The effects of whole mushrooms during inflammation

There are thousands of different mushroom species and about 700 species have been reported to have significant pharmacological properties [1, 2]. Medicinal mushrooms have a long history of use in traditional Oriental therapies. Hot-water-soluble fractions of medicinal mushrooms have been used as medicine in the Far East [3]. In addition, mushroom extracts have begun to be sold as dietary supplements with a world-wide market value of around 5-6 billion US dollars per year [4].

Isolated mushroom constituents have been shown to have beneficial effects on experimental cancer. Efforts have been made to isolate and purify the active and protective components of mushrooms. Many of these compounds are large polysaccharides or β-(1→6)-branched β-(1→3)-linked glucans. The β-glucans have been shown to inhibit tumor growth in vitro and in vivo. The β-glucans lentinan from Lentinus edodes, schizophyllan (sonifilan) from Schizophyllum commune, grifolan from Grifola frondosa, and extracts from Sclerotinia sclerotiorum all have anti-tumor activity. Intratumor injection of an acid-treated fraction of Agaricus blazei inhibited tumor growth of that tumor as well as other tumors at remote sites [5]. An extract from the Phellinus rimosus mushroom extended the life span of mice by 96% following injection of tumor cells in an experimental Dalton’s lymphoma ascites model [6]. Injection of a methanol crude extract from Lepista inversa also increased life span by 50% in a lymphocyte leukemia model [7]. Extracts of multiple varieties of mushrooms have been shown to be protective in experimental cancer models; presumably because in part they boost anti-tumor immunity. Whether these same benefits of mushrooms can be derived from whole mushrooms instead of the isolated components is not known.

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There is considerable information and research on identifying the biologically active components of medicinal mushrooms and using them as therapies and immune system modulators. What is less clear is whether the active components of edible mushrooms are present in adequate amounts to show benefits when consuming whole mushrooms or using extracts from whole mushrooms in vitro. Furthermore, there are concerns about the toxicologic side effects of whole mushrooms especially the Agaricus species that might counter-indicate recommending eating mushrooms. The aims of the present study were 1) to determine what the effects of whole mushroom extracts were on the cytokine profile of macrophage and T cell cultures in vitro, 2) to determine whether feeding mice diets that contained 1-2% whole mushrooms resulted in measurable changes in immunity, and 3) to determine whether 2% whole mushrooms diets led to pathologic findings in tissues likely to be affected (liver, kidney, gastrointestinal tract).

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