Mushrooms can be magic for our immunity! Everybody has heard of the immune system. Most people think the immune system is this weird, tricky group of cells that drift around the body attacking bugs. And while this description is accurate, there is so much more to the immune system. Before we get into ways to boost the immune system using the magic of mushrooms, we need to understand what the immune system is and what it does.
Where we live
Humans live in a pretty challenging environment. We are surrounded by bugs and viruses that are pretty much out to kill us. We even have trillions of bugs in our gut that need to be kept in check even though they are supposed to be there. Our skin is also covered in bugs that are totally fine and also supposed to be there but can sometimes become a problem.
We also live in an environment where other humans exist and they have their fair share of bugs. Some such bugs can express themselves as the flu! We typically avoid those people who are coughing and splattering, but if we don’t, our immune system springs into action and will usually kill the virus in a few days. Without this immune system, you will die of the slightest infection. So, one thing the immune system does is keeps bugs in check.
These days, medical breakthroughs allow us to transplant organs from one person to the other. People receive kidneys, hearts, lungs, and livers. It is truly amazing. The only drama here is that the immune system is programmed to attack non-self-material. What is non-self-material? Well, it is the cells of another person or animal. The immune system sees different genes and attacks them. This works fine for 99% of the time, however, if you are receiving a new kidney to save your life, your crazy immune system sees these cells that are not from your own body. Thus, the immune system attacks them. Drugs like cyclosporine are required to suppress the immune system to behave itself and not attack your new very important kidney. This is not the only time your immune system plays up.
Autoimmune diseases are when something goes wrong with the immune system, and it decides to turn its forces on your own poor body. For example, if your immune system decides to attack your joints, we may call that Rheumatoid Arthritis. If your immune system attacks your thyroid, Grave’s Disease or Hashimoto’s is the result. You can also suffer systemic autoimmune diseases, such as Lupus. Or, it can attack skin all over your body, such as psoriasis. Unfortunately, autoimmune system disorders can come in all shapes and forms.
As far as traditional medicines go, Ganoderma Mushroom has been used in many cultures, including China, Japan, and Korea. Ganoderma was first classified in 1781 by William Curtis, and it has been used in China for two millennia for optimum health and longevity, testifying its incredible medicinal history.
Immunity and Ganoderma
The most researched parts of Ganoderma are the polysaccharides, which are a class of compounds that are chemically connected by condensation of more than ten monosaccharides. While their concentrations differ, these polysaccharides can be as high as 80%. These polysaccharides can cleverly bind to immune cells such as the lymphocytes and neutrophils, two vital white cells for fighting infections. Specifically, the polysaccharides can attach to the receptors such as dectin-1, toll-like receptors, and mannose receptors (see Figure 1). Once these polysaccharides bind to these critical immune cells, they become more active to kill any invading microbes.
The generals of the immune system
There are four major ‘generals’ of the immune system, called the T-helper cells (Th). These are named Th-1, Th-2, Th-17, and the T-regulation cells (T-reg). They all have their roles. For example, the Th-1 cells are responsible for killing the classic microbes we are all familiar with (the viruses and bacteria). The Th-2 response is strangely accountable for increasing the secretion of mucus. I say strangely because everyone hates mucus. Well, like everything in the body, mucus is essential, and mucus is needed for immunity. If a parasite invades your body, it is typically too large for the microscopic immune system, so the body cleverly increases the mucus production via increases in Th-2 to flush out the often large parasite. Th-17 is responsible for manning the all-important gut immunity. This is a vital job because there are trillions of microbes in the gut that we want there, but not in the bloodstream. This is why the wrong microbiome can trigger the Th-17, a common trigger to set off autoimmunity. And the T-reg cells, as the name suggests, these guys regulate the immunity so as we don’t get too much of a good thing.
How does Ganoderma affect the T-cells?
This is where Ganoderma shines. It cleverly boosts various aspects of the immune system, depending on what is needed. So yes, if you have a virus, Ganoderma will promote Th-1 cells to help you clear the virus. And if you have a parasite, Th-2 immunity will be driven by Ganoderma to help flush the nasty worm you have in your bowel, so it gets out of your bowel and into your toilet bowl (sorry for the graphic notion). So, what will happen if you have an autoimmune disease? Well, you guessed it, Ganoderma will boost the T-reg cells to put a lid on your immunity, so you reduce the damage to your vital tissues, that your immune system may be mistakenly attacking. Thus, Ganoderma is categorised as “immunomodulatory”.
When can you take Ganoderma Mushrooms?
Okay, the previously mentioned biochemistry may be a little difficult to swallow, but it is really easy to use Ganoderma. The simple answer is that it should be considered a supplement whenever your immune system needs help. It can also be taken when your immune system is self-attacking (an autoimmune disease). As immune activation usually comes with some inflammation, Ganoderma can also help here. Ganoderma possesses anti-inflammatory properties.
 Ren L, Zhang J, Zhang T. Immunomodulatory activities of polysaccharides from Ganoderma on immune effector cells. Food Chem. 2021 Mar 15;340:127933. DOI: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2020.127933. Epub 2020 Aug 26. PMID: 32882476.