Mushroom extracts could offer an immune cell boost

Researchers have found that a combination of mushroom extracts is able to enhance immune cell responses that could ultimately help to boost the immune system, offering protection from attack by pathogenic microbes and from the harmful effects of environmental toxins and carcinogens. 

Associate Professor Joe Tiralongo from Griffith University’s Institute for Glycomics led the research, which has been patented and now published in PLOS ONE.  

Associate Professor Joe Tiralongo.

A key characteristic of mushroom polysaccharides (polymers of sugar) that elicit an immune modulating response is that they are rich in beta-glucans and low in alpha-glucans.  

Mushrooms contain a variety of constituents that are important for supporting health, but the beta-glucans (polymers of glucose linked in a specific manner) are particularly important for supporting immune function. 

The research team analysed nine commercially available preparations from three mushroom species: Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), Shiitake (Lentinula edodes) and Maitake (Grifola frondosa), for beta-glucan and alpha-glucan content, and based on this, three extracts were selected to combine into a formula. 

The team then evaluated the ability of each individual extract and the formula to impact on the expression of certain cytokines (small proteins excreted by immune cells important in cell signalling) in human macrophages (a type of white blood cell). 

The majority of mushroom extracts and the formula were found to be highly potent immuno-stimulators.  

Interestingly, the mushroom formula showed increased potency in the expression of certain cytokines, compared to the individual extracts suggesting a potential synergistic effect of the mushroom formula,” said Associate Professor Tiralongo 

This study represents the first report of a synergistic immune modulating response in human macrophages elicited from a mushroom formula rationally derived from beta- and alpha-glucan content. 

“A synergistic formula with a specific ratio of Maitake, Reishi and Shiitake mushroom extracts provides an increase in immune stimulation compared to the additive effect of the three individual extracts. This now forms the basis for further studies focussed on elucidating the exact nature of this synergistic effect and potentially identifying additional synergistic formulations based on mushroom beta-glucans,” added Associate Professor Tiralongo. 

Professor Mark von Itzstein AO, Founder and Director of the Institute for Glycomics, said the results were impressive.

This is an excellent example of academia and industry working together to generate outcomes that not only inform the scientific community but importantly the general public who consume these products,” he said. 

The research team included industry-based researchers from Integria Healthcare, which has launched a complementary medicine underpinned by the research outcomes. 

The research ‘Synergistic immuno-modulatory activity in human macrophages of a medicinal mushroom formulation consisting of Reishi, Shiitake and Maitake’ has been published in PLOS ONE.