How Medicinal Mushrooms Support the Immune System?
As the coronavirus continues to wreak havoc around the world, people are increasingly becoming desperate. Many would like to get back to some sort of normalcy but with no vaccine in sight, it’s a risk few are willing to take. There is an alternative that can help you to beat the virus as well as many other ailments and conditions – strengthening your immune system.
Several products and therapies that help you to boost the immune system naturally and healthily are available in stores. However, medicinal mushrooms have stood out. Mushrooms have been used by generations, especially in South-East Asia where they are a regular part of the diet, and proven effective. Only recently has modern science begun to unravel the wonders of these amazing and resilient fungi.
But what makes mushrooms stand out? How do they work? How do they support the immune system? And are there strategies you can adopt to maximize the boosting of your immunity?
What makes medicinal mushrooms stand out?
Although the history of medicinal benefits of mushrooms spans millennia, especially in the Eastern cultures, these ancient spores have only begun receiving scientific attention recently. Not so much is known about their constitution or how they work. However, science has been able to identify some bioactive compounds known as polysaccharides, and fungal glycans, such as beta-glucans, that play an essential role in the construction and maintenance of the structure of cells in our bodies.
These bioactive compounds are also effective antioxidants, nerve system repair agents, anti-ageing agents, glycemic regulators and a host of other benefits. Mushrooms are the wonder supplements that restore good health, reverse ageing and make you smarter!
To illustrate how the bioactive compounds in mushrooms support the immune system and general good health, we will first give you a brief description of the human immune system. Then we shall briefly describe the mechanics of the bioactive compounds and how they complement our immune systems.
The innate and adaptive immune system
The human immune system is complex. However, it can be considered as a two-step defence mechanism consisting of the innate and adaptive immune system. The innate system is the first line of defence. These are the natural mechanisms and features developed by the body, over time, to help us ward off infections. Organs such as the skin and features like mucus, protect the body from invasion by pathogens. In some cases, they trap and expel foreign substances. Also, processes such as coughing, sneezing, and chills are part of the innate immunity system. The same goes for responses such as inflammation as well as fever. Whenever you develop such symptoms, remember that your body has activated the first line of defence to protect you from an infection or pathogen and restore you to a healthy equilibrium.
On the other hand, the adaptive immune system is a more specialized defence mechanism. You can call it a second-line of defence although the innate and adaptive immune systems work hand in hand. In the latter, the body secretes specialized cells (also known as antibodies) that are targeted towards a known pathogen and counter-attack it.
Mechanics of bioactive compounds in mushrooms
The innate immune system identifies infections through pattern-recognition receptors (PRR). These receptors recognize the molecular patterns of infection-bearing molecules. Polysaccharides and fungal glycans (including beta-glucans) in mushrooms help to build and maintain the body’s cell structure. But bioactive compounds in mushrooms are often large and can’t penetrate cells. Nonetheless, they attach themselves to the pattern-recognizing receptors on the cells. Therefore, the immune system recognizes bioactive compounds as “non-self molecules.” This triggers both the innate and adaptive immune responses.
Studies have shown that bioactive compounds in medicinal mushrooms can stimulate the production and enhance the activity of key innate immune system cells such as T cells, B cells, and macrophages. Concerning the adaptive defence system, bioactive compounds in medicinal mushrooms have been shown to promote the production of antibodies such as T lymphocytes, B lymphocytes and cytokines.
Medicinal mushrooms regulate the immune system
The human immune system is a complex defence system that is responsible for keeping you in good health. Studies show that as we age, the capability of our immune systems reduces. Thus, as you grow older, you become more susceptible to infections and ailments. This explains why older people, over 65 years, are more likely to contract and suffer from respiratory ailments such as COVID-19.
Modern science has revealed that medicinal mushrooms contain bioactive compounds that cannot only stimulate the immune system but also regulate it (immunomodulation). These compounds are effective in both young and old.
When you consume mushroom supplements, the bioactive compounds activate and enhance your body’s ability to fight off infections in two ways. First, it stimulates the production of immune cells. Second, it regulates immune responses like inflammation. For instance, some mushroom varieties can stimulate the production of T cells, B cells and antibodies. But they also regulate the production of cytokines. Cytokines are soluble proteins that act as intracellular mediators or messengers in an immune response. Cytokines can either be pro or anti-inflammatory. Thus, regulate the innate system’s inflammatory response.
When the infection level is high, mushrooms help the system to release pro-inflammatory cytokines, killing off the infection (innate defence). But, when an infection subsides, the bioactive compounds stimulate the production of anti-inflammatory cytokines as well as antibodies. Thus, paving the way for the antibodies (adaptive defence) to work more effectively.
Maximizing the mushrooms ability to support the immune system
It is important to combine medicinal mushrooms and other healthy practices to enhance the functioning of the immune system. The human immune system is complex. It relies on many aspects, (not just the mushroom supplements) to remain optimum. Some habits can inhibit the well-functioning of the system and may render the bioactive compounds in mushrooms ineffective. Habits like not getting adequate sleep, smoking, and excessive intake of alcohol can significantly impair the entire immune system. On the other hand, there are practices which, when combined with medicinal mushrooms, will profoundly boost the functioning of the immune system. Positive habits like getting enough sleep, eating foods rich in fruits and vegetables, maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly are great for your immune system and overall wellness.
Medicinal mushrooms bolster the body’s immune system by stimulating the production of immune cells and regulating immune responses. They support both the innate immune system by making the body more sensitive and responsive to pathogens and other threats. Also, by regulating the innate system and stimulating the release of antibodies, mushrooms make the adaptive immune system more effective. Thus, medicinal mushrooms stand out as one of the best ways to boost your immune system.