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5 Medicinal Mushrooms

Food

Understanding how food interacts with our bodies and the role it plays in healing various health conditions can be helpful. Whether food is used as part of a medical treatment or a prevention-focused diet, knowledge is power. Though some may disregard medicinal food, medical researchers have proven how prescriptive diets have been used to minify health risks. One such functional food is mushrooms. There are currently 38,000 discovered and classified species of mushrooms that hold medicinal benefits.

The immune-strengthening benefits of certain fungi and their extracts have even shown to have an anti-cancer effect. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

In the last two decades there has been widespread interest in the role of the immune system for maintaining good health. According to a study on medicinal mushrooms, diseases related to immune dysfunction “such as cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, AIDS/HIV, hepatitis and autoimmune conditions” are gaining wide attention from medical researchers and clinicians. As a result, practitioners are looking to mushrooms for their medicinal effects on the immune system.  

The immune-strengthening benefits of certain fungi and their extracts have even shown to have an anti-cancer effect. While research foundations such as Cancer Research UK confirm that there is no evidence that mushrooms or mushroom extracts can prevent or cure cancer, specific fungi can prolong and improve the lives of cancer patients, as well as enhance their recovery process.

Given that medicinal mushrooms improve and modulate immune response, people from all over the world have used their medicinal properties to reduce health risks and boost the immune system. More specifically, research has indicated mushrooms have possible anti-cancer, antiviral, anti-inflammatory and hepatoprotective (liver protective) properties.

Let’s look at how specific types of mushrooms can boost your overall health.

1. Shiitake (Lentinula edodes)

Shiitake mushrooms contain lentinan. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Shiitake mushrooms have powerful immune-enhancing and antiviral properties, contributing to lower cholesterol while exhibiting virus-inhibiting effects. Shiitake mushrooms contain lentinan which not only strengthens the immune system, but, according to the American Cancer Society, is believed to slow tumor growth. The fungus, native to Asia, is also a good source of iron and antioxidants, which help reduce the damage from free radicals.

2. Reishi (Lingzhi)

Reishi has shown to contribute to the healing of tumors. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Reishi is a well-known Chinese mushroom, regarded as the “herb of spiritual potency.” Reishi has shown to contribute to the healing of tumors, while lowering blood sugar and cholesterol levels. According to one report, Reishi helps with the modulation of the immune system and provides hepatoprotection and bacteriostasis (the inhibition of bacteria growth) in the body. It’s been used for more than 2,000 years, and is unique in that its pharmaceutical value is more significant than its nutritional value, setting it apart from other medicinal mushrooms. Reishi can be taken in many forms including powder, dietary supplements and tea.

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3. Lactarius salmonicolor (Russulaceae)

Russulaceae contribute to the overall health of the immune system. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

The edible mushroom has potent medicinal benefits. One study identified antioxidant constituents in the rare mushroom. The researchers observed the antioxidant agents by detecting 10 fatty acids and fatty acid esters from an extract, then evaluated the antioxidant activity. Due to its antioxidant constituents, Russulaceae contribute to the overall health of the immune system. Namely, the fungus can serve as an anti-cancer and anti-viral advocate. There are more than 400 species worldwide; most commonly grow in coniferous woods.

4. Coriolus Versicolor (Trametes versicolor)

Two extracts from this mushroom are under evaluation for cancer treatments. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Commonly known as “Turkey Tail,” the mushroom has traditionally been used in Asian herbal remedies. According to the American Cancer Society, two extracts from the mushroom—polysaccharide K (PSK) and polysaccharide-peptide (PSP)—are under evaluation for cancer treatments. In fact, “clinical trials suggest that PSK may help people with certain types of cancer by increasing survival rates and lengthening periods of time without disease, without causing major side effects.” Turkey Tail mushroom is also advantageous in boosting the immune system, and is used in the naturopathic treatment of various HPV infections.

In the study, Phase 1 Clinical Trial of Trametes versicolor in Women with Breast Cancer, Coriolus Versicolor mushroom therapy (administered orally) in the postradiotherapy environment may enhance lymphocyte numbers and natural killer cell activity (NK). By increasing NK cell counts, remaining cancerous cells are attacked, improving the health of breast cancer patients after radiation treatment.

5. Morel (Morchella esculenta)

They possess an earthy flavor, and are high in iron and B vitamins. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

High in Vitamin D, morels are polymorphic, varying in shape, color and size. They possess an earthy flavor, and are high in iron and B vitamins. Due to similar appearance, it’s important to identity “true morels” from “false morels” (poisonous mushrooms). Even with “true morels” there have been documented cases of allergic reactions to these edible mushrooms, so it’s important to take precautionary steps when consuming morels.

The immune-boosting nutrients and health benefits of medicinal mushrooms continue to contribute to the large and persuasive body of scientific research. In fact, scientific studies of medicinal mushrooms have increased during the last two decades primarily in Japan, Korea, China and the U.S. Be sure to take the necessary precautions when identifying edible mushrooms, prior to utilizing them as part of a medical treatment or nutritional diet. By learning about the medicinal benefits of fungi, we can develop a more holistic approach to our overall immune health.

These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease. Consult with your physician before making any medical decisions.

 

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Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Niq Steele / Getty Images

By Sherry H-Y. Chou, Aarti Sarwal and Neha S. Dangayach

The patient in the case report (let's call him Tom) was 54 and in good health. For two days in May, he felt unwell and was too weak to get out of bed. When his family finally brought him to the hospital, doctors found that he had a fever and signs of a severe infection, or sepsis. He tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 infection. In addition to symptoms of COVID-19, he was also too weak to move his legs.

When a neurologist examined him, Tom was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that causes abnormal sensation and weakness due to delays in sending signals through the nerves. Usually reversible, in severe cases it can cause prolonged paralysis involving breathing muscles, require ventilator support and sometimes leave permanent neurological deficits. Early recognition by expert neurologists is key to proper treatment.

We are neurologists specializing in intensive care and leading studies related to neurological complications from COVID-19. Given the occurrence of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in prior pandemics with other corona viruses like SARS and MERS, we are investigating a possible link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19 and tracking published reports to see if there is any link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19.

Some patients may not seek timely medical care for neurological symptoms like prolonged headache, vision loss and new muscle weakness due to fear of getting exposed to virus in the emergency setting. People need to know that medical facilities have taken full precautions to protect patients. Seeking timely medical evaluation for neurological symptoms can help treat many of these diseases.

What Is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Most commonly, the injury involves the protective sheath, or myelin, that wraps nerves and is essential to nerve function.

Without the myelin sheath, signals that go through a nerve are slowed or lost, which causes the nerve to malfunction.

To diagnose Guillain-Barre Syndrome, neurologists perform a detailed neurological exam. Due to the nerve injury, patients often may have loss of reflexes on examination. Doctors often need to perform a lumbar puncture, otherwise known as spinal tap, to sample spinal fluid and look for signs of inflammation and abnormal antibodies.

Studies have shown that giving patients an infusion of antibodies derived from donated blood or plasma exchange – a process that cleans patients' blood of harmful antibodies - can speed up recovery. A very small subset of patients may need these therapies long-term.

The majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients improve within a few weeks and eventually can make a full recovery. However, some patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome have lingering symptoms including weakness and abnormal sensations in arms and/or legs; rarely patients may be bedridden or disabled long-term.

Guillain-Barre Syndrome and Pandemics

As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the globe, many neurologic specialists have been on the lookout for potentially serious nervous system complications such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

Though Guillain-Barre Syndrome is rare, it is well known to emerge following bacterial infections, such as Campylobacter jejuni, a common cause of food poisoning, and a multitude of viral infections including the flu virus, Zika virus and other coronaviruses.

Studies showed an increase in Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases following the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, suggesting a possible connection. The presumed cause for this link is that the body's own immune response to fight the infection turns on itself and attacks the peripheral nerves. This is called an "autoimmune" condition. When a pandemic affects as many people as our current COVID-19 crisis, even a rare complication can become a significant public health problem. That is especially true for one that causes neurological dysfunction where the recovery takes a long time and may be incomplete.

The first reports of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in COVID-19 pandemic originated from Italy, Spain and China, where the pandemic surged before the U.S. crisis.

Though there is clear clinical suspicion that COVID-19 can lead to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, many important questions remain. What are the chances that someone gets Guillain-Barre Syndrome during or following a COVID-19 infection? Does Guillain-Barre Syndrome happen more often in those who have been infected with COVID-19 compared to other types of infections, such as the flu?

The only way to get answers is through a prospective study where doctors perform systematic surveillance and collect data on a large group of patients. There are ongoing large research consortia hard at work to figure out answers to these questions.

Understanding the Association Between COVID-19 and Guillain-Barre Syndrome

While large research studies are underway, overall it appears that Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a rare but serious phenomenon possibly linked to COVID-19. Given that more than 10.7 million cases have been reported for COVID-19, there have been 10 reported cases of COVID-19 patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far – only two reported cases in the U.S., five in Italy, two cases in Iran and one from Wuhan, China.

It is certainly possible that there are other cases that have not been reported. The Global Consortium Study of Neurological Dysfunctions in COVID-19 is actively underway to find out how often neurological problems like Guillain-Barre Syndrome is seen in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Also, just because Guillain-Barre Syndrome occurs in a patient diagnosed with COVID-19, that does not imply that it was caused by the virus; this still may be a coincident occurrence. More research is needed to understand how the two events are related.

Due to the pandemic and infection-containment considerations, diagnostic tests, such as a nerve conduction study that used to be routine for patients with suspected Guillain-Barre Syndrome, are more difficult to do. In both U.S. cases, the initial diagnosis and treatment were all based on clinical examination by a neurological experts rather than any tests. Both patients survived but with significant residual weakness at the time these case reports came out, but that is not uncommon for Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients. The road to recovery may sometimes be long, but many patients can make a full recovery with time.

Though the reported cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far all have severe symptoms, this is not uncommon in a pandemic situation where the less sick patients may stay home and not present for medical care for fear of being exposed to the virus. This, plus the limited COVID-19 testing capability across the U.S., may skew our current detection of Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases toward the sicker patients who have to go to a hospital. In general, the majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients do recover, given enough time. We do not yet know whether this is true for COVID-19-related cases at this stage of the pandemic. We and colleagues around the world are working around the clock to find answers to these critical questions.

Sherry H-Y. Chou is an Associate Professor of Critical Care Medicine, Neurology, and Neurosurgery, University of Pittsburgh.

Aarti Sarwal is an Associate Professor, Neurology, Wake Forest University.

Neha S. Dangayach is an Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Disclosure statement: Sherry H-Y. Chou receives funding from The University of Pittsburgh Clinical Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the National Institute of Health, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Dean's Faculty Advancement Award. Sherry H-Y. Chou is a member of Board of Directors for the Neurocritical Care Society. Neha S. Dangayach receives funding from the Bee Foundation, the Friedman Brain Institute, the Neurocritical Care Society, InCHIP-UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media Seed Grant. She is faculty for emcrit.org and for AiSinai. Aarti Sarwal does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Reposted with permission from The Conversation.


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"We've moved the needle a lot, especially on environmental justice and upping Biden's ambition," said Sunrise Movement co-founder and executive director Varshini Prakash, a member of the Biden-Sanders Climate Task Force. "But there's still more work to do to push Democrats to act at the scale of the climate crisis."

The climate panel—co-chaired by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and former Secretary of State John Kerry—recommended that the Democratic Party commit to "eliminating carbon pollution from power plants by 2035," massively expanding investments in clean energy sources, and "achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions for all new buildings by 2030."

In a series of tweets Wednesday night, Ocasio-Cortez—the lead sponsor of the House Green New Deal resolution—noted that the Climate Task Force "shaved 15 years off Biden's previous target for 100% clean energy."

"Of course, like in any collaborative effort, there are areas of negotiation and compromise," said the New York Democrat. "But I do believe that the Climate Task Force effort meaningfully and substantively improved Biden's positions."

 

The 110 pages of policy recommendations from the six eight-person Unity Task Forces on education, the economy, criminal justice, immigration, climate change, and healthcare are aimed at shaping negotiations over the 2020 Democratic platform at the party's convention next month.

Sanders said that while the "end result isn't what I or my supporters would've written alone, the task forces have created a good policy blueprint that will move this country in a much-needed progressive direction and substantially improve the lives of working families throughout our country."

"I look forward to working with Vice President Biden to help him win this campaign," the Vermont senator added, "and to move this country forward toward economic, racial, social, and environmental justice."

Biden, for his part, applauded the task forces "for helping build a bold, transformative platform for our party and for our country."

"I am deeply grateful to Bernie Sanders for working with us to unite our party and deliver real, lasting change for generations to come," said the former vice president.

On the life-or-death matter of reforming America's dysfunctional private health insurance system—a subject on which Sanders and Biden clashed repeatedly throughout the Democratic primary process—the Unity Task Force affirmed healthcare as "a right" but did not embrace Medicare for All, the signature policy plank of the Vermont senator's presidential bid.

Instead, the panel recommended building on the Affordable Care Act by establishing a public option, investing in community health centers, and lowering prescription drug costs by allowing the federal government to negotiate prices. The task force also endorsed making all Covid-19 testing, treatments, and potential vaccines free and expanding Medicaid for the duration of the pandemic.

"It has always been a crisis that tens of millions of Americans have no or inadequate health insurance—but in a pandemic, it's potentially catastrophic for public health," the task force wrote.

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, a former Michigan gubernatorial candidate and Sanders-appointed member of the Healthcare Task Force, said that despite major disagreements, the panel "came to recommendations that will yield one of the most progressive Democratic campaign platforms in history—though we have further yet to go."

 

Observers and advocacy groups also applauded the Unity Task Forces for recommending the creation of a postal banking system, endorsing a ban on for-profit charter schools, ending the use of private prisons, and imposing a 100-day moratorium on deportations "while conducting a full-scale study on current practices to develop recommendations for transforming enforcement policies and practices at ICE and CBP."

Marisa Franco, director of immigrant rights group Mijente, said in a statement that "going into these task force negotiations, we knew we were going to have to push Biden past his comfort zone, both to reconcile with past offenses and to carve a new path forward."

"That is exactly what we did, unapologetically," said Franco, a member of the Immigration Task Force. "For years, Mijente, along with the broader immigrant rights movement, has fought to reshape the narrative around immigration towards racial justice and to focus these very demands. We expect Biden and the Democratic Party to implement them in their entirety."

"There is no going back," Franco added. "Not an inch, not a step. We must only move forward from here."

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.