Medicinal Mushrooms: Bioactive Compounds May Fight Disease
Mushrooms are not typically thought of as medicinal, but in ancient times, this food source was highly prized for its healing properties. A significant number of modern prescription medications have been derived from mushrooms.
Multiple bioactive compounds have been identified in mushrooms, and researchers continue to refine and use these compounds—which range from complex polysaccharides to proteins with a wide variety of actions in human physiology—to fight numerous diseases.
The term "mushroom" describes a variety of gilled fungi that fall into two general categories: Ascomycota and Basidiomycota.1 The use of medicinal mushrooms is documented to have occurred as early as the 29th century b.c. in the Chinese catalog known as the Shennong Bencao Jing, which contained an official list of some 365 medicinal plant substances.2
A review of the literature yields hundreds of studies describing the medicinal uses of a wide range of mushroom subspecies. One of the more prominent and clinically significant uses studied was the effect of mushroom extracts on cancer. The breadth of the data and specific subspecies makes individual reporting in this forum impractical, so general study data will be reported.