Medicinal Mushrooms for Multiple Sclerosis
Medicinal mushrooms have a long history of use in Asia and are quickly gaining acceptance elsewhere for a variety of health challenges, including cancer and enhancing immune function. Thus far research concerning their use for multiple sclerosis in particular has been limited, but at least two medicinal mushrooms have shown some promise.
Lion’s mane mushroom
Lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus) is one medicinal mushroom that has been studied for its potential in treating neurological disorders, including damaged nerve cells. In particular, it’s been suggested in animal studies that lion’s mane can promote the production of myelin and boost nerve growth.
One such study involved giving lion’s mane extract to rats that had experienced nerve crush injury. A control group that was not treated with the mushroom extract was used for comparison.
Rats treated with lion’s mane demonstrated improvements in various factors that promoted peripheral nerve regeneration. Specifically, the treated rats had greater immune system activity for protein kinase B and mitogen-activated protein kinase, both of which are involved in nerve regeneration. The authors concluded that “H. erinaceus is capable of promoting peripheral nerve regeneration after injury.”
In a 2013 report in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, a team from the University of Malaya reviewed the research concerning the ability of lion’s mane to regenerate damaged nerves. They noted that
- Extracts of the mushroom increased the activity nerve growth factor (NGF) in the lab. NGF has been shown to promote the protection and survival of oligodendrocytes (cells that produce myelin) as well as regulate “key structural proteins that comprise myelin” and induce the “production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor,” which also is involved in myelination.
- Extracts have also reduced a certain type of cell death, which the authors noted “may reduce the risk of neurodegenerative disease-induced cell death”
- In one of the few human studies reported, older adults with mild cognitive impairment showed improvement after taking 250-mg supplements of the medicinal mushroom three times a day for 16 weeks
Willow bracket mushroom
Another mushroom that may eventually prove be helpful in multiple sclerosis is willow bracket (Phellinus igniarius). Recently scientists gave an extract of the mushroom to mice with experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), a commonly used model for MS.
Use of the mushroom extract was associated with suppression of demyelination and a profound decrease in the daily incidence rate of EAE. Willow bracket also was shown to suppress the infiltration of numerous immune cells involved in multiple sclerosis, including CD4+ T cells and CD8+ T cells, among others. Overall, the authors concluded that this mushroom extract “may have a high therapeutic potential for ameliorating multiple sclerosis progression.”
Researchers are also considering the possible role of other medicinal mushrooms in restoring nerve function in multiple sclerosis. Among the more common fungi in this category are reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), maitake (Grifola frondosa), cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis), shiitake (Lentinula edodes), and turkey tail (Trametes versicolor). Currently these fungi are most often valued for their immune-boosting properties, a characteristic that also can benefit individuals with MS.
Medicinal mushrooms, especially those that have shown some nerve-promoting abilities, seem to be a natural treatment option to watch if you have multiple sclerosis. While waiting for more definitive findings to be reported, it may be worth talking to a healthcare professional about medicinal mushrooms for immune enhancement.
Also read about alternative treatments for multiple sclerosis
Acosta CM et al. Exploring the role of nerve growth factor in multiple sclerosis: implications in myelin repair. CNS & Neurological Disorders Drug Targets 2013 Dec; 12(8): 1242-56
Li L et al. A mushroom extract Piwep from Phellinus igniarius ameliorates experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis by inhibiting immune cell infiltration in the spinal cord. Biomedical Research International 2014; 2014:218274
Sabaaratnam V et al. Neuronal health—can culinary and medicinal mushrooms help? Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine 2013 Jan-Mar; 3(1): 62-68
Wong KH et al. Hericium erinaceus (Bull:Fr) pers, a medicinal mushroom, activates peripheral nerve regeneration. Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine 2014 Aug 26