Medicinal Mushrooms for Flu Defense

Can They Boost Your Immunity?

flu defense
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What Are Medicinal Mushrooms?

In traditional Chinese medicine, medicinal mushrooms - such as shiitake, maitake, and reishi - are used to boost immunity and fend off colds and flu.

Found to possess virus-fighting, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties, medicinal mushrooms also contain compounds (called polysaccharides) that may help stimulate the immune system.

Medicinal Mushrooms for Flu Prevention

Although medicinal mushrooms have yet to be extensively researched as a means of flu prevention, several studies suggest that certain mushrooms may offer some benefits.

1) Maitake

In a 2008 study, scientists found that treating cells with extracts of maitake mushrooms (also known as Grifola frondosa) helped promote the production of proteins responsible for activating the immune system in response to infection. This effect could help slow the growth of the flu virus, according to the study's authors.

2) Cordyceps

Polysaccharides derived from cordyceps (Cordyceps militaris) may help protect against the flu by moderating the function of macrophages (a type of white blood cell that kills microorganisms and stimulates other immune cells into action), according to a 2007 study on mice.

3) Gypsy Mushroom

Findings from a study published in 1999 demonstrate that extracts of the gypsy mushroom (Rozites caperata) may help fight the flu virus.

Other Benefits of Medicinal Mushrooms

Preliminary evidence indicates that medicinal mushrooms may provide health benefits beyond fighting the flu.

In a 2004 study, for instance, participants taking a reishi-based powder had an "acute increase" in their antioxidant capacity. And in a study published in 2001, researchers found that maitake extract improved symptoms in rats with diabetes.

How to Use Them

Available in some health food stores, medicinal mushrooms are often sold as liquid blends containing several different mushrooms.

Medicinal mushroom formulas can also be obtained directly from practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine.

In many cases, practitioners recommend taking medicinal mushrooms throughout flu season in order to rev up your immune system.


Medicinal mushrooms may trigger such adverse effects as nausea and dry throat. In addition, over-stimulating the immune system could theoretically be associated with lymphoma (a type of immune system cancer) or another negative effect. Well-designed research studies are needed.

It's important to keep in mind that supplements haven't been tested for safety and dietary supplements are largely unregulated. In some cases, the product may deliver doses that differ from the specified amount for each herb. In other cases, the product may be contaminated with other substances such as metals. Also, the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established. You can get further tips on using supplements here.

Using Medicinal Mushrooms for Health

Due to the limited research, it's too soon to recommend medicinal mushrooms for the prevention and treatment of the flu.

 It's also important to note that self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences. If you're considering using medicinal mushrooms, make sure to consult your physician first.


Horio H, Ohtsuru M. "Maitake (Grifola frondosa) improve glucose tolerance of experimental diabetic rats." J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 2001 47(1):57-63.

Obi N, Hayashi K, Miyahara T, Shimada Y, Terasawa K, Watanabe M, Takeyama M, Obi R, Ochiai H. "Inhibitory Effect of TNF-alpha Produced by Macrophages Stimulated with Grifola frondosa Extract (ME) on the Growth of Influenza A/Aichi/2/68 Virus in MDCK Cells." Am J Chin Med. 2008;36(6):1171-83.

Ohta Y, Lee JB, Hayashi K, Fujita A, Park DK, Hayashi T. "In vivo anti-influenza virus activity of an immunomodulatory acidic polysaccharide isolated from grown on germinated soybeans." J Agric Food Chem. 2007 12;55(25):10194-9.

Piraino F, Brandt CR. "Isolation and partial characterization of an antiviral, RC-183, from the edible mushroom." Antiviral Res. 1999 43(2):67-78.

Wachtel-Galor S, Szeto YT, Tomlinson B, Benzie IF. "Ganoderma lucidum ('Lingzhi'); acute and short-term biomarker response to supplementation." Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2004 55(1):75-83.

Wasser SP. "Medicinal mushrooms as a source of antitumor and immunomodulating polysaccharides." Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. 2002 60(3):258-74.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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