Which Mushrooms Are The Most Potent Cancer Fighters?

Cancer Fighting Mushrooms

From time immemorial, mushrooms have been valued by humankind as a culinary wonder and folk medicine in Oriental practice. The last decade has witnessed the overwhelming interest of western research fraternity in pharmaceutical potential of mushrooms. The chief medicinal uses of mushrooms discovered so far are as anti-oxidant, anti-diabetic, hypocholesterolemic, anti-tumor, anti-cancer, immunomodulatory, anti-allergic, nephroprotective, and anti-microbial agents.

Here are six of the most well-researched anti-cancer mushrooms rich in polysaccharides and beta glucans, the primary active immune-enhancing constituents.

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Ganoderma Reishi Mushroom Ling Zhi, Mannentake, “The Mushroom of Immortality”


This is one of the great longevity tonics of Chinese Medicine used in cancer treatment in Traditional and Modern Chinese Medicine to improve vitality, strength and stamina and to prolong life. Reishi enhances immune response, alleviates chemotherapy side effects such as nausea and kidney damage and protects cellular DNA by raising antioxidant capacity.

Reishi (Ganoderma lucidium) contains polysaccharides that are effective in suppressing cancer cells. Dr Fukumi Morishiga at the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine took a hot water extract of Reishi (which concentrates the active ingredients much more than you will find in retail products) and showed that when used in conjunction with vitamin C (which humans, unlike animals, cannot make), macrophage activity was greatly stimulated. In his paper he showed that all manner of cancers from brain tumours to breast cancer regressed over time. Some cancers even disappeared.

Previous studies showed that Reishi  (Ganoderma lucidium), restricted blood vessels to prostate cancer tumours and stopped cancer cell proliferation.

In a paper published last year in the US's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) journal, a team of scientists linked its use to cancer-cell death. The team from the Taiwanese research centre Academia Sinica, found that F3 polysaccharides, a type of carbohydrate molecule found in reishi mushrooms, can induce antibodies to recognise and kill antigens associated with tumours or cancer cells.

Ganoderma lucidum extract shows potential antitumor and chemoprevention effects on three types of breast cancer: estrogen-receptor dependent, oestrogen-receptor independent, and inflammatory. (1)

  • Immunemodulation:
    The proliferation, maturation and activities of both T and B lympocytes, NK cells and dendritic cells improved significantly during both lab and animal tests when taking Reishi. Beta-glucan is the most constituent for immune support.
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome:
    A multicenter, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial was conducted in China. A Reishi extract was administered for 8 weeks, resulting in a reduced sense of fatigue and improved quality of life. This again confirms Reishi's effect on the immune system.
  • Anti-viral and anti-bacterial actions:
    Polysaccharide-bound proteins (glycoproteins, comparable to the PSK and PSP fractions in Coriolus versicolor) from Reishi showed inhibitory effects on Herpes Simplex Virus type 1 (HSV-1), Herpes Simplex Virus type 2 (HSV-2), and Vesicular Stomatitis Virus (VSV – New Jersey strain) in a lab test.
  • Anti-ulcer properties
    The Helicobacter Pylori, the bacteria that causes e.g. peptic ulcers and gastritis (and is probably also involved in the development of stomach cancers) was inhibited in its growth by a Reishi extract.



Coriolus versicolor (Trametes versicolor) “Turkey tail Mushroom” Yun Zhi


This is one of the most well-researched medicinal mushrooms in the world. It is a biological response modifier. Turkey Tail has been used in Chinese Medicine as a tonic for centuries. Studies show that it improves survival rates and acts as an immune modulator with immune stimulating and anti-tumor properties. Some studies show that it can enhance the effects of chemotherapy cancer treatment and reduce the side effects of radiation therapy.

Cordyceps sinensis increases ATP (adenosine triphosphate) levels in the body by almost 28 per cent. ATP is the body's energy supply source—the body's battery, so to speak—and is required for all enzyme processes.

MD Anderson’s website covers research on gastric cancer, lymphoma, leukaemia and lung cancer cell lines being suppressed by extracts of coriolus.

Coriolus versicolor is able to make the shift from TH2 to TH1 through its polysaccharides peptides.  If a body moves from TH1 response to TH2 and then does not shift back, the system becomes locked into an inflammatory state. This is bad. The reduction in TH1 levels means a reduction in NK cells and the body’s ability to destroy cancer cells.  The TH2 inflammatory response stimulates the creation of new blood vessels around damaged tissues and this can lead to tumour growth.
Coriolus versicolor also increases Natural Killer cells, and CD8+ T-cells (a type of white blood cell) that can kill cancer cells
Coriolus Versicolor has been shown to activate T-lymphocyte production, macrophage activity and other immune system functions.

The Coriolus extract, PSP, has been shown to have immune boosting and modulating effects and anticancer properties in both pre-clinical experiments and clinical trials.

It has been shown to reduce the side effects of radiotherapy and chemotherapy.



Cordyceps sinensis Chinese Caterpillar Fungus Dong Chong Xia Cao


Cordyseps.sinensis is a fungus that has been used for over 2000 years in China as a treatment for a variety of conditions including cancer. Many available evidences suggest that the efficacy of C. sinensis as an anti-neoplastic therapeutic agent is due to its role as an activator of immune responses.
Cordyceps acts an immune stimulator by raising cancer and virus fighting T Cells and Natural Killer Cells.  It prolongs the life of white blood cells and improves resolution of infections. It has demonstrated anti-tumor properties and also protects the kidneys from chemotherapy side effects. It is one of the most widely used tonics in anti-cancer formulas in Chinese Medicine.

Cordyceps sinenosis is an anti-bacterial, anti-fungal mushroom that can also paralyse insects and provide potent antibiotics! The first recorded use was in the 15th century. It is used in Taiwan and China in the treatment of diabetes, as an anti-depressant, and in the treatment of cancer.

Cordyceps sinenosis is a potent antioxidant, thus protecting cells from free radical damage. Free radical damage is a process in which free electrons damage our cells and our DNA and is thought to be a primary factor in the aging process.  Additionally, when DNA  (genetic material) in the cells is damaged,  the risk of cancer increases.  CS has been shown to enhance the production of Glutathione and SOD. These are protective, natural antioxidants produced in our cells to protect against free radical damage and oxidation.

Cordyceps sinenosis demonstrates anti-inflammatory properties.  Inflammation is a factor common to many diseases including cancer.  Supporting the management of inflammation modulates our immune system. In particular, CS has been shown to suppress the production of COX-2, NFkB and TNFa. These inflammatory molecules are present in cancer cells and many other disease processes.

Some studies have shown that CS prevents metastasis by inhibiting angiogenesis; the process by which tumor cells make new blood vessels, allowing tumors to grow in size, allowing cancer cells to enter the blood stream and travel to other parts of the body.



Chaga Inonotus obliquus Black Tree Fungus


This has been used as a medicinal mushroom in Russian and Eastern European Traditional Medicine. Chaga has been studied as a potential anti-cancer agent. Chaga contains betulin, a precursor to betulinic acid, which has been shown to inhibit the cancer-promoting enzyme topoisomerase. Betulinic acid has been found to be active against skin, brain, ovarian and head and neck cancers by promoting apoptosis, or the natural progression of programmed cell death.

Anti-tumor properties:
Betulinic acid, a constituent of Chaga, is cytotoxic and triggers apoptosis through a direct effect on the mitochondria of cancer cells. Other apoptosis-inducing factors result in cleavage of caspases and nuclear fragmentation. Like many medicinal mushrooms, Chaga is rich in beta glucans which have immunomodulating activities. Beta glucans bind to Complement Receptor 3 (CR3) that allows the immune cells to recognize cancer cells as “non-self”
A hot water extract of Chaga exhibited inhibitory and proapoptotic actions against colon cancer cell proliferation via up-regulation of Bax and caspase-3 and down-regulation of Bcl-2.

Immune System Modulator:
Chaga has potent immune supporting properties. Chaga is a rich source of beta glucans and polysaccharides which are essential nutrients for the immune system. These polysaccharides have strong anti-inflammatory and immune balancing properties and enhance the body’s ability to produce natural killer (NK) cells to battle infections.

Chaga kills or inhibits growth or replication by destroying or suppressing reproduction of bacteria. The following are some properties in Chaga that are antibacterial: Betulinic Acid, copper, flavonoids, inotodiol, lanosterol, magnesium, melanin, pantothenic acid, phytonutrients, polysaccharides, saponins, selenium, sterols, tripeptides, triterpenes and zinc.

The anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties of Chaga are thought to be the inhibition of nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) and cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2). An extract of Chaga reduced the oxidative stress in lymphocytes from patients with inflammatory bowel disease.

Antiviral and Antifungal:

There are many active constituents in Chaga that make it antiviral and anti fungal but the main biological activities are betulinic acid, beta glucans, saponins and triterpenes.

Chaga promotes and protects the functions of the liver which busily processes Candida toxins.

The Russians discovered that Chaga is the most potent adaptogen known. This is why it is the basis for the fight against premature aging and for prevention of serious diseases. An adaptogen is a substance which modifies the human body’s response to stress. It is beyond doubt that stress is a mayor contributor in the development of disease.



Agaricus blazei


Several studies have shown that beta glucans from these mushrooms (Agaricus blazei) can alter cytokine and T- and B-cell activity. This prompted the view that the mushrooms would not just be applicable to fighting solid tumour cancers, but also in fighting blood cancers where the white cells themselves were in trouble (like leukaemia).

  • Anti-inflammatory, anti-viral
    Agarics blazei has the highest level of polysaccharides of all medicinal mushrooms.
    Harmful micro-organisms, bacteria and viruses will be neutralized by the immune system before they can cause infections and inflammations.
    Research showed ABM extract to be very effective in inhibiting the infectivity of the common Herpes Simplex virus (HSV-1) (over 75% decrease) and the Bovine Herpes virus (BoHV-1) (over 51% decrease)
  • Anti-tumor properties
    Research showed that Agaricus blazei has anti-angiogenic (inhibits the formation of new blood-vessels to the tumour) properties. It inhibits the enzyme aromatase, which is associated with the development of breast cancer.
  • Liver protective and detoxifying properties:
    Agarics blazei extracts have a detoxifying, blood purifying effect that can help rid the body of dangerous toxins and restore a healthful balance.
    Furthermore, research found ABM extracts to have a significant positive effect on patients with chronic Hepatitis B and C. Studies show supplementation can also improve liver enzymes such as bilirubin, SGOT and SGPT.

How to chose a medicinal mushroom supplement:

The most important factor is to look for a supplement with a high bioavalibility of their ingredients for example: betulinic acid, beta-glucan.
Medicinal mushrooms are mostly useless unless they’ve been subject to processing. They have to have undergone a process of extraction otherwise, they are basically indigestible and therefore have no noteworthy therapeutic effects.
The reason of the limited bioavailability is because of what the chitin mushrooms cells are made off. Chitin is the hardest, all-natural material known to man. Locked in the chitin cell-walls are the bioactive and therapeutically interesting components.
That is why medicinal mushrooms need to undergo an extraction technique to release the bioactive components. Scientific research present in the description of the mushroom products, is always using extracts.
Unfortunately, supplement labels are very difficult to decipher and very often misleading.
Luckily, we found a company which produces hot water/ethanol extracted pure organic mushroom extracts.  They provide details such as, 50% polysaccharides with at least 39% Beta-D-Glucans, for their 100% pure organic wild-harvested Chaga mushroom extract.

These mushroom supplements can be used safely by everyone, including people who are allergic to mushrooms.
Chitin is the allergen in mushrooms and mushroom extracts no longer contain chitin. However, immuno-modulating substances should be used with extreme care or avoided completely in organ-transplant patients utilizing immuno-suppressive agents.

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Torkelson, C. J., Sweet, E., Martzen, M. R., Sasagawa, M., Wenner, C. a, Gay, J., … Standish, L. J. (2012). Phase 1 Clinical Trial of Trametes versicolor in Women with Breast Cancer. ISRN Oncology, 2012, 251632. doi:10.5402/2012/251632

Khan, M. A., Tania, M., Zhang, D., & Chen, H. (2010). Cordyceps Mushroom: A Potent Anticancer Nutraceutical. The Open Nutraceuticals Journal, 3(1), 179–183. doi:10.2174/18763960010030100179

Suresh, C., Zhao, H., Gumbs, A., Chetty, C. S., & Bose, H. S. (2012). New ionic derivatives of betulinic acid as highly potent anti-cancer agents. Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry Letters, 22(4), 1734–8. doi:10.1016/j.bmcl.2011.12.102

Yang, P., Liang, M., Zhang, Y., & Shen, B. (2008). Clinical application of a combination therapy of lentinan, multi-electrode RFA and TACE in HCC. Advances in Therapy, 25(8), 787–94. doi:10.1007/s12325-008-0079-x

Patel, S., & Goyal, A. (2012). Recent developments in mushrooms as anti-cancer therapeutics: a review. 3 Biotech, 2(1), 1–15. doi:10.1007/s13205-011-0036-2

Zaidman, B.-Z., Yassin, M., Mahajna, J., & Wasser, S. P. (2005). Medicinal mushroom modulators of molecular targets as cancer therapeutics. Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology, 67(4), 453–68. doi:10.1007/s00253-004-1787-z

Deng, G., Lin, H., Seidman, A., Fornier, M., D’Andrea, G., Wesa, K., … Cassileth, B. (2009). A phase I/II trial of a polysaccharide extract from Grifola frondosa (Maitake mushroom) in breast cancer patients: immunological effects. Journal of Cancer Research and Clinical Oncology, 135(9), 1215–21. doi:10.1007/s00432-009-0562-z

Liao, S.-F., Liang, C.-H., Ho, M.-Y., Hsu, T.-L., Tsai, T.-I., Hsieh, Y. S.-Y., … Wong, C.-H. (2013). Immunization of fucose-containing polysaccharides from Reishi mushroom induces antibodies to tumor-associated Globo H-series epitopes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 110(34), 13809–14. doi:10.1073/pnas.1312457110

Pradesh, M. (2013). ANTIOXIDANT AND ANTICANCER THERAPEUTIC POTENTIALITY OF MUSHROOMS: A REVIEW, 4(10), 3795–3802. doi:10.13040/IJPSR.0975-8232.4(10).3795-02

Endo, M., Beppu, H., Akiyama, H., Wakamatsu, K., Ito, S., Kawamoto, Y., … Matsui, T. (2010). Agaritine purified from Agaricus blazei Murrill exerts anti-tumor activity against leukemic cells. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta, 1800(7), 669–73. doi:10.1016/j.bbagen.2010.03.016


Comments (2)

  • Coral Gail Vorster

    Fascinating infor about mushrooms and their different medicinal properties with regard to different cancers
    Thanks very much Sabrina.

  • Joann Campbell

    I was told by a friend with 2 types of cancer, (one being of the skin) that the basic button mushroom helped her greatly, including pain management. I have Leukemia, (CLL), and after chemo was left with skin problems. In good faith I eat the button mushroom as often as I can. It does help with itching, really! Now that you have shared this in-depth information on mushrooms, I will give them a try and email in a month to let you know how it went. I am more than appreciative for your on-going dedication to help those of us with cancer. The support you add to my life is immeasurable! Thanks SO much.



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