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Boost Immunity & Reduce Inflammation With Mushrooms

There’re lots of products that promise to boost your immune system—who wouldn’t want that? Well, millions of people suffer from autoimmune diseases, inflammatory diseases, and allergies.  Their immune systems may already be a bit too active.

I try to make sufferers of seasonal allergies feel better by explaining that having an overactive immune system is not all bad. Individuals with allergies have a decreased risk for cancer (compared with the general population). Yes, your immune system may be in such overdrive it’s attacking things left and right (like tree pollen), but that heightened state of alertness might also help bring down any budding tumors in the body. So it’s tricky; we want to boost the part of the immune system that fights infection, while down-regulating the part that results in chronic inflammation. And mushrooms may fit the bill.

There are thousands of edible mushrooms, though only 100 are cultivated commercially, and only 10 of those on an industrial scale.  And I do mean industrial, rising to over 20 million metric tons a year, and for good reason. They accelerate immunoglobulin A secretion. Let me explain:

Though skin is considered our largest organ, we actually interface with the outside world more through our mucous membranes, which occupy our largest body surface area. These include the lining of our mouth, our entire digestive tract, our reproductive and urinary systems, inside the breast glands, and on our eyeballs. Our gut alone covers more area than a tennis court and much of it is only one cell thick.  One microscopic layer is all that separates us from all the toxins, viruses, and bacteria out there, and so we need one heck of a first-line defense.  That defense is call IgA, immunoglobulin A, our type A antibodies. Dietary intake of certain foods may improve mucosal immunity by accelerating IgA secretion, but no studies have ever been conducted on mushrooms, until now.

In the study “Dietary intake of…white button mushroom accelerates salivary immunoglobulin A secretion in healthy volunteers,” people were split into two groups. Half ate their normal diet; half ate their normal diet with cooked white button mushrooms every day for a week. Then using the “passive dribble method” for collecting saliva, scientists just measured the amount of IgA they were pumping out. If you click on the above video you’ll see the graph. There was no change in the control group, but after a week of mushrooms, IgA secretion jumped 50% and even stayed up there for a week after they stopped before falling back to baseline.

But if you continue to churn out 50% more antibodies, might that contribute to chronic inflammation, which is implicated in the development of a variety of diseases? No, in fact mushrooms appear to have an “anti-inflammatory capacity in vitro, suggesting that they could be regarded as a potential source of natural anti-inflammatory agents.” I show in the video a comparison of the anti-inflammatory properties of a variety of different varieties of mushooms. Researchers think it might be the phytonutrient pyrogallol, found in mushrooms as well as in our old friend amla (Indian gooseberries), that similarly appears to reduce inflammation while at the same time boosting immune and anticancer function.

See what else you can do to improve your immune function in Boosting Immunity Through Diet, Kale and the Immune System, and Sleep & Immunity.

The balance between immune function and cancer is not always as straightforward as I noted. See my video series that starts with Cancer as an Autoimmune Disease.

More about mushroom magic in:

Probably best to eat cooked, though (Toxins in Raw Mushrooms?).

How else to decrease inflammation? See:

What can we do about allergic diseases? See:

And if amla is not your old friend, become acquainted:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and More Than an Apple a Day.

Related:
Why Meat Causes Inflammation
Mushrooms For Breast Cancer Prevention
The Most Anti-Inflammatory Mushroom

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Dr. Michael Greger

A founding member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, Michael Greger, M.D., is a physician, author, and internationally recognized speaker on nutrition, food safety, and public health issues. Currently Dr. Greger serves as the Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at The Humane Society of the United States. Hundreds of his nutrition videos are freely available at NutritionFacts.org.

66 comments

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4:49PM PDT on Aug 22, 2013

Thanks, just bought some mushroom exlirir... sounds like it may be worth the cost!

1:16AM PDT on Aug 20, 2013

After watching one of your earlier videos: Ergothioneine: A New Vitamin? -- I started to eat mushrooms a few times a week. I now love them and good to know there's more good news. Thank you.

6:12AM PDT on Aug 3, 2013

I love mushrooms! Thanks for the good news, Dr Greger!

5:16AM PDT on Aug 3, 2013

Thank you Dr. Michael Greger, for Sharing this!

6:46PM PDT on Jul 30, 2013

love them, I don't usually notice any difference when I eat them though

2:50AM PDT on Jul 30, 2013

Thank you :)

2:22AM PDT on Jul 29, 2013

I've always loved mushrooms.
However, a few weeks ago, a friend warned me about the method of cultivation of mushrooms. He only eats healthy, organic food.

He had worked on a mushroom farm in Canada and told me that they cover crops with two toxic sprays that are impossible to rinse off the mushrooms we buy in stores
What a pity !!

12:27AM PDT on Jul 29, 2013

Always Loved them and now I have more reasons for the Love to grow !

Thanks for the great info.

5:34AM PDT on Jul 28, 2013

The natural way to healthy heart

3:53AM PDT on Jul 28, 2013

Good to know. Thank you.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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