Mushrooms have always been used for culinary purposes. Additionally, many different mushrooms have been traditionally used with medicinal intentions, especially in Asian countries. In the last few decades there have been great improvements in techniques to cultivate many different mushroom species. These advancements have, in turn, generated a large number of scientific studies trying to confirm the effectiveness of medicinal mushrooms in their traditional applications, and also to demonstrate new additional potential health benefits.
Scientific research on the health-related potential of mushrooms has traditionally been focused on proving their immunological, anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory capabilities. Nevertheless, many other potential activities have been reported in the scientific literature, including anti-hypertensive, cholesterol-lowering, liver protection, anti-diabetic, anti-viral, anti-microbial, and even anti-cancer properties.
There are hundreds of different medicinal mushrooms, including shiitake (Lentinula edodes, which is reported to have immunomodulation properties), reishi (Ganoderma lucidium, which may be useful in reducing anxiety and may support tired adrenals due to its adaptogenic effects), or lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus, renowned for its neuroprotective and nerve regeneration properties). Although the scientific evidence on the potential health-modulating properties of mushrooms is ever-increasing, most studies offer only pre-clinical results.
Therefore, even if these properties have attracted the interest of many pharmaceutical companies which are viewing medicinal mushrooms as a rich source of innovative biomedical molecules, a major investment in objective, blinded, placebo-controlled clinical trials is currently needed to develop this natural pharmacopeia and to prove its actual effectiveness in disease treatment and/or prevention.
Roldan Cortés, MedSIR.