The number of auto-immune conditions is on the rise, and finding alternative approaches for support is becoming more and more critical each day.5 Medicinal mushrooms can play an important role in immune system regulation, which can help support auto-immune disorders.
These fungi can reduce inflammation, boost immunity, lower stress hormones, heal the gut, and fight free radicals. Their immune-supporting properties have intrigued researchers who are exploring ways to incorporate them into practical adjunctive protocols for auto-immune conditions.
What’s Considered an Auto-Immune Disease?
Before we explore how medicinal mushrooms can help people with an auto-immune conditions, it’s essential to define what auto-immune diseases are and when a certain condition is considered as one.
Auto-immune disease is a condition that occurs when your immune system attacks the healthy cells in your body, mistaking them for threats and toxins.2
Although their root causes are still unknown, researchers are looking for a connection between our habits, lifestyle, environment, and genetics to develop effective ways to manage and treat symptoms.
Research has shown there are genetic factors associated with specific auto-immune disorders. Genetic factors influence not only susceptibility but also unique antibodies and disease types. As such, these have the potential to make it easier to detect the symptoms earlier. With earlier detection, people can start making lifestyle changes to manage these conditions more successfully.6
According to another interesting study, women are almost twice as likely to have an auto-immune disease than men. Symptoms typically appear between 15-44 years of age, and some auto-immune disorders are more common in specific ethnic groups.15
Whether exposure to specific chemicals, drugs, pollutants, and infectious agents plays a role in how auto-immune diseases develop remains a mystery. However, with the number of cases on the rise, it’s hard not to see correlations to our overly-processed food sources and the toxic environment as a potential trigger.
There are over 100 auto-immune conditions known today, with many of them having similar symptoms that make it hard to get a clear diagnosis.
The most common auto-immune diseases include:7, 14
- Celiac disease (gluten intolerance)
- Crohn’s disease (bowel disease)
- Diabetes Type 1 (little or no insulin)
- Graves’ disease (excessive thyroid hormone production)
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (thyroid malfunction)
- Lupus (attacking the whole body)
- Lyme disease (developed in third stage after a deer tick bite)
- Multiple-sclerosis (nervous system malfunction)
- Narcolepsy (poor control of sleep-wake cycles)
- Pernicious anemia (anemia caused by the inability to absorb vitamin B12)
- Psoriasis (skin condition with itchy, rashy patches),
- Rheumatoid arthritis (pain, swelling, stiffness and loss of function in joints)
- Sjögren’s syndrome (loss of lubrication to the eyes and mouth)
Some auto-immune diseases attack a specific organ or bodily function, while others cause inflammation in the whole body. For example, auto-immune conditions frequently have an array of symptoms like fatigue, bloating, cramps, rashes, swelling, redness, menstrual cycle irregularity, weight fluctuation, hair loss, insomnia, brain fog, and others.
Although there is no known cure for auto-immune diseases, if left untreated, they can wreak havoc on the whole body. For instance, auto-immune diseases can cause poor digestion, malnutrition, sleep issues, inability to focus, hormone imbalance, difficulty getting, and staying pregnant, along with other potentially deadly complications.
Medicinal Mushrooms 101
Medicinal mushrooms are specific superfoods that contain powerful health-optimizing compounds. Eastern medicine utilizes them for combating various ailments with these methodologies dating back thousands of years.
They’ve become popular in the West recently, with many studies linking them to a host of beneficial health outcomes. These include: improved cognitive function, enhanced blood flow, and energy levels along with immune system modulation.
Although there’s a long list of medicinal mushrooms, the most common include: 4
Lion’s Mane – strengthens the immune system, may stimulate the production of a specific bioprotein nerve growth factor (NFG) and myelin (insulation around nerve fibers), can help to improve memory, cognition, and cognitive impairment.3
Cordyceps – strengthens the lungs and kidneys, enhances blood flow, and helps the body utilize oxygen more efficiently, therefore improving exercise and athletic performance, as well as speeding up the recovery process.8, 9
Reishi – especially known for its immune-modulating properties, and overall calming characteristics due to unique compounds known as triterpenes.
Turkey Tail – contains unique polysaccharides that have been turned into adjunct therapy drugs in China and Japan (PSP and PSK).1 It contains some of the highest amounts of Beta-Glucans which help to modulate the immune system.
In addition to these five medicinal mushrooms, many people buy and eat Maitake and Shiitake, which are just as powerful with their strong antioxidant and adaptogenic properties. Unlike the hard polypore varieties, Maitake and Shiitake can be eaten as food but proper extraction must still be considered when wanting the full benefits.
Current Treatment of Auto-Immune Diseases
The way auto-immune diseases originate is still under study, and there is no definite cure. Still, managing and treating their symptoms, especially inflammation, is crucial to prevent them from doing any further damage.12
Auto-immune diseases are called “auto” for a reason, as the attacker and the victim are the same – your own body. However, every person is different, and that’s why the intensity of symptoms may vary. For example, some people with celiac disease can have serious digestive issues, while others might experience skin irritations. Type 1 diabetes causes extreme thirst, weight loss, and fatigue, but not everyone will experience all symptoms at the same time.
There are also auto-immune diseases with symptoms that come and go, like psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis, which have “flare-up” periods mixed with periods of no symptoms at all.12
In terms of treatment, it’s essential to find an effective way to calm symptoms and get the disorder under control. However, it’s also crucial to understand what causes specific, individual symptoms in some while not in others, and how to support them efficiently.
Unfortunately, due to the complicated nature of auto-immune diseases, there is no single test that can positively identify a specific condition, and a variety of tests are used to arrive at a diagnosis.13 Even with this information, getting a clear picture of an individual’s health is challenging. However, there are guidelines and treatments used to control inflammation and keep the flare-ups at bay.10
There are two types of drugs used to help with pain, inflammation, and overactive immune response that characterize auto-immune disease:
- NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and naproxen (Naprosyn)16
- Immunosuppressive medications such as Azathioprine (Imuran) and Cyclosporine (Neoral, Sandimmune, Gengraf)17
- Another integrative medication for auto-immune disease is Low Dose Naltrexone (LDN)18
There are specific lifestyle changes that can make a significant improvement to symptoms, and these include:
– Removing common allergens and inflammatory foods from your diet
– Reducing factors that lead to intestinal permeability
– Reducing overall stress through meditation and mindful self-care practices
– Keeping a regular exercise routine
– Maintaining high-quality, restful sleep
– Staying hydrated
– Using appropriate supplements in consultation with your healthcare provider
How To Use Medicinal Mushrooms for Auto-Immune Support
The immune system is very complex, with thousands of different cells and moving pieces that our bodies use to fight toxins and harmful pathogens. This is why it’s so hard to determine what goes wrong during their constant inter-cell communication pathways without a real foreign threat in sight.11
T-Helper cells, TH1 and TH2 cytokines, are specific immune system cells linked to various auto-immune responses whose imbalance is long-thought to be the main clue to deciphering how auto-immune diseases occur in the first place. TH1 cytokines are specifically thought to be involved in fighting viruses and other pathogens, dealing with cancerous cells, and triggering delayed-type hypersensitivity (DTH) skin reaction.4
This is where medicinal mushrooms can be used as foods and supplements to support auto-immune conditions. They directly affect the TH1 cytokines through their immune system modulation characteristics. These help balance out the TH1/TH2 levels and optimize the immune system’s response.4
Although medicinal mushrooms are potent superfoods that can help with auto-immune disease management along with an array of other benefits, they are extremely powerful, and as such, can’t be recommended to everyone.
Those who should be careful with medicinal mushrooms include women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, people with blood pressure issues, and those on certain medications. Therefore, it’s important to consult with your healthcare provider before adding medicinal mushroom supplements to your routine.
Using high-quality medicinal mushroom supplements is an easy way to add these superfoods to your diet.
Real Mushrooms offer these in capsule form and they can simply be taken with meals, or you can try our powder versions and add them to smoothies, broths, soups, coffee, hot cocoa, and even desserts. They’re that versatile!
Visit our shop to find out more about our line of real mushroom products that are free from grains, fillers and other additives that can help enhance your health and wellness.
*Disclaimer: The statements made in this article have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Any products mentioned are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information in this article is intended for educational purposes. The information is not intended to replace medical advice offered by licensed medical physicians. Please consult your doctor or health practitioner for any medical advice.
- Guggenheim, A. G., Wright, K. M., & Zwickey, H. L. (2014). Immune Modulation From Five Major Mushrooms: Application to Integrative Oncology. Integrative medicine (Encinitas, Calif.), 13(1), 32–44. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4684115/>
- Mak, Tak. Saunders, Mary. Type IV Hypersensitivity, “The Immune Response” 2006 Science Direct <https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/type-iv-hypersensitivity>
- Lai, P. L., Naidu, M., Sabaratnam, V., Wong, K. H., David, R. P., Kuppusamy, U. R., Abdullah, N., & Malek, S. N. (2013). Neurotrophic properties of the Lion’s mane medicinal mushroom, Hericium erinaceus (Higher Basidiomycetes) from Malaysia. International journal of medicinal mushrooms <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24266378>
- Lull, C., Wichers, H. J., & Savelkoul, H. F. (2005). Antiinflammatory and immunomodulating properties of fungal metabolites. Mediators of inflammation, 2005(2), 63–80. https://doi.org/10.1155/MI.2005.63 <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1160565/>
- Stiemsma L, Reynolds L, Turvey S, Finlay B. The hygiene hypothesis: current perspectives and future therapies. Immunotargets Ther. 2015;4:143-157 <https://www.dovepress.com/the-hygiene-hypothesis-current-perspectives-and-future-therapies-peer-reviewed-fulltext-article-ITT>
- Ceccarelli, F., Agmon-Levin, N., & Perricone, C. (2017). Genetic Factors of Autoimmune Diseases 2017. Journal of immunology research, 2017, 2789242. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5706077/>
- Autoimmune Diseases. May 2018. MedlinePlus. <https://medlineplus.gov/autoimmunediseases.html>
- He, T., Zhao, R., Lu, Y., Li, W., Hou, X., Sun, Y., Dong, M., & Chen, L. (2016). Dual-Directional Immunomodulatory Effects of Corbrin Capsule on Autoimmune Thyroid Diseases. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM, 2016, 1360386. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5045992/>
- Xiong, Y., Zhang, S., Xu, L., Song, B., Huang, G., Lu, J., & Guan, S. (2013). Suppression of T-cell activation in vitro and in vivo by cordycepin from Cordyceps militaris. The Journal of surgical research, 185(2), 912–922. <https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23927879/>
- Rosenblum, M. D., Gratz, I. K., Paw, J. S., & Abbas, A. K. (2012). Treating human autoimmunity: current practice and future prospects. Science translational medicine, 4(125), 125sr1. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4061980/>
- Chandrashekara S. (2012). The treatment strategies of autoimmune disease may need a different approach from conventional protocol: a review. Indian journal of pharmacology, 44(6), 665–671. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3523489/>
- What’s The Deal with Autoimmune Disease. May 2018. Harvard Health Publishing. <https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/whats-the-deal-with-autoimmune-disease>
- Antinuclear Antibody. Viewed June 2020. HealthLabs. <https://labtestsonline.org/tests/antinuclear-antibody-ana>
- Autoimmune Disease List. American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association, Inc. Viewed June 2020. <https://www.aarda.org/diseaselist/>
- Cook, Matthew. Hayter, Scott. Aug 2012. Updated assessment of the prevalence, spectrum and case definition of autoimmune disease. Autoimmunity Reviews: Volume 11, Issue 10, Pages 754-765 <https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1568997212000225?via%3Dihub>
- Ogbru, Omudhome. Viewed June 2020. Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs). Medicine Net. <https://www.medicinenet.com/nonsteroidal_antiinflammatory_drugs/article.htm>
- Treating Lupus with Immunosuppressive Medications. John Hopkins Lupus Center. Viewed June 2020 <https://www.hopkinslupus.org/lupus-treatment/lupus-medications/immunosuppressive-medications/>
- Li, Z., You, Y., Griffin, N., Feng, J., & Shan, F. (2018). Low-dose naltrexone (LDN): A promising treatment in immune-related diseases and cancer therapy. International immunopharmacology, 61, 178–184. <https://doi.org/10.1016/j.intimp.2018.05.020>