shiitake mushrooms prevent the side effects of chemotherapy and may help prevent the cytokine storm of COVID-19

Research, some old and some new, is highlighting the potential importance of shiitake mushrooms for some of the most pressing concerns of today: COVID and cancer.

First the old news. It has long been known that shiitake mushrooms are an important food and supplement for fighting cancer. Lentin, an important component of shiitake mushroom, and Lentinus Edodes Mycelium Extract (LEM), have both shown strong antitumour activity. In our book Healthy Herbs: Your Everyday Guide to Medicinal Herbs and Their Use, we say that “When lentinin is added to chemotherapy, cancer patients live longer than when they get chemotherapy alone. This life extending ability of shiitake mushroom has been shown for stomach cancer, pancreatic cancer, colon-rectal cancer and breast cancer.”

A study of LEM in people with gastric or colorectal cancer compared chemotherapy alone to chemotherapy plus LEM. Chemotherapy alone produced grade 1 or 2 adverse events in 6 of 8 people; when LEM was added, not one person had an adverse event. The LEM also tended to improve interferon production. The study suggests that when people with advanced cancers add LEM to their chemo, it can reduce the adverse effects of the chemo (Asian Pac J Cancer Prev 2011;12(7):1671-4).

The new news comes from in vitro research and not yet research on humans. So, it is suggestive but not yet conclusive. This study looked at β-glucan extracts from shiitaki mushroom: lentinin is a kind of β-glucan. The study found that the shiitaki extract has anti-inflammatory powers. Of particular interest, it found that lentinin was able to reduce markers of inflammation in a way that “is directly relevant to COVID-19,” since one of the markers it reduced “is a prominent part of the ‘cytokine storm’ response” (Science of the Total Environment 2020;737:139330).

This ancient and powerful immune mushroom may be becoming even more important in modern times.

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For more on the immune and anticancer properties of shiitake mushroom, see Linda and Ted's book Healthy Herbs: Your Everyday Guide to Medicinal Herbs and Their Use

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