A mushroom is the visible fruit of a fungal organism that lives underground or in various dead plant materials.  The fruit produces spores which allow for the reproduction of the fungus.  The fungus exists as a mycelium which is a network of delicate filaments called hyphae that form the body of a fungus.  Unlike other plants, fungi lack chlorophyll and are unable to manufacture their own food.  They extract nutrients from their environment. 

       The mushroom life cycle starts when spores are released from the visible fruiting body of the mushroom. When environmental conditions are right, the spores germinate, sending out the tiny threads called hyphae. The hyphae must find other hyphae that are compatible.  When two compatible hyphae meet, they fuse together to form a mycelium. This mycelium eventually forms what is known as a hyphal knot which grows and develops into a pinhead which in turn grows and develops into a mushroom and then it all starts again.

       Many beneficial compounds are formed by the fungal mycelium during its growth into a fully developed mushroom.  Additional beneficial compounds are found in the fruiting body and spores of the mushroom.  A number of mushrooms have been shown to have specific benefits for human health.  Among them are the Shiitake, Reishi, Maitake and Cordyceps.


       The name shiitake is Japanese and is named after a type of evergreen tree on which the mushrooms often grow.  Shiitake mushrooms grow in the Far East, mainly Japan, China, and Korea. They fruit from spring to late summer or early fall.  When exposed to sunlight during the growing process, this mushroom produces high amounts of vitamin D.  Shiitake contains lentinan which is a specific kind of polysaccharide, known as a Beta-D-Glucan. Beta-D-Glucan appears to stimulate the immune system to fight cancer. Research indicates lentinan fights stomach cancer by preventing enzymes from metabolizing carcinogens in the stomach and colon into more active forms.  For this reason, shiitake mushrooms are thought to be especially beneficial for those suffering from stomach and colorectal cancers.


       There are several species of Reishi and a number of varieties within these species.  Reishi grows on hardwoods such as maples, oaks and elms throughout the world. They prefer tropical and subtropical climates. They are very rare to find in the wild so most reishi sold today is cultivated commercially.  The Japanese government officially lists reishi mushrooms as a cancer treatment. Reishi contains multiple active compounds such as Beta-D-Glucan which appear to stimulate the immune system. Some research indicates compounds in Reishi stimulate the production of T cells which do battle against pathogens and cancer cells.  Triterpenes are steroid like molecules found in Reishi that inhibit histamine release and have anti-inflammatory properties.  Reishi's effects are cumulative. You probably won't notice anything after taking it just once or sporadically. Take it every day and be patient. It can take a few weeks to 2 months to notice an effect.


       Maitake mushrooms are most commonly found in the Northeastern areas of the United States and Canada. They also exist in hardwood forests in parts of Japan, China, and Europe. Like shiitake and reishi, maitake contains Beta-Glucans that stimulate the immune system.   An extract of these glucans was patented and is known as maitake D-fraction. The terms "D-fraction" is simply referring to a concentration of certain maitake polysaccharides.   Research has shown maitake D-fraction to regress tumors, especially in cases of breast, liver, and lung cancer.


       Cordyceps are found primarily in the high altitudes of the Tibetan plateau in China. Cordyceps has a long history of use in heart disease. This mushroom has been shown to dilate blood vessels and thus improve blood circulation throughout the body.  Reduced heart rate and relief from arrhythmias have been shown in animals given cordyceps.  Hypotensive (lowering of blood pressure) and relaxation of the vascular system have been demonstrated in animal studies using this mushroom.  Some studies have shown increases in oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood and greater endurance when using cordyceps. 

       The four mushrooms we have briefly reviewed can be purchased as separate products or in combination in a single product.  They are usually available as capsules or tablets.  Many other mushrooms are also being used to enhance immunity, support respiration, improve cognitive function and promote healthy liver function.  Companies that market mushroom products will use the whole mushroom, certain parts of the mushroom, extracts of certain compounds found in the mushroom or some combination of all these methods.  One company, called New Chapter Organics, recently marketed a line of mushroom products where they use the entire plant (mycelium, extracellular compounds, fruiting body and spores) to make their products.  It is believed this approach insures one is getting the full spectrum of potential benefits available from the mushrooms being used. Please see our “Product of the Month” page for more details on this line of products.

       Mushrooms are used around the world to enhance immunity, fight cancer, improve cardio health and promote general wellbeing.  We encourage you to use mushroom products to facilitate overall improved health and to deal with specific health concerns.