my favorite due to mineral content and my favorite when cooking mushrooms due to flavor. I also like putting raw mushrooms in salads.




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  14. Hello there. Firstly THANKYOU SO MUCH DR GREGOR we really appreciate you and your excellent work. Very much.

    MUSHROOMS. Boosting immunity whilst reducing inflammation. Brilliant. I have been (most unfortunately) treated for cryptogenic organizing pneumonia by a pharmacologicaly minded lung specialist. I was slowly suffocating and HAD to take high dose prednisolone to reduce inflammation in my lungs so that i could once more function. 6 months later half the dose, the dreadful condition is regressing.

    Since finding De Gregor, I am understanding that I have to transition to full plant based eating, but are there other fruit and veg that operate in the same extremely mysterious way as mushrooms? Im eating them almost every day along with other things from the daily dozen (and trying to source bona fide non-gmo metal/pesticide free ‘amla’ powder proves to be difficult for the time being in aus).

    Thankyou
    Catie




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    1. Hi Katie,

      I am a volunteer for Dr. Greger. Thanks so much for your question.

      Many plant foods improve immune function while decreasing inflammation. In fact, that is one of the many benefits of eating a whole food, plant-based diets. Almost all whole, plant-foods are anti-inflammatory, with certain foods like green leafy vegetables, berries, flaxseeds, many fruits and vegetables, and herbs and spices leading the way. Many of these same foods also improve our immune function. Therefore, don’t feel compelled to eat specific foods everyday for that reason. There may be other reasons to eat certain foods, like flaxseed or cruciferous vegetables, or green leafy vegetables everyday though.




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