The Truth About Medicinal Mushrooms and Cancer

Reishi- The Mushroom of Immortality
25 December 2016
Lion’s Mane – Wrap Your Head Around The Smart Mushroom
28 June 2017

Medicinal mushrooms play an intriguing role in a variety of cancers. They behave as a warning and recognition system, waking up the immune system with a call to arms to combat cancer cells. This is a technical article and our focus is to explore recent scientific studies performed on medicinal mushrooms that demonstrate anti-cancer, anti-metastatic and even radiation protective effects.

As an aside, the nature, cause and treatments of cancer are themes with enormous political, scientific, financial and emotional charge. Needless to say they are beyond the scope of this article.

Before we get to the medicinal mushrooms, let’s touch on some basic concepts…

Environment Determines Function

In 1931, the German researcher Dr. Otto Warburg was awarded the Nobel Prize for his discovery that cancer cells cannot exist in an oxygen-rich environment. Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine systems have relied on the navigational insight of “environmental determinants” for centuries. In 1931 however, this was a very novel concept to the western mind. Only in recent years with the emergence of Epigenetics have Dr. Warburg’s prize winning findings taken greater foothold in understanding that cancer may in fact be more of an environmental expression than a genetically predetermined outcome.

Dr. Bruce Lipton in his groundbreaking work “Biology of Belief” observes that since cells with exactly the same genes can differentiate into different tissues (bone, muscle, fat) when the culture medium changes; environment determines the outcome of cellular expression.  Brain chemistry (thoughts), toxins and trauma become the environmental determinants for healthy and diseased cells.

What role might medicinal mushrooms play in this…?

For The Immune System To Destroy Cancer Cells, It Must First Identify Them

Each day the human body creates and destroys some millions of cells. A proportion of these cells are cancerous, and it is the job of the immune system to identify and terminate them. If the immune system is weakened or unable to properly recognize the cancer cells, it cannot perform that basic function. As a result the cancer cells begin to proliferate and establish their own biological mechanisms to self-supply. This seems to be where the medicinal mushrooms enter the picture.

Bio-Remediation Is Immunomodulation

Fungi play an essential role in ecological systems that we believe is paralleled in their health promoting expressions in the human body. In biology class we all learn that fungi breakdown complex and even toxic materials to their basic molecular bonds; forming the ecological substrate for bio-systems. From another angle, fungi mycelial networks (their basic structural unit) make up the essential uniting matrix for forest ecosystems. In the 1990’s Paul Stamets described these as “neural networks” that communicate and signal adaptive changes through the soil and plant systems according to environmental conditions. Mycelium, as the Earth’s natural internet, with sentient behavior.

A similar process may be observed in the manner in which medicinal mushrooms affect the behavior of cancer in humans – by expressing behavioral immunomodulating intelligence.  Meaning, medicinal mushrooms communicate or signal specific responses to the immune system to better react to and fight cancer.

Intelligence, Recognition And Immune Response

As we explained in the article about reishi mushrooms, the immediate properties of Ganoderma lucidum do not actually kill cancer cells or actively target the process of metastasis. Instead, their special properties “wake up” the human immune system to more effectively identify cancer cells and target their ability to grow and spread. This is demonstrated both in vivo and in vitro studies (1-12). Effectually, it may be considered immuno-bio-remediation.

Medicinal Mushrooms Activate TH1 Which Is Our Anti-Cancer Strike System

The process is still not well understood but is largely attributed to the observation that certain medicinal mushrooms stimulate cytokine production (13). Cytokines are a class of proteins that function as intracellular mediators in the immune response. Fungi such as reishi, turkey tail, maitake, Agaricus and chaga stimulate production of T-Helper 1 or TH1 cells which are identified as the cytokine pattern beneficial in the immune response to cancer via IFN- γ. IFN- γ stimulates a cellular immune response that in turn increases production of tumor-specific antigens and tumoricidal cytokines together with Natural Killer cells, CD8+T cells and tumoricidal macrophages (13).  Since the TH1 response is responsible for anti-cancer immunological behavior, mushrooms that drive a TH1 response may play a positive role in cancer therapies (14).

Playing Offense And Defense At The Same Time

In contrast to our anti-cancer TH1 immune response, TH2, commonly involved in asthma and allergies, downregulates IFN- γ and the cellular immune response. Guggenheim et al observes that Agaricus, maitake, reishi, Cordyceps, and turkey tail mushrooms often downregulate TH2 cytokines. So while they have one hand on the anti-cancer call-in-the-troops switch, they keep TH2 from turning the knob the opposite way. This is highy significant as downregulation of TH2 is key in treating cancer (13).

Additional immunomodulatory effects medicinal mushrooms express include inhibition of NF-kappaB signaling (2), regulating T cell expression (5), triggering cancer cell apoptosis (15,16), increasing nitric oxide and phagocytosis (17) anti-mutagenic effects (18),  increasing TNF-α  and lymphocyte proliferation (19) cancer cell angiogenesis (20), cancer cell growth and adhesion (13). In plain English, they regulate and enlist our immune soldiers to tag, identify, fight and destroy cancer cells while preventing further mutation and cancer’s ability to feed itself.

The specific constituents responsible for these behaviours are


β-D-glucan and GLPS



Ganoderic acid, Danoderiol, Danderenic acid, Lucidenic acid Protein

Adenosine and Cordycepin



Turkey Tail



Polysaccharide peptide



Betulin and Betulinic acid




Studies On Medicinal Mushrooms And Specific Cancers

Reishi mushroom studies have demonstrated selective anti-cancer activity in breast and ovarian cancer (1,2,8), lung cancers such as pulmonary adenocarcinoma (3), liver cancers (4,5), bladder cancer (6) leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma (7,11,12) and colorectal cancer (10). Other medicinal mushrooms including Lion’s Mane, Chaga and Turkey Tail have demonstrated similar effects involving hepatocellular carcinoma (15), leukemia (16, 21), brain cancer (22), breast cancer (23, 24 ), colon cancer (25), melanoma (26), and lung cancer (27).

Medicinal Mushrooms Protect The Immune System And Cells From Cancer Drugs And Radiation

Broad spectrum depletion of white blood cells and vitality loss is one of the major effects caused by cancer drugs such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Reishi and other mushrooms enhance the immune function and white blood cell count in patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiation therapies by limiting the depletion of leukocytes, neutrophils, CD4 and Natural Killer cells (28-31) and increasing red blood cells (RBCs), NK T cells, splenic NK cells and bone marrow cells (32). Their protective effect against chemotherapy induced myelosuppression offers remarkable benefit and restorative effects to patients undergoing conventional cancer treatment with chemotherapy (33,34). Additional studies demonstrate anti-oxidant, DNA protective, radiation and premature senescence protective properties expressed in reishi (28-31, 35), turkey tail (36,37) chaga (38-41), cordyceps (42-44) and lions mane (45).

Reishi And Friends Are The Keepers Of The Lifecycle

Looking back to the ecological role fungi play maintaining the lifecycles of all living and non-living participants, in both physical roles and intelligent-sentient roles; one cannot help but be at awe at the manner in which similar roles play out in our own human system. It should be no surprise that the human genetic makeup shares more in common with fungi than the other biological kingdoms.

While we still have lots to learn about the anti-cancer and immunomodulatory effects of medicinal mushrooms, current studies both in vitro and in vivo are paving the way for a future in effective natural methods to manage and treat cancer. Human studies are available but limited, and dosage response studies vary, many of which involve oral administration or high level extract injections. We look forward to sharing more information as the evidence based data bank continues to grow.


Disclaimer. The information represented in this article is meant to provide concepts from evidence based research. It is not intended to treat or diagnose any health condition. For appropriate treatment methods please contact your healthcare provider. 

Copyright 2018 – 


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Disclaimer. The information represented in this article is meant to provide concepts from evidence based research. It is not intended to treat or diagnose any health condition. For appropriate treatment methods please contact your healthcare provider.