The immune system is a complicated one: From autoimmune disorders to infections to allergies, it’s constantly working to protect the body from a variety of internal and external threats. This network of cells, tissues, and organs is the key defense mechanism to resist or eliminate potentially harmful foreign intruders or abnormal cells. However, when the immune system becomes compromised, it’s important to know how to boost it back to optimal function.
Autoimmunity, Chronic Disease, and the Role of the Reishi Mushroom
Understanding the Immune System
The immune system is responsible for a handful of important functions. It must defend against invading pathogens, such as viruses, bacteria, parasites, fungi, protozoa, and protein. It removes “worn-out” cells (old red blood cells) and tissue debris (resulting from injury or disease). It rejects foreign cells and identifies and destroys mutant cells. When the immune system malfunctions, it can result in allergies—a hypersensitive response to stimuli that are tolerated by a majority of the population—or an autoimmune response, when the immune system fails to properly distinguish between healthy cells and unhealthy cells and thus attacks our own tissues.
The ability of the immune system to defend our body from a pathogen’s invasion is diminished in both the young and the elderly, with immune responses beginning to decline at around 50 years of age. Obesity, alcoholism, drug use (such as corticosteroid and chemotherapy), stress (such as emotional, travel, and sleep deprivation), and chronic diseases can also compromise our immune system and are common causes of poor immune function. In some cases, people may experience an overreaction in immune response; the immune system may fail to properly distinguish between self and non-self, and attack part of our own bodies.
To ensure a healthy and functional human body, restoring the normal immune system is extremely crucial. There are so many internal and external factors that can contribute to immune problems, and if you are experiencing any of these, it’s best to seek appropriate medical care to discover the best lifestyle changes and supplemental wellness programs that will benefit your unique situation.
When the immune system overreacts, internal threats such as autoimmune problems (type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, lupus, inflammatory bowel disease, etc.) and external threats such as allergic reactions (hay fever, eczema, asthma, sinusitis, etc.) can occur.
When the immune system underreacts, we are more susceptible to internal threats like cancer, hepatitis, and shingles, as well as external threats like viruses, bacteria, fungi, parasites, and other infections.
The Role of the Reishi Mushroom
The Reishi mushroom has been a staple in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years, and it is wildly accepted and utilized for boosting the immune system.
Reishi, considered rare and hard to find in nature, is now commonly cultured. It can be cultured on logs that are buried in shady, moist areas and can also be inoculated onto hardwood stumps. Under commercial cultivation conditions, it is normally grown on artificial sawdust logs.
Forms of Reishi Mushroom Products
|Powder of intact Reishi mushroom
|The simplest type, consists of intact fruiting bodies
|Low concentration of active components
|Powder of spore
|Intact fungal spores
|High concentration of active components
|Powder of broken spore
|Spores broken mechanically or walls removed
|Limited production and more expensive
|Extracts of Reishi mushroom
|Highest concentration of active components
|Limited production and more expensive
There is extensive evidence supporting the claim that the Reishi mushroom modulates the immune system by affecting immune cells and immune-related cells, including B- and T-lymphocytes, dendritic cells, macrophages, and natural killer cells.
Many human clinical studies, with healthy volunteers and subjects with different diseases, have been conducted to illustrate the immunomodulatory effects of the Reishi mushroom. These studies demonstrate that the Reishi mushroom can stimulate host defense response and enhance the immune response in patients with advanced-stage cancer. These effects happen by enhancing the proliferation of T- and B- lymphocytes and increasing the secretion of antibodies; the cytotoxicity of T-lymphocytes and the phagocytic activity of macrophages; and the activity of natural killer cells. In addition, the mushroom promotes the maturation of dendritic cells and increases its antigen processing ability, which is the first step of the immune response to invading pathogens.
Commercially available products of Reishi mushroom and those that incorporate Reishi as an active ingredient are available as food supplements. These include extracts and isolated constituents in various formulations that are marketed all over the world in the form of capsules, creams, and syrups.
Many studies on Reishi mushroom composition, cultivation, and effects are being carried out, and there are data that support its positive health benefits, including blood glucose regulation, antioxidant support, and antibacterial, antiviral, and anticancer effects, as well as protection against liver and gastric injury. Although clinical data from well-designed human trials are needed in order to clarify whether or not the reported health-related benefits are valid, it is believed and supported by current research that the Reishi mushroom bears great health benefits.