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Medicinal Mushrooms for Flu Defense

Can They Boost Your Immunity?


Updated June 19, 2014

What Are Medicinal Mushrooms?

In traditional Chinese medicine, medicinal mushrooms - such as shiitake, maitake, and reishi - are used to boost immunity and fend off colds and flu.

Found to possess virus-fighting, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties, medicinal mushrooms also contain compounds (called polysaccharides) that may help stimulate the immune system.

Medicinal Mushrooms for Flu Prevention:

Although medicinal mushrooms have yet to be extensively researched as a means of flu prevention, several studies suggest that certain mushrooms may offer flu-fighting benefits.

1) Maitake

In a 2008 study, scientists found that treating cells with extracts of maitake mushrooms (also known as Grifola frondosa) helped promote the production of proteins responsible for activating the immune system in response to infection. This effect could help slow the growth of the flu virus, according to the study's authors.

2) Cordyceps

Polysaccharides derived from cordyceps (Cordyceps militaris) may help protect against the flu by moderating the function of macrophages (a type of white blood cell that kills microorganisms and stimulates other immune cells into action), according to a 2007 study on mice.

3) Gypsy Mushroom

Findings from a study published in 1999 demonstrate that extracts of the gypsy mushroom (Rozites caperata) may help fight the flu virus.

More Benefits of Medicinal Mushrooms:

Preliminary evidence indicates that medicinal mushrooms may provide health benefits beyond fighting the flu. In a 2004 study, for instance, participants taking a reishi-based powder had an "acute increase" in their antioxidant capacity. And in a study published in 2001, researchers found that maitake extract improved symptoms in rats with diabetes.

How to Use Them:

Available in some health food stores, medicinal mushrooms are often sold as liquid blends containing several different mushrooms. Medicinal mushroom formulas can also be obtained directly from practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine.

In many cases, practitioners recommend taking medicinal mushrooms throughout flu season in order to rev up your immune system.

Are Medicinal Mushrooms Safe?

Although medicinal mushrooms are generally considered safe, they may trigger such adverse effects as nausea and dry throat. In addition, over-stimulating the immune system could theoretically be associated with lymphoma (a type of immune system cancer) or another negative effect. Well-designed research studies are needed.

Therefore, if you're considering using medicinal mushrooms, make sure to consult your physician first.


Horio H, Ohtsuru M. "Maitake (Grifola frondosa) improve glucose tolerance of experimental diabetic rats." J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 2001 47(1):57-63.

Obi N, Hayashi K, Miyahara T, Shimada Y, Terasawa K, Watanabe M, Takeyama M, Obi R, Ochiai H. "Inhibitory Effect of TNF-alpha Produced by Macrophages Stimulated with Grifola frondosa Extract (ME) on the Growth of Influenza A/Aichi/2/68 Virus in MDCK Cells." Am J Chin Med. 2008;36(6):1171-83.

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