Unlike the 1918 flu epidemic when the majority of the
fatalities were young men and women who succumbed due to the strength of their
own immune response, with Covid-19 the majority of fatalities are among the
elderly or those whose immune systems are weakened due to underlying health
issues with very few among younger men and women and almost none among
This strong inverse correlation between age / overall
health and risk of developing severe symptoms from Covid-19 infection is the
clearest indication we could have of the importance of supporting our immune
health at this time.
While there is a lot we can do to support our immunity
with good food, adequate exercise and sufficient sleep, supplements known to
have a positive effect on our immune system also have a role to play, particularly
if the immune system is already compromised by age or pre-existing health
When considering the different categories of
immunologically active supplements, mushrooms have a particularly strong case
for a place on our shelves at this time due to their well-documented ability to
modulate our immune response, both increasing levels of immune activity where
these are suppressed and decreasing levels of immune activation and cytokine
production where these are elevated 1.
A number of epidemiological and clinical studies have
confirmed the ability of mushrooms and mushroom-derived supplements to increase
the effectiveness of both our innate and adaptive immune responses to a range
of pathogens including viruses 2.
Polysaccharide extracts from different mushrooms,
including Cordyceps (Ophiocordyceps
sinensis / Cordyceps militaris),
Coriolus (Trametes versicolor),
Shiitake (Lentinula edodes) and
Maitake (Grifola frondosa) have all been
shown to exert an inhibitory effect on influenza virus in vivo.
Clinical studies have also shown benefit for extracts
from: Zhu Ling (Polyporus umbellatus),
Sun Agaric (Agaricus subrufescens),
Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) and Cordyceps
in the treatment of Hepatitis B 3-6.
patients with recurrent genital herpes supplementation with Coriolus extract
resulted in increased immunity and fewer sick days and in clinical trials
Coriolus, Reishi and combined mushroom polysaccharide extracts have all shown
benefit in increasing clearance of high-risk HPV strains 7-9.
addition enhanced protective immune response was seen from giving mushroom extracts
alongside influenza vaccine in one in vivo
study and FVe, a protein from Enokitake (Flammulina
velutipes) was seen to significantly increase the anti-tumour protection
given by vaccination against HPV-16 in another 10,11.
As well as supporting an effective immune response to
viral infection several mushrooms contain compounds with direct anti-viral
activity and two in particular stand out for their benefits in relation to the
(3’-deoxyadenosine) from Cordyceps species has been shown to inhibit viral
replication in a number of studies 12. It also shows strong
anti-inflammatory activity and has been shown to actively protect the lungs
from acute injury due to the type of inflammatory immune response seen in more
serious Covid-19 infections 13.
from Reishi also have strong anti-inflammatory activity and have been shown to
inhibit viral replication and viral binding 14. Both triterpenes and
proteins from Reishi have also been shown to inhibit angiotensin-converting enzyme activity, blocking conversion of ACE-1 to
ACE-2 the form of the enzyme through which Covid-19 enters cells 15,16.
Of course although mushrooms undoubtedly have an important role to play in supporting our immune system and helping protect us in case of infection they are not a panacea.
In case of active infection it would be appropriate to follow traditional treatment strategies for infectious diseases and shift the emphasis from ‘Supporting the Upright’ to ‘Clearing the Pathogen’ with anti-viral herbs.
- He T, Zhao R, Lu Y, Li W, Hou X, Sun Y, Dong M, Chen L. Dual-Directional Immunomodulatory Effects of Corbrin Capsule on Autoimmune Thyroid Diseases. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2016;2016:1360386. Epub 2016 Sep 18.
- Powell M. Medicinal Mushrooms – A Clinical Guide 2nd Ed. Mycology Press. 2014.
- Yan Sc et al. Clinical and experimental research on Polyporus umbellatus polysaccharide in the treatment of chronic viral hepatitis. Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Zazhi. 1988;8(3):141–143.
- Liu J, McIntosh H, Lin H. Chinese medicinal herbs for chronic hepatitis B: a systematic review.Liver. 2001;21(4):280–286.
- Gao YH, Zhou SF, Chen GL, Dai XH, Ye JX, Gao H. A phase I/II study of a Ganoderma lucidum (Curt.: Fr.) P. Karst. (Ling Zhi, Reishi Mushroom) extract in patients with chronic Hepatitis В. Int J Med Mushrooms. 2002;4(4):321–328.
- Hsu CH, Hwang KC, Chiang YH, Chou P. The mushroom Agaricus blazei Murill extract normalizes liver function in patients with chronic hepatitis B. J Altern Complement Med. 2008;14(3):299–301.
- Kono R, Nakajima A (Eds). Treatment of recurrent genital herpes with PSK. Kawana T. Proceedings of the International Symposium on Pharmacological and Clinical Approaches to Herpes Viruses and Virus Chemotherapy. Oiso, Japan, Sept. 10-13, 1984. Amsterdam : Excerpta Medica, 1985. pp. 271–272.
- Donatini B. Control of oral human papillomavirus (HPV) by medicinal mushrooms, Trametes versicolor and Ganoderma lucidum: a preliminary clinical trial. Int J Med Mushrooms. 2014;16(5):497-8.
- Couto JS, da Silva DP. Coriolus versicolor supplementation in HPV patients. [Poster]. 20th European Congress of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. March 7th, 2008.
- Ichinohe T et al. Induction of cross-protective immunity against influenza A virus H5N1 by an intranasal vaccine with extracts of mushroom mycelia. J Med Virol. 2010 Jan;82(1):128-37.
- Ding Y, Seow SV, Huang CH, Liew LM, Lim YC, Kuo IC, Chua KY. Coadministration of the fungal immunomodulatory protein FIP-Fve and a tumour-associated antigen enhanced antitumour immunity. Immunology. 2009;128(1Suppl):e881–894.
- Qin P, Li XK, Yang H, Wang ZY, Lu DX. Therapeutic Potential and Biological Applications of Cordycepin and Metabolic Mechanisms in Cordycepin-Producing Fungi. Molecules. 2019 Jun; 24(12): 2231.
- Lei J, Wei Y, Song P, Li Y, Zhang T, Feng Q, Xu G. Cordycepin inhibits LPS-induced acute lung injury by inhibiting inflammation and oxidative stress. Eur J Pharmacol. 2018 Jan 5;818:110-114.
- Xia Q et al. A comprehensive review of the structure elucidation and biological activity of triterpenoids from Ganoderma spp. Molecules. 2014 Oct 30;19(11):17478-535.
- Morigawa A, Kitabatake K, Fujimotot Y, Ikekawa N. Angiotensin Converting Enzyme-Inhibitory Triterpenes from Ganoderma lucidim. Chem. Pharm. Bull. 1986. 34;7:3025-3028.
- Ansor NM, Abdullah N, Aminudin N. Anti-angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) proteins from mycelia of Ganoderma lucidum (Curtis) P. Karst. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2013; 13: 256.