According to surveys in the United States, Canada and Europe an average of 35% of cancer patients use Chinese Herbal Medicine during their cancer treatments. Among Asian patients the use of Chinese Herbs is even higher. There are always the questions of both safety as well as drug-herb interactions when patients use herbal medicines concurrently with cytotoxic chemotherapy treatments.
Two of the most widely studied Chinese medicinal mushrooms are Reishi or LingZhi (Ganoderma lucidum, Ganoderma chinense) and YunZhi or Turkey Tail Mushroom (Trametes versicolor, Coriolus versicolor). These are widely used as adjunctive medicinal foods by cancer patients and as therapeutic agents in both traditional and Modern Chinese Medicine. These mushrooms are considered Immune Modulators having an epigenetic impact on the expression of tumor promoter and tumor suppressor genes. Additionally, they act as Immune System Activators influencing both innate and adaptive functions of the immune system, influencing the activity of T cells, natural killer cells and neutrophils and have antiviral and antioxidant properties. Chinese Mushrooms positively impact glycemic control as well as supporting the health and balance of the intestinal microbiome. Traditionally and historically Chinese Mushrooms have been considered to Enhance Overall Health and Vitality, Promote Longevity and Support Cognitive Clarity and Meditation.
In a systematic review by Lam, et al, of 213 studies, including 77 human studies both Reishi Mushroom and Turkey Tail Mushroom were found to be safe when used concurrently with chemotherapy. In some studies, a synergistic effect and enhancement of tumor cell cytotoxicity and clinical efficacy of the chemotherapy drugs was observed. There was a general decrease in common adverse effects such as fatigue, gastrointestinal discomfort, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation. Peripheral neuropathy and hand-foot syndrome were also reduced.
It was noted that PSP, a derivative of YunZhi, did show interactions with cyclophosphamide, potentially increasing the cytotoxic effects. Overall undesirable drug-herb interactions were not reported. Further studies to expand knowledge of pharmacokinetics of medicinal mushrooms is required to understand their mechanisms of action more deeply.
Patients who used these mushrooms while undergoing chemotherapy treatment with a wide range of cytotoxic chemotherapy drugs showed improved quality of life, improved survival, and improved response to treatment. Patients also experienced less side effects and support for maintenance of normal immune function.
I generally do include Chinese Medicinal Mushrooms, including Reishi and Turkey Tail as therapeutic concentrated foods. Hot water extracts of both fruiting body and mycelia are recommended. Companies that product mushrooms on a natural medium yield the most active therapeutic constituents. I do not recommend mushroom products grown on grain or products that contain only mycelia. While these are cheaper, they are of poor quality and do not have the extraordinary life-giving properties of traditionally produced mushrooms.
I recommend 3-6 grams daily of properly prepared high quality mushroom powders as a therapeutic dose and 2-3 grams daily for healthy individuals as a nutritional dose.
Powerful immune enhancing agents are contraindicated in patients with auto-immune inflammatory syndromes, patients receiving immunotherapy with PD1, PDL1 and Checkpoint inhibitors and transplant patients on immunosuppressive therapies. Additionally use caution with patients diagnosed with leukemias and lymphomas.
Lam CS, Cheng LP, Zhou LM, Cheung YT, Zuo Z. Herb-drug interactions between the medicinal mushrooms Lingzhi and Yunzhi and cytotoxic anticancer drugs: a systematic review. Chin Med. 2020 Jul 25;15:75. doi: 10.1186/s13020-020-00356-4. PMID: 32724333; PMCID: PMC7382813.
Carmady B, Smith CA. Use of Chinese medicine by cancer patients: a review of surveys. Chin Med. 2011;6:22.
Lam Y, Cheng C, Peng H, Law C, Huang X, Bian Z. Cancer patients’ attitudes towards Chinese medicine: a Hong Kong survey. Chin Med. 2009;4:25.
Yeh Y, Chou Y, Huang N, Pu C, Chou P. The trends of utilization in traditional Chinese medicine in Taiwan from 2000 to 2010: a population based study. Medicine (Baltimore). 2016;95(27):e4115.
Yuen JW, Gohel MD Anticancer effects of Ganoderma lucidum: a review of scientific evidence. Nutr Cancer. 2005;53(1):11-7. DOI 10.1207/s15327914nc5301_2.PMID: 16351502