A number of mushrooms and fungi have been shown in various studies to contain substances (mostly complex polysaccharides) that stimulate the body's immune system (particularly its T-cell lymphocytes, macrophages, and natural killer cells) to destroy cancer cells, lessen the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy, and combat viral infections. In some instances, tumours have been entirely eliminated. Most of these mushrooms have long been used in traditional Chinese medicine, dating back to at least 100 AD, and have been eaten as food for thousands of years in the East. Among the world's edible mushrooms, shiitake are second in popularity only to the common button mushroom (Agaricus bisporus).
Six species are of particular interest: reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), shiitake (Lentinula edodes), maitake (Grifola frondosa), Cordyceps sinensis, Trametes or Coriolus versicolor, and Agaricus blazei muril (ABM). The latter originated in Brazil, but has been cultivated in Japan since 1965, where it is known as Himematsutake. Since at least the 1960s, a considerable amount of scientific research has been and is being conducted (especially in Japan and China) into the anti-cancer substances found in these six mushrooms.
Medicinal mushrooms are available commercially as dried powdered whole mushroom, as dried extract, or as liquid extract. Depending upon your local climate, it may also be possible to grow them for yourself. Extracts can be made in warm water over a period of 2-6 hours, or in hot water over a shorter period. A few manufacturers first use hot water, and then alcohol, to maximize the volume and variety of substances extracted. Products can be made from the mycelium and/or from the fruiting body, between which there is a difference in the level of active anti-cancer substances. Which extraction method is best is currently difficult to determine, especially in the absence of data from laboratory trials. The best method of extraction may even vary from one mushroom to another. Growing methods can also result in considerable variations in the quantity of the active substances present. But again - despite all the assertions of manufacturers and other 'experts' - there is minimal published data on which to base any decision. Having reviewed the literature (often in confusion!), I suspect that extracts using both water and alcohol are probably best. This is also the form used by both Dr Julian Kenyon of the Dove Clinic in the UK and Dr Etienne Callebout of Harley Street, London.
I guess that until there is standardization and each manufacturer measures and publishes the levels of active ingredients in their products (an expensive procedure), there will always be uncertainty over quality. Presently, many manufacturers actually play on this uncertainty when promoting their own particular brands, something that they could eliminate by publishing the relevant data. And until there are full scale clinical trials, dosage will remain a matter of informed guesswork. Personally, I am using the extracts from mushrooms grown and processed by Fruiting Bodies, at their place in Wales.
A number of extracts of the active compounds found in shiitake mushrooms are sold as proprietary products. These include lentinan (shown in trials to stop or slow tumour growth) and eritadenine (thought to help in the reduction of blood clots, and to lower cholesterol by blocking the way cholesterol is absorbed into the bloodstream). Another product active hexose correlated compound (AHCC) a proprietary extract prepared from several species of medicinal mushroom, including shiitake, is claimed to effect inhibit tumour growth and to lessen the side effects of chemotherapy. However, full details of the mushroom species used and the method of preparation are not disclosed by the producers, and most of their claims relate to the properties of medicinal mushrooms in general, rather than AHCC in particular.
Other proprietary mushroom compounds, including grifolan (from maitake), schizophyllan (from Schizophyllum commune) and SSG (from Sclerotinia sclerotiorum), are available in Japan, where lentinan and schizophyllan have been approved as anti-cancer drugs. It is worth noting that many of the animal and human clinical studies of lentinan have been made using an injected form. The efficacy of lentinan when taken orally remains uncertain.
Occasional side effects seem to be restricted to diarrhoea and bloating, which generally goes away after a few days. Allergic responses affecting the skin, nose, throat, or lungs have also been reported by some people.
Note that Agaricus blazeii contains a small quantity of carcinogenic agaritines, which are metabolized by the body into highly carcinogenic derivatives. These can be removed from A. blazeii extracts by specialized processing without adversely effecting its medicinal properties, but not all manufacturers take this step. So before using A. blazeii, it is worth getting clear feedback from the producers concerning the level of agaritines in their A. blazeii products. Incidentally, the commonly consumed button mushroom (A. bisporus) and others of the family (e.g. field and horse mushrooms) also contain agaritines.
Cancer Research UK – “Medicinal Mushrooms and Cancer.” An excellent, definitive and highly significant 700-page scientific report/research synthesis (PDF version). There's also an HTML version.
ICNET A summary of the key points made by the Cancer Research UK's report on medicinal mushrooms.
Mycology News – The Newsletter of Mycology Research Labs, founded in 1997 to develop mycological products.
Fungi Perfecti – The company website of well-known mushroom researcher and writer, Paul Stamets. “A family-owned, environmentally friendly company specializing in using gourmet and medicinal mushrooms to improve the health of the planet and its people.” Includes products, books and much background information on the mushrooms, and how to grow them.
Biomedica – “The Beneficial Effects of Mushrooms: A Preventative and Adjuvant Therapeutic Strategy against Cancer,” by Jason A. Bush PhD (Cancer Research Center, California, USA) and Jason E. Watkin (Biomedica Laboratories Inc, BC, Canada).
Sage Publications – Integrative Cancer Therapies – “Ganoderma lucidum (Reishi) in Cancer Treatment,” Daniel Sliva (Cancer Research Laboratory, Indianapolis, USA).
PubMed (NCBI) – Report on the cancer-inhibitory properties of the reishi mushroom.
Chemfinder – Some useful information on maitake and Agaricus blazei.
American Cancer Society On shiitake mushrooms. The ACS has similar notes on maitake and Coriolus versicolor.
Shiitake Center Health and medicinal uses. An excellent overview.
Amato Role of Ganoderma Supplementation in Cancer Management.
Hepatogastroenterology A multi-institutional prospective study of lentinan in advanced gastric cancer patients with unresectable and recurrent diseases: effect on prolongation of survival and improvement of quality of life.
Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention Antimetastatic Effects of PSK (Krestin), a Protein-bound Polysaccharide Obtained from Basidiomycetes: An Overview.
PubMed Effects of endoscopic intratumoral injection of lentinan in patients with gastric cancer.
Cancer Detection and Prevention Clinical efficacy of lentinan on patients with stomach cancer: end point results of a four-year follow-up survey.
Fruiting Bodies – A UK supplier of liquid mushroom extracts, including good background information and references to scientific studies.
Journal of Chinese Medicine – Their UK shop. Supplier of powdered whole mushrooms made by Mycology Research Labs.
Lifeforce – UK supplier of quality reishi and cordyceps powdered extracts.
New Chapter – US supplier of nutritional supplements, including Paul Stamets’ mycology products.
Organic Pharmacy – A US source of Agaricus blazei, reishi etc.
Biomedica – Concerning their proprietary product Immune Fx, a blend of medicinal mushrooms and other anti-cancer substances extracted from green tea and grapes.
Mitobi Enterprises – A Japanese source of reishi, maitake, shiitake and Agaricus blazei.
Norden.com – A 123-page report on “Phenylhydrazines in the Cultivated Mushroom (Agaricus bisporus): Occurrence, Biological Properties, Risk Assessment and Recommendations.”
Free Radical Research – “Radical Production and DNA Damage Induced by Carcinogenic 4-hydrazinobenzoic acid, an Ingredient of the Mushroom, Agaricus bisporus.”
Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health – A report on the development of liver tumours in mice and golden hamsters, fed throughout their lives on hydrazines from the commonly available button mushroom, Agaricus bisporus, and the wild false morel, Gyromitra esculenta.
Although acupuncture has captured more of western imagination, in China itself, herbal medicine is a more common means of maintaining health. Indeed, herbal medicine is commonly integrated with chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery in the hospital treatment of cancer. For example, a number of Chinese studies indicate that the survival rates of liver cancer patients taking Chinese herbs along with the chemotherapy are increased by as much as 176% over three years. Chinese herbs are generally prescribed on an individual basis, depending on the balance of bodily chi. It is therefore best to consult a practitioner who has experience of treating cancer patients. Among the herbs commonly used in the treatment of cancer and the side effects of chemotherapy are Huangqi (Astragalus membranaceus) and Ji Xue Teng Qin Gao Pian.
Pine Street Foundation – “Chinese Herbal Medicine and Chemotherapy in the Treatment of Primary Liver Cancer.” An analysis of a number of Chinese studies.
Chinese Medicine and Cancer – An extract from Richard Walters', The Alternative Cancer Therapy Book. A useful introduction to the subject, explaining the approach of traditional Chinese medicine.
Complementary and Alternative Healing University – The effect of specific Chinese herbs on cancer cells.
Herbs for Cancer – A list of some of the Chinese herbs commonly used to combat cancer.
Pulse of Oriental Medicine – “Can Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs Treat Cancer?” An honest appraisal.
CancerLynx – “Traditional Chinese Medicine in the Treatment of Breast Cancer.” A series of five articles exploring the integration of traditional Chinese medicine and standard western medicine, with specific regard to breast cancer.
Cochrane Library – “Chinese medical herbs for chemotherapy side effects in colorectal cancer patients.”
J.P. Fratkin – “Treating the side effects of cancer therapy with traditional herbal medicine.” Lists many Chinese herbs, used for a variety of situations and symptoms.
Living Medicine – “Cancer Seminar Notes 1, 2 & 3” (2003). A set of detailed notes from Daniel Weber on the treatment of cancer in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Especially useful for practitioners of TCM.
HomeHerbs – A UK mail order source of Astragalus.
of Light Publishing A useful information sheet.
Like its distant relative, pawpaw, graviola (Annona muricata, also known as the soursop and Brazilian pawpaw) is a small tree, belonging to the family Annonaceae, whose leaves, bark and twigs contain annonaceous acetogenins that have been shown to interfere with the energy production system of cancer cells. It is native to the rainforests of the Caribbean, and Central and South America, where its fruit, bark, seeds and leaves have traditionally been used medicinally by the indigenous people.
Graviola was identified in 1976 as a possible anti-cancer agent, during a plant-screening program instituted by the US National Cancer Institute. Graviola extract has been shown (in vitro) to have antiparasitic, antiviral, antirheumatic, emetic, astringent, and cytotoxic effects. Like pawpaw, in vitro studies have shown that it is effective against multidrug resistant cancer cells.
Unfortunately, like a number of other promising anti-cancer remedies, graviola has become the focus of considerable internet hype put out, especially, by supplement vendors and extremists in the alternative medicine field. Much of what is claimed for graviola is inaccurate, misrepresented or completely unfounded. The fact is that no animal or human studies have been performed using graviola extract, and although it shows promise as a possible cancer treatment, more research has been conducted into pawpaw, which studies have shown to be far more potent as an anti-cancer agent. Furthermore, in the absence of any product standardization, it is uncertain how much of the acetogenins in graviola are actually present in the graviola extracts sold as nutritional supplements. The pawpaw researcher, Dr McLaughlin says that he tested a couple of commercial brands for the presence of acetogenins and potency, and found them worthless. When it comes to the treatment of clinical cancer, there is a significant difference between a crude plant extract, and a refined, concentrated and standardized extract of its active substances.
Since graviola extract interferes with cellular energy consumption, it should not be used as a cancer preventative, but only to combat existing tumours. Side effects are minimal, though overdosing can induce nausea and vomiting. Based on an in vitro study, it is thought that graviola alkaloids may induce neurological dysfunction and degeneration, leading to symptoms similar to Parkinson's disease. This research was prompted by the observation that there is a relatively high incidence of parkinsonian-like symptoms among the West Indian population, where the consumption of graviola fruit is popular. This means that extracts from which the alkaloids have been removed would be a safer option.
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center A brief overview, with linked references to scientific studies.
Raintree Nutrition An in-depth overview from a vendor, with a useful list of references to scientific studies.
Cancer Decisions An excellent antidote to all the overly excited hype put out by a number of supplement vendors and others concerning graviola, also giving the background to some of the wilder claims.
“Curcumin is widely prescribed in Indian medicine as a potent remedy for liver disorders, rheumatism, diabetic wounds, runny nose, cough and sinusitis. Traditional Chinese medicine uses curcumin as a treatment for diseases associated with abdominal pain, and it is used in ancient Hindu medicine as a treatment for sprains and swelling.” (CHM Research report)
Curcumin (the yellow ingredient of turmeric or haldi root) has also been shown in a large number of studies to inhibit the growth of cancer cells. Indications are that it is not only a powerful antioxidant, but also induces natural cell death (apoptosis). It can be used as either the dried powder (say, 1 teaspoonful) in a morning juice, or by juicing a small quantity (say, 4 inches or 50 gms) of fresh turmeric root (available from Asian grocery stores), with a morning carrot and apple juice. No optimal dose of curcumin for cancer cure or prevention has been determined, although there appears to be no danger of overdosing. Note that there are some instances when curcumin in not recommended (see below). Moreover, although curcumin is known to cause the death of cancer cells, it has also been shown to counteract the effect of some chemotherapy drugs, but not methotrexate and fluorouracil (5FU).
The presence of curcumin in the gastrointestinal tract has been shown to inhibit the progress of colorectal cancer. Because curcumin absorption is greatly aided by the presence of piperine, the spicy substance in black pepper (Piper nigrum), it makes sense to add ground black pepper to the curcumin. In fact, piperine has also been shown to be effective in increasing the absorption of certain essential substances such as vitamin B, beta-carotene and selenium. One study indicates that the use of 20 mg of piperine enhances the absorption of 2 grams of curcumin by around 2000%. Recommended daily intake is between 5 mg and 15 mg.
Linus Pauling Institute – Micronutrient Information Centre – An excellent all-round summary of the uses and efficacy of curcumin.
M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, University of Texas – Reports a scientific study demonstrating that “curcumin ... blocks a key biological pathway needed for development of melanoma and other cancers” in mice.
CHM Research – Chinese Medicine Site. The inhibition of cancer metastasis by curcumin and its enhancing effect of the breast cancer drug, taxol – a summary of research conducted at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, University of Texas. If directed to the home page, use chrmd as your username and chimed as your password, then click on research.
Cancer Research – The inhibitory effect of curcumin on some chemotherapy drugs. CHM Research – Curcumin in a medicinal formulation, with notes on when not to use it.
Infinity Foundation – All Purpose Turmeric: Uses, Chemistry. An interesting overview.
Science Forum at Groupsrv.com – A discussion of various studies concerning curcumin and cancer.
AnnieAppleSeedProject – A study into the potential of curcumin and genistein (a soya bean substance) to inhibit oestrogen-induced breast cancer.
Woodlands Healing Research Center – A good overview of nutrition and cancer, with some specific comments concerning curcumin/turmeric.
Piperine Home Page – Basic information concerning piperine.
PDR Health – An excellent, readable scientific overview of piperine, including usage, research summary, suggested dosages, contraindications, adverse reactions, drug interactions, etc.
Nature's Remedy – A UK supplier of standardized turmeric extract, with bioperine (containing piperine, which greatly aids absorption) .
Although no clinical trials have yet been conducted on human beings, “a host of studies provide compelling evidence that garlic and its organic allyl sulfur components are effective inhibitors of the cancer process” (National Cancer Institute). You should be aware, however, that you can take too much garlic (see below).
National Cancer Institute – A factsheet on garlic and cancer prevention. Details some of the harmful effects of excessive intake.
Garlic Information Centre (UK) – An article on garlic and cancer.
Health Castle – The anti-cancer properties of garlic.
American Fitness Professionals Associates – An article: “Garlic Inhibits Cancer and Lowers Harmful Blood Fat”.
A few studies demonstrate the efficacy of ginger root in the prevention of cancer. Since ginger is a blood thinner, it is recommended that you consult your doctor before taking it.
George Mateljan Foundation – The health benefits of ginger, including its protection against colorectal cancer.