Mushrooms for a Cold

If there is one giant trend within the food and wellness industry right now, it’s medicinal mushrooms. 

Though some cultures around the world have been practicing the use of certain kinds of mushrooms for their health benefits for hundreds, if not thousands of years, it’s taken quite a while for many of us to catch on.

The reasons for incorporating mushrooms into your diet are plenty and self-evident: they are jam-packed with nutrients yet super-low on calories while providing your body with active ingredients you will be hard-pressed to find anywhere else.

One particular benefit of medicinal mushrooms is their reported ability to support our body’s immune system, helping to prevent and treat infections. Supposedly, this even extends to really stubborn diseases like the common cold and the flu, with which even commercial antivirals and antibiotics have trouble. 

In this article, let’s dive into the science behind using mushrooms for a cold, and how to incorporate them into your diet for a healthier, happier life.

Do Mushrooms Boost the Immune System?

Mushrooms do, in fact, have some immune-boosting and disease-fighting properties. 

In large part, these derive from evolutionary adaptations that help the fungus survive in their native environment, but through our diet, we are capable of absorbing and metabolizing many of these benefits ourselves.

But just how do mushrooms improve our immune function? The answer lies in how they interact with some of our bodies’ most important immune components. Let’s go over some short and simple examples to understand the benefits of mushrooms for our immune system.

Cytokine Production

You might not have heard of cytokines before, but they fulfill an absolutely vital role in our bodily functioning and overall health. 

Cytokines are special chemical components, mostly proteins, that send signals to other body parts when the immune system is attacked. Without them, the rest of our immune system wouldn’t know how to react to particular threats.

Medicinal mushrooms are among the very few natural food sources that have been proven to positively affect cytokine production.

NK Cell Activity

NK cells (short for Natural Killer Cells) are the immune system’s first line of defense against most diseases. They are a class of white blood cells that attack and attempt to completely destroy cells that have fallen victim to some kind of infection.

Mushrooms markedly improve the functioning and production of NK Cells, making our immune response stronger at the foundation.

Macrophage Populations

Macrophages are another type of white blood cell. In order to prevent disease from spreading, macrophages engulf and consume damaged or infected cells, rendering them inert and unable to multiply.

As with NK Cells, medicinal mushrooms can encourage the growth and production of more macrophages in the blood, leading to a more powerful immune response.

Dendritic Cells

Unlike some other kinds of white blood cells, dendritic cells do not operate on the front lines.
Instead, they function more like scouts, alerting the immune system of potential threats before other cells have the chance to detect them.

Some of the compounds in medicinal mushrooms have been shown to accelerate the growth and development of dendritic cells. This is important, as fully matured dendritic cells are much more effective at their jobs than fresh, partially-developed ones.

T Cell Numbers and Their Activity

Of all the different kinds of cells important for the functioning of our immune system, T Cells probably have the highest degree of fame and notoriety. These are the leukocytes most of us got taught about in grade school biology – and when we think of white blood cells, it is generally in the image of T Cells.

T Cells exist in different types, fulfilling different functions. Killer T Cells can incapacitate and disintegrate cells damaged or infected by viruses, making them extremely important front-line actors. They are also one of the very few elements of our immune system that can destroy cancer cells.

Helper T Cells coordinate and activate other immune cells nearby when needed, increasing the strength of the immune response.

All T Cells grow from stem cells, taking some time to mature before they become active. It has been shown that medicinal mushrooms can improve the yield of T Cells by strengthening the population of our stem cells. They also accelerate the cells’ growth, making them ready for action sooner.

Best Mushrooms for Immune System Support

Now that you have a fair picture of some of the amazing immune benefits of medicinal mushrooms, you might be interested in trying them out for yourself. Many mushrooms are available as dietary supplements these days – lots of them can also be bought in raw form, whether online or even at your local produce market.

But this all begs the question, how do you choose? Some mushrooms might be better or worse for some people’s needs than others, especially as practically any medicinal mushroom will display a whole host of immune-related and otherwise. 

That is why below, we’ve created a simple roundup of some of the most popular, most effective medicinal mushrooms for a cold.

Maitake

You might also know this mushroom by the nickname hen-of-the-woods. It is one of a small group of medicinal mushrooms that have maintained popularity not just for their health benefits, but perhaps even more so as a culinary ingredient.

In research, maitake has proven to be an exceedingly powerful flu treatment, and it can also help manage colds and inflammation. Since these mushrooms are extremely light nutritionally, feel free to combine them with other species to make their benefits even more pronounced.

Shiitake

One of the all-time classics of Far Eastern traditional cuisine, shiitake mushrooms are one of the most popular and widely-consumed species of mushroom worldwide. Shiitake contains a ton of powerful immunomodulators, but they seem to be particularly effective against viral infections such as influenza, hepatitis, or herpes, making it also an effective mushroom for a cold.

Reishi Mushrooms

The reishi is a distinctive-looking mushroom easily identified by its red-brown, disc-shaped fruiting body. It’s been one of the most widely-used, widely-researched, and widely-loved medicinal mushrooms for centuries – its first recorded use stems from ancient China as far back as 500 BC!

Reishi mushrooms have always been known as powerful natural medicines. Early literary sources called them “mushrooms of immortality” for their many health benefits, promoting long, healthy lives. These range from anti-tumor activity to lowering blood pressure to, of course, plenty of immunological benefits.

Both against bacterial and viral infections, the reishi is an extremely potent remedy. Its high beta-glucan content helps in fortifying the body’s line of defense against all sorts of disease, while its polysaccharides strengthen our vast array of leukocytes as mentioned above.

Chaga

Out of all the ones highlighted in this guide, the Chaga mushroom is arguably the least attractive from a purely culinary standpoint. Its dark, mottled appearance that is often compared to burnt charcoal is less than inviting, and the same can be said of its often unpleasant, sour taste and chewy consistency.

That hasn’t stopped millions from benefiting from this unique fungus and its innumerable health benefits, however! The most famous and widespread use of Chaga for medicinal purposes is as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant herb, where this mushroom particularly excels.

Chaga maximizes white blood cell production, making for a more coordinated immune response across the body, irrespective of the type of infection. Chaga has also been praised for its strong anti-tumor effects.

Lion's Mane

The unmistakable white fur-like coat of this mushroom – referred to as teeth in mycology lingo – is what makes Lion’s Mane stand out. For years, this unique fungus has been prized for its benefits to our nervous health. It promotes healthy cognition, memory functioning, and helps prevent chronic conditions such as depression and anxiety.

Because Lion’s Mane is also chock-full of polysaccharides, beta-glucans, adenosine, and other active ingredients, it’s an incredibly strong immunomodulator as well.

Cordyceps

The cordyceps mushroom does not just have a unique appearance but a very one-of-a-kind life cycle among mushrooms as well. A parasitic fungus, it infects insect larvae, eventually killing its host and using its tissue as a kind of foundation to grow out of.

As far back as 2,000 years ago, some ancient Chinese medical practitioners had the idea of using dried, treated cordyceps fruiting bodies for health benefits. Since then, the mountains of research devoted to this mushroom’s unique effects have only served to confirm its many benefits.

Cordyceps is particularly popular as an athletic supplement today. This is because it has the ability to increase our daily energy levels, boosting our metabolism and allowing us to deal with physical exertion more easily.

In terms of immune functioning, cordyceps has been demonstrated to be a particularly potent anti-tumor remedy. It also lowers inflammation, increases white blood cell counts, and possesses some notable antioxidant effects.

Mushrooms for Flu

While there are plenty of general reasons to use medicinal mushrooms – we have showcased some of the most significant ones in this guide – many will be interested in the power of herbal fungi medicine because of specific ailments.

Arguably one of the most stubborn of all diseases, and one that we all have to deal with from time to time, is the common flu. Of course, there are plenty of both synthetic and all-natural remedies useful for fighting flu symptoms and helping the body flush the infection out of our system.

But far too often, medicinal mushrooms are neglected as a possible course of treatment for influenza. 

This could be a grave mistake, as some mushroom species, such as the reishi, Chaga, and shiitake mushrooms mentioned above, have been shown to be among the most potent natural influenza remedies known to man!

With that in mind, perhaps it is time to reevaluate our collective image of mushrooms as medicine and actively incorporate them into our diets – especially when we’re feeling a bit under the weather.