by Ana S.
May 21, 2021
immune system plays a huge role in how you achieve and maintain
good overall health.
As your body's built-in
protection system, its job is to eliminate foreign invaders that may
be in the air that you breathe, the foods that you eat or the water
that your drink.
Because you are
constantly exposed to external threats that are naturally present in
the environment, it is important that you keep your immune system
healthy and functioning optimally.
Your immune system is made up of organs, specialized cells, proteins
and chemicals that work together to defend your body against
When this large,
organized network is working properly, it can instantly mobilize an
army of cells and biomolecules to attack any invader that may cause
But when your immune
system is not functioning at its best, the response to harmful
substances that enter your system can be weak and underwhelming.
This means you're more likely to get sick and recover slower. 1
Another disadvantage of having an immune system that's not working
optimally is that, sometimes, it fails to either distinguish your
own cells from invaders or stop its attack even after a threat has
To make sure that your
immune system can mount a successful attack against external threats
without going overboard or endangering healthy cells, you need to
give it proper support through the foods that you eat.
All cells, including your immune cells, need nourishment to function
Some foods contain an
abundance of nutrients that are particularly important for the
healthy functions of your immune cells.
Experts emphasize consuming
those foods rich in,
vitamins A, B6, C and E, as well as minerals
like copper, folate, iron, selenium and zinc because numerous
studies show that being deficient in these essential nutrients can
lead to weak immune responses. 2
Fortunately, you can conveniently boost your intake of almost all of
these immune-supporting nutrients by adding certain functional
mushrooms to your regular diet.
functional mushrooms are immune-supporting superfoods
Mushrooms are some of the most nutritious foods available to humans.
Besides being great
sources of essential vitamins and minerals, they're also packed with
fiber and protein. Another great thing about mushrooms is that they
contain no fat and are low in sodium and calories. 3
Although many people,
including nutritionists, count mushrooms as vegetables, they are
actually edible fungi.
What makes mushrooms a great addition to an immune-supporting diet
is the nourishment and protection they can provide for your immune
Mushrooms are rich in copper and zinc, two essential minerals
that are crucial for healthy immune function.
While copper is necessary
for maintaining healthy white blood cells - immune cells found in
your blood and tissues - zinc is important for supporting optimal
immune responses. 4
Your innate immune system is your body's first line of defense
against external threats.
It includes your skin and mucus membranes,
as well as certain types of white blood cells that respond very
quickly to the presence of foreign invaders. 5
Your adaptive immune system, on the other hand, is responsible for
identifying and targeting specific threats, especially those your
innate immune system is unable to deal with.
It also has the ability
to commit foreign invaders to memory so you can easily defend
against them the next time they invade your body.
Your adaptive immune
system is made up of memory cells and white blood cells that produce
Your immune cells also need protection from destructive molecules
called free radicals. This is where the antioxidants in functional
mushrooms come in handy.
Many studies talk about
the importance of consuming antioxidant-rich foods and supplementing
with antioxidant vitamins to promote optimal immune responses.
According to an article
published in the Journal of Dairy Science, human immune functions
are highly dependent on the intake antioxidant-rich foods. 6
When free radicals accumulate inside the body, they cause oxidative
stress, which damages cell membranes, proteins, enzymes and DNA.
Because of its harmful
effects, oxidative stress has been linked not only to the premature
aging of healthy cells but also to an early decline in immune cell
Antioxidants have unique
properties that allow them to neutralize free radicals and prevent
them from triggering oxidative stress. This is why increasing your
antioxidant levels is important for maintaining healthy cells and
strong immune defenses.
Many clinical trials have
shown that increased antioxidant intake can support optimal immune
responses even in the elderly. 8
Organic functional mushrooms are good sources of powerful
antioxidants like vitamin C and selenium. 9
Vitamin C, also known
as ascorbic acid, is well-known for its immune supporting
properties. According to a study published in the Journal Nutrients, vitamin C
supports your innate and adaptive immune systems by promoting
healthy skin barrier function and maintaining healthy adaptive
immune cells. 10
Selenium does similar things for your immune system as vitamin C.
Research shows that the
protection offered by this antioxidant mineral against oxidative
stress supports healthy immune cell responses. 11
Another nutrient found in mushrooms that support immune function is
A recent study published
in the Journal of Biological Chemistry found that this essential
nutrient, which also supports healthy brain and nerve functions, is
important for the healthy functions of macrophages. 12
Macrophages are immune cells that work as part of your innate immune
These specialized cells destroy external threats by
engulfing them - a process known as phagocytosis. Macrophages also
release signaling molecules that activate other immune cells. 13
According to the study,
macrophages need choline before they can jump into action.
functional mushrooms that help support a healthy immune system
More than 2,000 different species of mushrooms exist in nature.
Due to their
well-documented and widespread use in traditional medicine,
researchers continue to explore the beneficial properties of many
edible fungi. 14
Among the most commonly
used medicinal mushrooms, 7 species stand out because of their
ability to support a healthy immune system.
Here are the best
immune-supporting mushrooms you can add to your diet, according to
The fungus known as reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), or lingzhi, is a
staple in Eastern medicine.
In many Asian
countries, particularly in China and Japan, reishi mushroom is
considered a valuable herb that promotes health and wellness.
This oriental fungus
can easily be recognized by its large size, woody texture and
dark but glossy exterior. 15
Chemical analysis of reishi mushroom reveals that it is a good
source of copper, iron, manganese, selenium and zinc. These
essential minerals are crucial for healthy immune cell
functions. 16, 17
attribute one of the most widely reported benefits of reishi
mushroom - its immune-supporting effects - to the bioactive
polysaccharides present in it.
In a study published in the Journal In Vivo, researchers
reported that a polysaccharide-rich extract they isolated from reishi mushroom successfully promoted the activities of various
immune cells, particularly those involved in innate immunity.
Meanwhile, a separate
study that appeared in the Journal of Proteome Research found
that reishi polysaccharides are also responsible for the
mushroom's antioxidant properties. 19
Shiitake (Lentinula edodes) is one of the most popular edible
mushrooms on the planet.
This fungus with a
dark-brown cap can be found growing on decaying hardwood trees
and is native to East Asia. Thanks to its earthy, meaty flavor,
shiitake is often used by Chinese and Japanese chefs to enhance
the flavor of vegetarian dishes. 20, 21
Like reishi, shiitake has a long history of use in traditional
It can also provide
various immune-supporting nutrients, such as copper, folate,
manganese, selenium and zinc.
According to a study
published in the Journal Progress in Food & Nutrition Science,
being deficient in folate can reduce your antibody responses,
thanks to the crucial role played by this B-vitamin in DNA and
protein synthesis. 22
Another way shiitake can support your immune system is by
helping you meet your daily vitamin B6 requirement.
Studies show that
having inadequate levels of vitamin B6 is very detrimental to
your immune system. 23, 24
There are over 400 species of Cordyceps in existence.
Of these, only two
C. sinensis and
C. millitaris, are studied for
their beneficial properties.
According to a study
published in the Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, the
antioxidant and immune-supporting properties of cordyceps can be
attributed to polysaccharides and the nucleoside, cordycepin.
In an article published in the Journal Immunopharmacology and
Immunotoxicology, researchers reported that cordyceps can
provide excellent immune support by promoting various functions
of innate and adaptive immune cells. 27, 28
Cordyceps are rich in various B-vitamins, immune-supporting
minerals like iron, manganese, selenium and zinc, and the
antioxidant, vitamin E. 29
Turkey tail mushroom (Trametes versicolor) is a common mushroom
that grows in many parts of the world.
It gets its name from
its unusual appearance, which resembles a strikingly colored
turkey's tail. This fungus is widely used in Traditional Chinese
Medicine and is hailed for its immune-supporting properties.
According to a study published in the Scientific World
turkey tail mushroom contains powerful antioxidants that can
protect immune cells from DNA damage caused by free radicals.
It also contains two
protein-bound polysaccharides, namely krestin (PSK) and
polysaccharide peptide (PSP), that support healthy immune
responses. 33, 34
Based on chemical analysis, turkey tail mushroom is a rich
source of various B-vitamins, antioxidant flavonoids and
phenols, and immune-supporting minerals like copper, manganese
and zinc. 35
Maitake mushroom (Grifolafrondosa), also known as
hen-of-the-wood or dancing mushroom, is native to northeastern
Japan but can now be found in Europe and North America.
This frilly polypore
- meaning it has pores on its underside instead of gills - grows
at the base of trees, especially oak trees.
Known for its sweet
and umami taste, maitake mushroom is often used as a delicious
ingredient and food-flavoring. 36, 37
According to a study published in the Journal Biological and
Pharmaceutical Bulletin, maitake mushroom contains a
polysaccharide known as grifolan that supports optimal immune
In another study,
researchers found that a protein in maitake mushroom also helps
promote healthy dendritic cells. 39
According to data from the USDA, maitake mushroom contains
decent amounts of immune-supporting nutrients like vitamin B6,
copper, iron, manganese, selenium and zinc. It also has the
highest amount of ergocalciferol (vitamin D2) of any edible
Vitamin D is also
known to provide invaluable immune support. 41
Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) is another mushroom that
boasts immune-supporting capabilities.
It is often described
as resembling a dark clump of dirt or burnt charcoal and can
easily be distinguished by its orange tissue. 42
Chaga mushroom is one of the most nutrient-dense of all
Aside from an
abundance of B-complex vitamins, it also contains fiber, vitamin
D, various amino acids and the usual cast of immune-supporting
minerals found in mushrooms - i.e., copper, iron, manganese,
selenium and zinc.
In addition, chaga mushroom is a rich source of antioxidant
polyphenols and melanin, a natural black pigment, that give it
the highest ORAC score - a measure of antioxidant potency - of
any superfood. 43
Thanks to these
powerful antioxidants, chaga mushroom can help protect your
immune cells from oxidative damage and keep them healthy and
Lion's mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus), or yamabushitake in
Japanese, is one of the easiest mushrooms to identify.
As its name suggests,
this fungus resembles the shaggy mane of a lion, only it's made
up of long, white, dangling spines instead of hair.
Native to Europe,
North America and Asia, lion's mane mushroom is well-known for
its culinary and medicinal uses. 45
According to a study published in Food & Function, lion's mane
mushroom can support healthy immune function by promoting a
healthy intestinal immune system. 46
This system is
responsible for dealing with external threats that enter your
body via the foods that you eat. 47
Another study also revealed that the polysaccharides in lion's
mane mushroom can help you maintain a balanced composition of
This, in turn, allows
your intestinal immune system to do its job properly and combat
4 - https://www.jbc.org/
7 - https://www.nature.com/
10 - https://www.mdpi.com/
12 - https://med.uottawa.ca/
14 - https://www.hindawi.com/
24 - https://www.nature.com/
26 - https://academic.oup.com
29 - https://www.mdpi.com/
32 - https://www.hindawi.com/
35 - http://pjbmb.org.pk/
37 - https://www.mdpi.com/
39 - https://pubs.acs.org/
41 - https://www.umms.org/
43 - https://otzibrew.com/
46 - https://pubs.rsc.org/