The ravages of cancer are known to be largely attributable to blockage of the normal immune-system protection, altered cell-signaling (inducing abnormal cell proliferation), and accelerated oxidative damage impacting normal DNA. Multiple trials using both animal and human cell models have shown promising effects of mushroom extracts on these areas of vulnerability.3

Researchers studying mushroom extracts from Cordyceps sinensis and C. militaris verified immune system up-regulation and significant induction of cellular apoptosis in human cancer cells.3 Another observed phenomenon was a unique “Trojan horse” activity in which the extract molecule mimics the cancerous RNA and causes cell death by preventing replication.3

A laboratory trial tested the action of Tricholoma matsutake in human cells to determine metabolic effects in nondiseased cell lines.4 The results showed strong increased production of nitric oxide and tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha.

A human trial studying the effect of dietary supplementation with the mushroom extract Agaricus blazei Murill Kyowa on patients with cervical, ovarian or endometrial cancer showed statistically significant increases in natural killer cell activity and a marked improvement in typical chemotherapy-associated side effects.5

Chronic myeloid leukemia is known for causing abnormally high levels of a specific enzyme (BCR-ABL kinase). A recent trial examined the effect of the mushroom Daedalea gibbosa on mouse cells implanted with BCR-ABL kinase cells.6 The extract showed statistically significant in vivo antitumor activity by blocking the kinase activity. When tested against an active control of the FDA-approved drug imatinib (Gleevec), the mushroom extract’s tumor-inhibitory effect was stronger. 

Another mechanism of cancer-cell proliferation is the increase in healthy-cell injury and death. A study of the effect of extract from the fungus Cyathus stercoreus examined its protective action on the cell by blocking the attacks of highly reactive oxidative processes.7

The cell lines studied showed a dramatic reduction in oxidative damage and death and preservation of the normal DNA when compared with the untreated cells. Extracts of the Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum) have also been shown to be hepato-protective against both oxidative damage and multiple chemical insults.8,9 

Safety, Interactions

Allergic reactions to any alternative medication are always a concern, and the area of drug and herb interactions has yet to be sufficiently researched. However, multiple specific substances derived from mushrooms have been approved for placement on the FDA’s GRAS (Generally Regarded as Safe) list. 

How Supplied, Dose, Cost

Most commercially available mushroom-based formulations are powder-filled capsules. Depending on the vendor, these formulations are often part of a multi-ingredient product. The actual dose of mushroom extracts is difficult to determine, but most product labels recommend one or two capsules daily. The price varies widely by brand but averages around $30 for a one-month supply. 

This article originally appeared on Clinical Advisor