What are Medical Mushrooms?
Mushrooms can be poisonous, or they can be magically psychedelic, or they can be really tasty additions to a meal. But for me, the best use of mushrooms are as medicines to help my patients become vibrant and well, and to stay that way. So its worth it for you to read more about mushrooms and how you can use them to your best advantage for your pets. And, actually, they can help YOU to lose weight, have more energy, and sleep better, too.
Mushroom Life cycle
First, some science about what they are. Mushrooms are actually the “fruiting bodies” of a much larger organism called a fungus (Fun’-gus). Parts of the fungus are not easily visible to the eye, but consist of a vast network of tiny little plant tubes called “hypha(e)”. Although the plant tubes are tiny, when millions of them join together, they can form a strong and fibrous material called the “mycelium”. Mushrooms are made up three different parts, and the mycelium and hyphae are one part. The second part is the mushroom-shaped part that we can see, which is like a flower stalk, because it contains the “seeds”. We call these seeds “spores” and they are part of the specialized fungal life-cycle . Unlike green plants, fungi (Fun j-eye’) don’t contain chlorophyll, and they get their energy not from the sun, but from digesting dead plant and animal matter with their very specialized enzymes and plant chemicals manufactured in their hyphae.
Benefits of Mushrooms
Medicinal mushrooms have a number of special molecules that they manufacture with a lot of very beneficial properties for people and for their pets. Mushrooms have been found to have anti-bacterial properties, and even to have anti-fungal properties. There are several antibiotics that are derived from fungi. Of special interest is the fact that some of the compounds found in mushrooms are able to overcome antibiotic resistant bacterial strains, like MERSA (methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus). This is due to a direct action of these antibiotic-like compounds found in mushrooms. Mushrooms also have a direct effect on the immune system, which in turn will have a direct effect on bacteria and fungal organisms. So the combination of having direct anti-microbial properties as well as immune enhancing properties substantially improves mushrooms’ ability to fight microbial infections.
Of even greater interest is the fact that mushrooms can also have a direct effect against viruses. There are few medicines available that can directly treat viral infections. Mushrooms have a direct anti-viral effect, which can be due to the inhibition of certain viral enzymes or other possible mechanisms. Mushrooms will also have an indirect effect on viruses as a result of their ability to stimulate the immune system to mount an effective response to viral infections.
One very important medical benefit that has been observed over many hundreds of years of use of medical mushrooms by people in Asia and Eastern Europe, is its effect on cancer. This has been well documented, and there are a few medicines that have been made from mushroom extracts specifically to address cancer. Mushrooms can also help bring the immune system into balance, if there is a problem with immune mediated disease or allergies. Mushrooms can help an under functioning immune system work more effectively, and at the same time can help to reduce the inappropriate excess activity that we see in the immune system of pets and people with allergies. Mushrooms have been found to help balance blood sugar levels, and also to have a cholesterol-lowering effect. Mushrooms have natural antioxidant properties and are a good source of plant-based vitamin D, ergosterol. Nutritionally, mushrooms have high biologic value proteins, and are rich in a number of other nutritional compounds. Not to mention they taste great!
Beta glucans help the immune system
Some of the properties of mushrooms are due to carbohydrate compounds that are found in their cell wall. These are structural components of the fungus cell wall, designed to give it more strength. When the immune system processes these compounds that are called: “Beta Glucans”, it gets turned on and starts working much better than it had been doing. The beta glucans found in the cell wall of the mushroom (fungus) fit, like a lock into a key, into the receptor that is found on the cell membrane of nearly every cell of the animal’s immune system. Especially the monocytes, T cells and neutrophils. By improving the way the immune system works, mushrooms help improve response to infection, better regulate blood glucose and fats, reduce allergies, and prevent and treat cancers.
It can take a lot of fresh mushrooms to contain enough active ingredients to have a beneficial effect. This is why mushroom therapies usually use dried and concentrated mushroom material, either as a powder, or packed into a capsule. Generally mushrooms taste pretty good and most dogs and even most cats don’t mind having it added to their meals. Some dogs and some cats, as I am sure you know, are really picky about trying anything different than their same old same old food. So, even as palatable as mushrooms are, we may need to make some extra efforts to ensure that our pets are getting the good stuff, and plenty of it. (One thing that makes mushrooms work better is to give a higher dosage) Mixing the mushroom powder with a small amount of baby food or peanut butter or even butter, can make it easier to give to your pet.
In addition to components like the beta glucans, mushrooms also have specialized polysaccharide-protein components, like the PSP fraction, or the PSK or Krestin fractions that are derived from the Coriolus versicolor mushroom, also known as Turkey Tail. Most mushrooms also contain organic acids called triterpenoids which have quite a bit of biological potency. For instance, the Ganoderma lucidum mushroom, also known as the Reishi mushroom, contains ganoderic acids, and the Shiitake mushroom contains Lentinin.
Scientific Research in Dogs Using the PSP Coriolus extract
Extensive scientific research has been performed in Asia and Eastern Europe on the clinical benefits of mushrooms in cancer patients, mainly. All of these studies have been on laboratory animals or have been human clinical trials. Unfortunately, none have been on animals until recently, when a landmark paper was published from research performed at the University of Pennsylvania on dogs with naturally-occurring hemangiosarcoma, or cancer of the spleen. This is a very aggressive cancer, and the outcomes are not very good or long lasting, even for dogs who have had their spleens removed and have received chemotherapy. In this study, which was fairly small, since it was a preliminary pilot study, they found that one group of dogs who received the highest dosage of an extract of the Turkey Tail mushroom, called the PSP extract, actually lived longer than dogs who received chemotherapy for this problem and still had their spleens removed. This is incredible that mushrooms would allow these dogs to live longer than dogs receiving chemotherapy. They are redoing the study with larger study groups and adding a group who is receiving chemotherapy who will also receive the mushrooms to see if that option might provide the longest survival times.