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 Mushrooms: The Key to a Healthy Immune System 
The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Women's Nutrition Detective by . View all columns in series
It becomes more difficult than ever to stay healthy during flu season, and to effectively fight infections throughout the year. Eating a healthy diet and taking a multivitamin just doesn't seem to give enough protection any more. As our planet becomes more polluted, and the quality of our food deteriorates, we search for ways to get and stay healthy. Out of all the many immune-supporting supplements out there, I think that medicinal mushrooms are the key to vitality and wellness.

Out of more than 100,000 species of fungi, over a dozen varieties have been used in China for more than 3,000 years to increase immunity, strengthen the lungs and other organs, and as a vital part of cancer therapy. They are included in traditional Chinese medicine and used extensively by acupuncturists under their scientific names.

With my own history of lung problems – I had pneumonia and bronchitis every year as a child -- they appeared to have been made for me. Mushrooms are valuable in boosting our immunity as well as giving specific lung support, making them ideal for anyone with a respiratory illness or congestive heart failure. They seem to be particularly valuable because they are made from various-sized compounds. The smaller ones contain nutrients, while the larger ones are used by the immune system to make antigens. Antigens, in turn, produce antibodies to fight disease-producing substances.

These large mushroom compounds have a unique shape that your immune system remembers. When you are exposed to bacteria or viruses with similar shaped compounds, your body remembers that mushrooms can produce the antibodies you need to fight these harmful invaders. As long as you have mushroom compounds circulating in your body, your immune system is on alert, ready to take action at a moment's notice. This is why it is best to take medicinal mushrooms more than once a day —— so those compounds are always present. It’s also a good reason to make them a part of your daily supplement regimen.

The part of your immune system that remembers the size and shape of these large mushroom compounds are your T-cells, a product of the thymus gland. Your thymus gland protects you against harmful bacteria, viruses, and parasites, but it shrinks as we age, reducing your army of T-cells. This is why it's so important to boost your immune system as you get older, especially before winter weather changes increase your susceptibility to cold and flu viruses. Various medicinal mushrooms may be your answer to a cold- and flu-free winter.

Shiitake (Lentinus elodes)
If you've ever cooked with dried Chinese mushrooms, you’ve used shiitake mushrooms. The use of shiitakes goes back to the Ming Dynasty in China where they were used for lung problems and to increase stamina. Shiitakes contain a chemical called lentinan that has been shown to reduce tumors. Lentinan is currently under investigation as a potential cancer-fighting drug. Studies are indicating, however, that there are substances in shiitakes other than lentinan that fight cancer, which is why using the whole mushroom may be best.

Shiitakes help the body make interferon, a powerful anti-viral substance. They have been used for an overgrowth of Candida albicans, for bronchial inflammation including asthma, environmental allergies, and frequent colds and flu.

Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)
Reishi mushrooms strengthen the immune system by increasing white blood cells and cells that fight tumors. They specifically help the lungs by regenerating lung tissue. Reishis also appear to prevent bronchitis, strengthen the adrenal glands (the glands that handle all types of stress), and have antiviral effects through their production of interferon. In his practice, acupunturist and writer Christopher Hobbs, Lac, found reishis to be particularly effective for nervous or anxious people with adrenal exhaustion and even prefers to use them in these cases instead of the herb Valerian.

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 About The Author
Nan Fuchs, Ph.D. is an authority on nutrition and the editor and writer of Women's Health Letter, the leading health advisory on nutritional healing for......moreNan Fuchs PhD
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