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An Introduction to Medicinal Mushrooms and their Curative Properties
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A mushroom is the fruiting body and reproductive structure produced by some fungi, much like an apple is the fruit of an apple tree. While mushrooms may appear to sprout overnight, it in fact takes several days or weeks for one to fully develop. Most of its growth often goes unnoticed because it occurs underground. Unlike plants which produce their own food through photosynthesis, mushrooms mostly feed on dead organic matter.


One cannot speak of mushrooms without mentioning its rich history, and its intimate link to humans. It is estimated that over 700 species of mushrooms are edible. They are good sources of niacin and riboflavin, and rank the highest among vegetables for protein content. Medicinal mushrooms have also been used for their healing properties. The Chinese in particular, have been cultivating these mushrooms for thousands of years.


Although medicinal mushrooms generally enhance one’s immune system, various mushrooms also have varying specific benefits. Protein-bound polysaccharides, specifically beta-glucans, are at the base of these benefits. It appears that such compounds found in mushrooms are said to jump start the immune system. Polysaccharides have different structures, and these structures in turn result in some mushrooms more active against specific diseases than others. Furthermore, some mushrooms contain important compounds not found in others.


Myceliums are another form of medicinal mushrooms that can be taken. Mycelium products present an opportunity of producing these organisms in a controlled, standardized, and hygienic environment. This is very similar to the pharmaceutical production of antibiotics. Pioneered in China and Japan, mass production of mycelia in fermentation tanks revolutionized the production of mushrooms. Through this process, the soft mycelium is extracted, thereby breaking down the chitinous cell walls making them fully digestible.


It is important to understand that mushroom cell walls are made up of a high percentage of chitin, a compound humans have difficulty digesting. In order to break down the cell walls and release the nutrients for the body to absorb, mushrooms should be cooked or processed before ingestion. One can, for instance, grind the mushroom to release its extracts and use the pulp to make mushroom tea.


Finally, there are claims that ingesting multiple species of medicinal mushrooms creates some sort of synergy and is therefore more advantageous. Unfortunately, there is not enough research to support this claim. In fact, traditional Chinese medicine does not support this approach. This may just be a shotgun approach that ultimately results in small amounts of each mushroom taken, only to be less effective.

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