Seven Pillars of Immune Benefits from Mushrooms

solubility-chartSeven primary constituent classes, or “pillars” buttress the immunity enhancing effects of mushrooms.

1. Polysaccharides (ex. Alpha & Beta-glucans): Immunomodulating
2. Glycoproteins (ex. PSK): Immunomodulating
3. Triterpenes (Sterols, ex. sistosterols, stigmasterols, campesterols)
4. Lipids: Cholesterol modulating
5. Proteins (Enzymes): Antioxidants
6. Cyathane Derivatives (ex. erinacines & hericenones, nerve growth stimulant factors)
7. Secondary Metabolites

Mushrooms have approximately 12,000 genes controlling the production of more than 200,000 compounds. Each mushroom species has a unique genetic identity and molecular architecture. This is what defines a species. After thousands of years of experimentation by our ancestors, we now know which are some of the most beneficial of the tens of thousands of mushrooms in existence. From this set, we have selected the best-documented, scientifically-studied and safest functional mushrooms in nature that can be cultivated. We have successfully developed methodologies to sustainably cultivate these species.

We can now benefit from the natural host defenses of not just mushrooms, but also their precursor living mycelium, an opportunity that was not accessible to the ancients. Embedded within this highly integrated molecular matrix of fungal cells are beneficial active ingredients. Our bodies are able to utilize these active ingredients, provided the mycomaterial is pure, genetically potent and bioavailable.

Much has been written about extraction methods for isolating single classes of constituents. Extraction necessarily excludes other derivatives. Hot water, for example, has been used for centuries in teas and soups. Hot water isolates soluble sugars, including certain beta-glucans, glycoproteins and triterpenoids. Alcohol extraction, also proven effective for more than two millennia, on the other hand, can solubize many sterols, ergothioneines, glycosides and flavonoids. Ethyl acetate is yet another solvent often used. Each solvent fractionates out only a few of the Seven Pillars of Immunity from Mushrooms.

By combining water and alcohol extraction methods, and retaining the insoluble matter that precipitates, we benefit from capturing all Seven Pillars. By consuming properly prepared mushroom products, the acids and enzymes of our digestive system carry out the extractions for us, selecting what it needs most from the panoply of constituents. A less comprehensive method of extraction employs a singular solvent, excluding the many benefits of the solvent-insoluble active ingredients. Knowing mushrooms offer a wide range of beneficial compounds, which work together, but whose solubilities greatly differ, choosing one solvent over another becomes difficult.

Simply put, what benefits do you not want?

The classic model of how beta-glucans work is that they are recognized by the immune system as an invasive organism, activating the body’s immune defenses as if to fight an infection. The mushroom mycelium’s ability to defend itself from infectious diseases by staving off invasive organisms can offer us shields of protection not only through direct anti-microbial activity but also from the production of our host-mediated immune cells. Other extracellular compounds, such as antioxidants, have more indirect influences. Antioxidants protect DNA from oxidative stress damage and detoxify the body of free radicals. Mushrooms also modulate the inflammatory response from causing collateral oxidative damage to surrounding healthy tissue. This makes them especially useful as adjunct therapies to conventional medicine. Knowing the particular attributes of each mushroom species provides us with the ability to develop targeted approaches to many categories of disease.

In the view of the FDA, the isolation, concentration, and purification targeting a single active ingredient from mushrooms can designate them as pharmaceuticals. Using the mushrooms and mycelium in their natural forms make them functional foods. With mushrooms, the adage that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” seems particularly descriptive. For the majority of us, mushrooms are a whole system tonic, benefitting overall human health, fortifying and readying your host defense of immunity.


Paul Stamets, Director of Research, Fungi Perfecti Laboratories
For educational purposes only. © 2013 Paul E. Stamets and Fungi Perfecti, LLC, All rights reserved.

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