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Fighting COVID-19, Pneumonia, and Inflammation with Medicinal Mushrooms

Fighting COVID-19, Pneumonia, and Inflammation with Medicinal Mushrooms

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Fungi friends to the rescue!

Evidence of the use of mushrooms for medicinal purposes dates as far back as 5,000 B.C.E.[1] Since that time, many clinical studies have confirmed and explained their clinical value.

Medicinal mushrooms have been shown to help with a wide variety of ailments through a myriad of mechanisms, but they are perhaps most celebrated for their actions in supporting the immune system and quelling inflammation. These effects may very well make some mushroom species powerful allies in the fight against COVID-19 infections and COVID-19-related lung disease.

Specifically, the mushroom species Basidiomycota Agaricus blazei Murill (also known as agaricus), Hericium erinaceus (also known as lion’s mane), and Grifola frondosa (also known as maitake) have been shown to enhance the body’s antimicrobial activity against viruses and have anti‐inflammatory properties. These medicinal mushrooms may therefore be useful in soothing the severe lung inflammation and may help fight the secondary pneumonia that can follow COVID‐19 infection.

Medicinal mushrooms may therefore be useful in soothing the severe lung inflammation and may help fight the secondary pneumonia that can follow COVID‐19 infection.

A review article recently published in the Scandinavian Journal of Immunology[2] explores the potential of agaricus, lion’s mane, and maitake mushrooms in the prevention and treatment of COVID-19 infection and its complications.

The review authors found that the mushrooms could play a powerful role in the prevention and outcomes of both COVID-19 infection and its complications through a variety of mechanisms. First, the mushrooms exert noteworthy anti-inflammatory effects, thus potentially quelling the reactivity noted in the lungs of many people with COVID-19.

They cited a study in which this same mushroom blend was observed to improve the quality of life and symptoms of people with irritable bowel disease (IBD) by way of anti-inflammatory activity,[3],[4],[5] and postulated that a similar anti-inflammatory action could potentially protect the lungs in cases of COVID-19 infection.

The mushrooms were also found to enhanced the T-helper 1 (Th1) cellular immune response, the type of immune reaction required to fight off bacteria and viruses. Evidence of this Th1 augmentation includes increases in the immune signaling proteins interferon gamma (IFNγ), interleukin 2 (IL‐2), and interleukin 12 IL‐12 cytokines.[6],[7],[8]

In fact, a blend of agaricus, lion’s mane, and maitake was shown in one study to significantly reduce bacterial counts and increase the survival of mice with pneumococcal sepsis.[9] (Sepsis is a life-threatening condition that happens when the body releases chemicals into the bloodstream to fight an infection, but those same chemicals also trigger systemic inflammation.) The study interestingly found that the mushroom blend worked both as a prophylactic remedy, as well as a treatment of active infection.

While the active constituents of mushrooms may sometimes kill microbes on direct contact, they also enhance the power of the human immune system, helping our bodies fight off viruses, bacteria, and parasites using our own natural immune armies. In fact, the range of responses that the human body has to mushrooms is far more diverse than our responses to herbal medicines[10] – although botanical therapies may likewise have benefits against COVID-19.[11] For this reason, mushrooms are likely to help our bodies fight off not only routine ailments, but even drug-resistant infections.

Mushrooms enhance the power of the human immune system, helping our bodies fight off viruses, bacteria, and parasites.

In humans, agaricus’ antiviral activity has been shown to combat Western Equine Encephalitis (WEE) virus and poliovirus in vitro.[12],[13] It has also been shown to normalize liver function in those with hepatitis B and C viruses (HBV and HCV, respectively) and even to slightly decrease HCV viral load in the plasma.[14],[15]

Various preparations of agaricus and maitake have also been noted to combat herpes virus (HSV) 1 and 2,[16],[17],[18],[19] and agaricus has been noted to have direct antiviral effect against influenza virus and H1N1 influenza in vitro.[20],[21] This could mean that the mushroom has antiviral activity against COVID-19 as well – further studies will tell.

Mushrooms also contain the medicinally active ingredient beta glucan (β-glucan),[22] which binds to specific receptor sites on immune cells and increases our cells’ ability to fight infections and kill microbes. Because the human body cannot produce its own glucan-protein complexes, outside sources of the nutrient – namely mushrooms – are of great value.

Mushrooms may further help prevent COVID-19 infections and complications due to their vitamin D content. In fact, mushrooms are the only substantial vegan source of the fat-soluble “sunshine vitamin.” A substantial number of studies suggest that the majority of COVID-19 patients have low vitamin D levels,[23],[24] and vitamin D deficiency is an independent risk factor for COVID‐19 infection and hospitalization.[25]

Mushrooms are the only substantial vegan source of vitamin D.

Based on the information available in the literature, it seems quite likely that agaricus, lion’s mane, and maitake mushrooms could be effective prophylactic remedies and/or adjunctive treatments in COVID-19 infections. They may be especially useful in preventing the lung inflammation, immune overreaction, and secondary bacterial pneumonia sometimes caused by COVID-19 infections. Given their diverse mechanisms of immune support, furthermore, these mushrooms may be of considerable value when treating antibiotic-resistant cases of pneumonia. In short: a mushroom a day might just keep the doctor away.

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