Mycotherapy: Mushrooms, advanced weapons against cancer

Mushrooms such as shiitake, maiitake, enokitake, are foods especially prized in gastronomy for their extraordinary flavor. But these mushrooms can also play a leading role in the prevention of cancer, especially that of the prostate. A look at the anti-cancer properties of these extraordinary plants…

Fall is unquestionably the ideal season to appreciate the quantity and diversity of mushrooms that cover many of our undergrowth. And this abundance is just the tip of the iceberg! In practice, it is estimated that there are around 140,000 distinct species of fungi in the world, of which at least 2,000 are edible and 500 are known to have, to varying degrees, an influence on the functions of the human body. It is therefore not surprising that mushrooms have always occupied a privileged place in most of the great culinary traditions, both in Europe, where they were considered a “royal” dish, and in Asia, where they are still today. today a symbol of fertility and longevity.

Even though most of us are unable to unambiguously identify the native mushroom species that are edible, we are nevertheless fortunate to have access to several cultivated species and thus enjoy the exceptional taste of mushrooms. In addition to the essential button mushrooms and their close cousins ​​“Portobello”, there are now several very interesting species in grocery stores, such as oyster mushrooms and a certain number of mushrooms of Asian origin such as shiitake and enokitake.

Mycotherapy: immunostimulating mushrooms and preventive of certain cancers

Asian mycotherapy is particularly interesting in terms of cancer prevention, because mushrooms contain large amounts of complex polymers (polysaccharides), which are known to exert a positive modulation on the immune system. The best known of these polysaccharides is undoubtedly lentinan from shiitake, a molecule which is also used clinically in Japan to improve the survival and quality of life of patients undergoing certain chemotherapy treatments. Polysaccharides with similar effects have also been identified in enokitake, maitake and kawaratake, suggesting that these mushrooms may also play an important chemopreventive role.

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Mycotherapy against prostate cancer

In addition to this immunoactivation effect, a recent study suggests that some of these polysaccharides could also exert an anticancer effect by directly targeting tumor stem cells that play a key role in tumor formation. Thus, Australian researchers observed that the polysaccharopeptide (PSP) extracted from the kawaratake mushroom (Coriolus versicolor) was able to dramatically reduce the population of stem cells present in a sample of prostate cancer.

More importantly, adding this polysaccharide to the diet of mice genetically programmed to develop prostate cancer completely blocked the formation of these tumors. While the established drug response rate in this animal model is usually 70%, all animals treated (100%) with the mushroom extract did not develop cancer! This spectacular and rarely obtained effect is consistent with the observations which show that cancer stem cells play a vital role in the progression of cancer because of their enormous capacity to renew themselves and thus to continually form new cancer cells. Moreover, these stem cells are very resistant to several chemotherapy drugs and it is suspected that this resistance contributes to the recurrence of several types of cancers. By specifically targeting cancer stem cells, the polysaccharides of certain mushrooms could therefore constitute a weapon of choice in the prevention of several types of cancer.

Mycotherapy can play an important role in cancer prevention, both by positively stimulating the immune system and by directly interfering with the growth of certain types of cancer cells. An approach all the easier to adopt as these mushrooms are true gastronomic marvels!


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Luk SU et al. Chemopreventive effect of PSP through targeting of prostate cancer stem cell-like population. PLoS One; 6:e19804.

* The information and services available on in no way replace the consultation of competent health professionals. []

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