Medicinal Mushrooms

Common Mushrooms Used with Cancer

  • Agaricus blazei (Murrill)
  • Cordyceps sinensis (caterpillar)
  • Flammulina velutipes (enotake; golden needle)
  • Ganoderma lucidum (reishi)
  • Grifola frondosa (maitake)
  • Hericium erinaceus (lion’s mane) 
  • Inonotus obliquus (chaga) 
  • Inocybeumbrinella (psilocybin; magic mushroom) 
  • Lentinus (or Lentinula) edodes (shiitake)
  • Phellinus linteus (meshimakobu; meshima; black hoof)
  • Piptoporus betulinus (kanbatake; the birch polypore)
  • Pleurotis ostreatus (hiratake; oyster)
  • Polyporus umbellatus (Zhu Ling)
  • Schizophyllum commune (suehirotake; split gill polypore)
  • Trametes versicolor or Coriolus versicolor (turkey tail)

Key Points

  • Over 100 species of medicinal mushrooms are used in Asia and approved for use as an adjuvant (supplement) to cancer treatment in China and Japan.
  • In China and Japan, medicinal mushrooms, used as single agents or in combination with chemotherapy or radiation therapy, have a clinical history of safe use.
  • Lab, animal and/or human studies suggest that several medicinal mushrooms have direct or indirect anticancer effects and/or manage side effects and/or improve quality of life in a number of cancers.
  • BCCT considers medicinal mushrooms interesting and promising because of mounting evidence of their usefulness as an adjuvant treatment in several cancers, their safety when taken appropriately, their wide availability and their use by many reputable integrative oncology clinicians.
  • Evidence is insufficient that medicinal mushrooms are a cure or stand-alone treatment for cancer.
  • Evidence is insufficient to establish safety of use during pregnancy and lactation. BCCT suggests that you err on the side of caution and not use mushroom extracts during pregnancy or while nursing a baby.
  • Side effects of most medicinal mushrooms are typically mild and temporary. Allergic reactions are possible, and medical supervision is advised, preferably from a licensed clinician with experience in prescribing medicinal mushrooms.
  • Some medicinal mushrooms are edible and can be eaten as food. Others are widely available without prescription in capsule, liquid tincture, and powdered form. Strength and purity of products can vary significantly. Read labels carefully. and consider consulting with a healthcare professional experienced in using medicinal mushrooms for guidance in product selection.
  • Raw mushrooms contain toxins that may be harmful. Edible mushrooms, whether medicinal or culinary (such as white, cremini, or portobello mushrooms) should be cooked before being eaten.1

As exotic as their names might sound, medicinal mushrooms are widely available with a wide array of possible health-promoting and disease-fighting properties. More than 100 species of medicinal mushrooms have been used in Asia for hundreds of years. Traditionally, they have been used primarily to treat infections, but more recently also in treating lung diseases and cancer.

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Treating the Cancer

Working against cancer growth or spread, improving survival, or working with other treatments or therapies to improve their anticancer action

One or more of the medicinal mushrooms listed here are known to have effects that are useful in cancer care, affecting cancer directly:4

  • Anticancer activity (direct and indirect)
  • Anti-oxidative effects
  • Anti-inflammatory activity
  • Antiviral activity
  • Antimicrobial activity
  • Chemo- and radioprotective activity (protecting non-cancer cells and organs from the harmful effects of these treatments)
  • Chemopreventive activity (preventing tumor growth), such as through elimination of prostate cancer stem cells or suppression of the development of premalignant colorectal adenomas
  • Countering chemotherapy resistance
  • Immune modulating activity (influence immune system function)
  • Microbiome modulating activity (influence microbiome function)

Lab, animal and/or human evidence indicates medicinal mushrooms are active against specific cancers:5

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Medicinal mushrooms or their constituents have not been proven to be a cure for cancer as a single agent. The evidence suggests that the greatest benefit is when used in conjunction with evidence-based conventional treatment.

Specific Mushrooms with Evidence for Use in Cancer

We list here many of the medicinal mushrooms with demonstrated usefulness in cancer with references to more information.

Agaricus blazei Murrill

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Cordyceps sinensis (Caterpillar)

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Flammulina velutipes (Enotake, Enoki, Enokitake, Golden Needle)

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Ganoderma lucidum (Reishi)

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Grifola frondosa (Maitake)

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Hericium erinaceus (Lion’s Mane)

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Inocybeumbrinella (Psilocybin or Magic Mushrooms)

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Inonotus obliquus (Chaga)

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Lentinus (or Lentinula) edodes (Shiitake)

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Phellinus linteus (Meshimakobu, Meshima, Black Hoof)

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Piptoporus betulinus (Kanbatake, The Birch Polypore)

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Pleurotis ostreatus (Hiratake, Oyster)

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Polyporus umbellatus (Zhu Ling)

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Schizophyllum commune (Suehirotake, Split Gill Polypore)

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Trametes versicolor or Coriolus versicolor (Turkey Tail)

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Managing Side Effects and Promoting Wellness

Managing or relieving side effects or symptoms, reducing treatment toxicity, supporting quality of life or promoting general well-being

One or more of the medicinal mushrooms listed on this page are known to have effects that are useful in managing treatment side effects or improving overall health:6

  • Appetite enhancement
  • Anti-anxiety
  • Anti-fatiguing activity
  • Cognition enhancement
  • Improvement of mood
  • Improvement of quality of life
  • Improvement of sexual dysfunction
  • Reduction of treatment side effects such as these:
    • Nausea
    • Bone marrow suppression
    • Anemia
    • Reduced appetite
    • Lowered resistance to infection

After conventional treatment is complete, medicinal mushrooms may be used (particularly in combination with other medicinal mushrooms) as part of an integrative plan to restore health and reduce the risk of recurrence.

Access

Many medicinal mushrooms are widely available without prescription in capsule, liquid tincture, and powdered form. Several are edible, and even the common white mushroom has medicinal properties. Strength and purity of products can vary significantly.

Cautions

Unsupported Claims and Variability

Looking out for exaggerated claims about the medicinal properties of mushrooms is important, and such claims are many, particularly from disreputable individuals or companies simply trying to make money. Reputable companies manufacturing medicinal mushroom products have now backed away from making claims, for instance, that their products can cure cancer or other illnesses. More randomized controlled clinical trials of the effectiveness of medicinal mushrooms in cancer patients are needed. Until such studies are conducted, respected integrative oncology clinicians think sufficient evidence of safety and effect of several medicinal mushrooms exists to recommend using them in combination with conventional cancer treatments.

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Side Effects

Medicinal mushrooms, in general, have been shown to be safe when used appropriately. Side effects can occur, but most tend to be mild and temporary. With some mushrooms, more serious problems have been seen infrequently in studies, such as damage to the liver and white blood cells. However, since patients with these effects were also on chemotherapy, ascertaining whether the problems were related to the chemotherapy, the mushrooms and/or the combination is difficult.

Before taking medicinal mushrooms, consult with a healthcare professional (preferably one with expertise in prescribing medicinal mushrooms such as a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner, naturopathic oncologist or integrative medicine physician), especially if you have a medical condition or are taking other drugs, herbs or supplements. Consult a healthcare professional immediately if you experience side effects.

Do not take a medicinal mushroom or its extracts if you have a known allergy/hypersensitivity to that mushroom or any of its components.

Preparation

In traditional Chinese medicine and in many of the studies of medicinal mushrooms, hot water extracts have been used. The cell wall of the mushroom is indigestible by humans—hence, eating raw mushrooms for culinary or medicinal reasons is not recommended. Ground mushroom eaten as a powder is irritating to the liver, yet when that ground mushroom is decocted in hot water, the medicinal ingredients become available and it is safer to consume. As a result, several integrative oncology clinicians report that they prescribe hot water extracts of medicinal mushrooms.7

Integrative Programs, Protocols and Medical Systems

For more information about programs and protocols, see our Integrative Programs and Protocols page.
  • Programs and protocols
    • Alschuler & Gazella complementary approaches8
      • Breast cancer
      • Cervical cancer
      • Colon cancer
      • Gastric cancer
      • Hormone balancing
      • Immune-enhancing supplements
      • Reversing insulin resistance
      • Liver cancer
      • Ovarian cancer
      • Radiation and mushroom interactions
      • Uterine cancer
    • Bastyr University Integrative Oncology Research Center protocol for stage IV breast cancer9
    • Block program10
      • Breast cancer (case study)
      • Glioblastoma (case study)
      • Kidney cancer (case study)
      • Prostate cancer (case study)
      • Core diet plan
      • Boosting immune surveillance and priming
      • Targeting progression pathways
    • McKinney protocols11
      • Bladder cancer
      • Brain/nerve cancer
      • Breast cancer
      • Cervical cancer
      • Colorectal cancer
      • Esophageal cancer
      • Fatigue
      • General cancer
      • Head and neck cancer
      • Immune modulation
      • Kidney cancer
      • Leukemia
      • Lymphoma
      • Melanoma
      • Multiple myeloma
      • Myelodysplastic syndrome
      • Neuropathy
      • Ovarian cancer
      • Pancreatic cancer
      • Sarcoma
      • Skin cancer
      • Stomach cancer
      • Thyroid cancer
      • Uterine cancer
      • Vulva cancer
  • Traditional systems

Commentary

Paul Stamets advises using mushroom products that contain both the water and alcohol extractions, since each contain different medicinally important compounds.12

Integrative oncologist Keith Block, MD, advises using extracts (rather than eating whole mushrooms) that are blends of several different medicinal mushrooms, including maitake (Grifola frondosa), agaricus (Agaricus blazeii), shiitake (Lentinula or Lentinus edodes), reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), turkey tail (Trametes or Coriolus versicolor), and caterpillar fungus or cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis).13

Though even many common edible mushrooms have beneficial nutritional qualities, Dr. Andrew Weil gives the following caution: “I advise against eating a lot of the familiar cultivated white or “button” mushrooms found on supermarket shelves throughout the United States. (Portobello and cremini mushrooms are the same species.) They are among a number of foods (including celery, peanuts, peanut products, and salted, pickled, or smoked foods) that contain natural carcinogens. We don’t know how dangerous these toxins are, but we do know that they do not occur in other mushrooms [such as shiitake, maitake, reishi, etc.] that offer great health benefits. For the maximum health benefits of mushrooms, I strongly advise against eating these or any other types of mushrooms raw, whether they’re wild or cultivated. If you’re going to eat them, cook them well, at high temperatures, by sauteing, broiling or grilling. Heat breaks down many of the toxic constituents.”14

Lise Alschuler, ND, FABNO, August 9, 2018: There are instances when I use specific mushrooms, for instance: Coriolus (aka Trametes) versicolor (turkey tail) for breast cancer, Agaricus blazeii for ovarian cancer and chaga mushroom for melanoma. However, it is a very valuable and reasonable strategy to use a blend that includes mushrooms, each of which is standardized to its polysaccharides and beta-glucans. The key is to use a hot water extract of the fruiting bodies or a full-spectrum extract (includes mycelium) that clearly identifies on its label the quantity of mushroom extract.

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Non-cancer Uses of Medicinal Mushrooms

  • Anti-hemorrhagic
  • Arteriosclerosis
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disorders
  • Cough
  • Diabetes
  • Fatigue
  • Hepatitis
  • Hepatoprotective
  • Herpes
  • High cholesterol
  • HIV and AIDS
  • Hypertension
  • Immunostimulation
  • Infections
  • Inflammation
  • Nephropathy
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Stimulant
  • Strength and stamina
  • Viral infections
  • Urinary tract (lower) symptoms
  • Weight loss

BCCT has not reviewed the effectiveness of these mushrooms for non-cancer uses.

Written by Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS, and reviewed by Nancy Hepp, MS; most recent update on February 20, 2019.  BCCT has not conducted an independent review of medicinal mushroom research. This summary draws from several sources:

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