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Medicinal Mushrooms

Medicinal Mushrooms and AHCC®

There’s a reason they call them magic, but what makes these mushrooms medicinal?

When most of us think of mushrooms, we often think of creamy pasta sauces or a pizza topping. You are probably familiar with the hearty taste of portobello, oyster, and even shiitake mushrooms. Beyond this, our knowledge of fungi used as anything but foodstuffs is next to none.

Medicinal mushrooms have been used for centuries in many ancient and traditional Asian cultures as a way to promote optimal health and boost resilience to disease. Of the 14,000 species of fleshy, spore-bearing fungus that grow on soil or other nutrient sources above the ground, many have been found to have nutritional and therapeutic effects.

The edible mushrooms that most of us are familiar with contain beneficial nutritional compounds like B vitamins, copper, magnesium, zinc, potassium, and are a great source of dietary fiber. Regular consumption of mushrooms can help protect the body from DNA damage with their antioxidant qualities and protect against cancer and heart disease. 

Medicinal mushrooms contain compounds that influence our normal bodily functions more directly. These mushrooms improve health by supporting functions that protect against aging and chronic disease, and improve resilience to external stressors. Many of these mushrooms are inedible, so they have to be specially treated to reap the benefits. With advanced in science and research techniques, we are actually able to extract the desired medicinal components and leave the inedible parts out. These extracts are often used in supplements for immune health and brain function. 

What Is AHCC®?

AHCC® (Active Hexose Correlated Compound) is a compound derived from the shiitake mushroom species Lentinula edodes. AHCC® has been used for centuries in Eastern medicine as a powerful immune supporter. AHCC® is made using the root-like structures of the fungi, also known as the “mycelia”. Mycelia are extracted by breaking down the root structures into tiny molecules, which are then made available as a dietary supplement. The manufacturing process of AHCC® is patented and produced by only one company in Japan, Amino Up Chemical Co. Ltd.

AHCC® is commonly used in Japan alongside conventional cancer treatments, with its success gaining international attention. Today, there are over 30 clinical trials investigating its use in a range of diseases including influenza, cancer, and HPV.

What makes these mushrooms magical?

The medicinal magic of AHCC® is primarily due to its high levels of alpha and beta-glucan (polysaccharides, a type of carbohydrate). Beta-glucans are known for their immune-modulating activity because they can trigger immune molecules to amplify a response.

In addition to beta-glucan, AHCC® contains another polysaccharide called acetylated alpha-glucan. Acetylated alpha-glucan is a very small molecule, about 95% smaller than beta-glucan. This makes it makes it easier for the body to digest and absorb, allowing the compound to directly impact the immune system. Together the alpha and beta-glucans act as immune-modulating agents, helping strengthen the immune response to defend the body against viral infections and chronic disease.

The Immune System and disease

The reason these immune supportive mushrooms are becoming popular for treatment of disease is due to the vital role the immune system plays in preventing illness. The immune system includes a complex network of organs, cells, and molecules that constantly monitor and defend the body against invaders, and protect against disease.

When the immune system is not functioning properly, viral and bacterial infections, and even tumours can develop as a result of weakened immune defenses. Likewise, autoimmune conditions may arise from an exaggerated immune response. Maintaining balance and proper function of the immune system is essential in preventing and treating illness and disease.

The immune system may be weakened due to several factors including diet, stress, exposure to toxic chemicals, and more. Managing these factors starts with adopting healthy habits to help strengthen our immune system and overall health. Supplementing mushrooms can further help to modulate the immune response, enhancing its defense mechanisms to respond to elements that threaten or harm the body and contribute to chronic disease.

Where does AHCC® play a role?

The research on AHCC® has found it to be particularly effective in preventing infections by the stimulating production of two immune molecules, natural killer cells and T cells.

  • Natural killer cells play the first line of defense against viral and bacterial infections. They also secrete cells called cytokines, which protect against the development of cancer cells.
  • T cells play a critical role in defending against both microorganisms and malignancy.

Together, these immune players help strengthen weakened immune functions and better defend against infection and chronic disease. As our understanding of AHCC® and its influence on the immune system continues to expand, so will its potential use and benefits to human health. Mushrooms are soon going to be making more than just our stomach grumble.

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