For centuries, various cultures around the world have used mushrooms for medicinal purposes. Modern research backs up what ancient healers and scientists learned through practical experience — studies indicate that medicinal mushrooms (MMs) contain polysaccharides, lysozymes, and triterpenes, which have anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-tumor properties. Some mushrooms contain compounds that stimulate the immune system, and assist healing of the liver, kidneys, and heart tissues.
Much of the current research on medicinal mushrooms has been done mostly in laboratory animals and humans, so this article draws from my own personal experience using MMs in small and large animals for more than 35 years, as well as international studies.
Medicinal mushrooms for cancer
The most common use of medicinal mushrooms is in the treatment and prevention of cancers. Results compiled from research suggest that whole mushroom extracts contain compounds that modulate tumorigenesis and carcinogenesis at different stages. Because they have many different mechanisms and modes of action on cancer cells via the immune system, medicinal mushrooms could potentially provide additive benefits and synergistic effects in the prevention and treatment of cancer.
Besides being Qi tonics in general, medicinal mushrooms can support the treatment of TCM symptoms categorized as Excess Dampness, Damp Phlegm or Damp Heat, which include edema, diarrhea, urinary tract infections, uterine infections, prostate problems, diseases of the kidneys, and inflammation.
In addition to having phytotherapeutic actions, these fungal wonders of nature contain many different vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, protein, and sterols. They are easily administered with little or no side effects.
Their natural habitat may give you clues to their medicinal properties. Polypore mushrooms growing in damp, cool, moist places have diuretic and warming properties.
The powerful three: Reishi, Maitake and Shiitake
1. Ganoderma lucidum (Reishi, Ling Zhi)
Reishi, “The Herb of Immortality,” is my favorite mushroom, both for personal use and to dispense in my practice in various forms and combinations with other mushrooms, herbs, and antioxidants. TCM regards the fruiting body as a nourishing Qi tonic. The “actives” are found in the polysaccharide, lysosomal enzyme, and triterpene constituents of the fungus.
2. Grifola frondosa (Maitake)
Maitake means “dancing mushroom” in Japanese, or “chicken of the woods” in the West. The name probably comes from the fact that this mushroom grows in overlapping groups that resemble butterflies in a wild dance.
3. Lentinula edodes (Shiitake)
Shiitake is an edible mushroom highly appreciated for its nutritional and medicinal properties. In Japan, Shiitake have always been considered an “elixir of life.” Shiitake contain 30 enzymes, ten amino acids, and are high in minerals (Ca, Zn, P, Rb, Se, Cu, Ni, K, Mg, Cd, Fe).
By using Reishi, Maitake and Shiitake together, their individual positive effects become enhanced. Other mushrooms, Chinese herbs, and antioxidants maybe also added to this synergistic base. For example, Trametes versicolor can be added to treat lymphoma or bone cancer, and Cordyceps sinensis can be added to help support the treatment of kidney problems, liver cancers, and hepatitis.
Dosages and indications
Personally, I use both whole herb mushroom extract powders and a few formulations (combinations). The powder forms can be simply added to the food, made into liquid using vitamin B complex syrup or mixed with melted butter.
In general, my dose for dogs and cats is 10mg to 25mg per pound of body weight.
The following dosages are whole mushroom extracts for the most common uses in pets:
Liver disease (hepatitis, cirrhosis, liver dysfunction and liver failure).
• Ganoderma 50mg/lb bid
• Cordyceps 50mg/lb bid
• Antioxidants (NAC, ALA, VIT E, C, Milk Thistle, Shizandra, Astragalus, and phosphatydilcholine)
Kidney disease (geriatric, nephrosis, and nephritis)
• Ganoderma 20mg/lb/bid
• Shiitake 50mg/lb/bid
• Maitake 25mg/lb/bid
• Cordyceps 20mg/bid
• Antioxidants (COQ10, Taurine, Sun-Chlorella)
• Ganoderma 25mg/lb/bid
• Maitake 25mg/lb/bid
• Shiitake 25mg/lb/bid
• Trametes versicolor 25mg/lb/bid (added if Lymphoma)
Immune system deficiency (FeLV, FIV, FIP, chronic infections, and demodectic mange)
• Ganoderma 10 mg (cats) to 25mg/ lb/bid] • Shiitake 10mg to 25mg /lb/bid
• Maitake 5mg (cats) to 25 mg/ lb/bid
Common veterinary uses
Reishi, Maitake and Shiitake mushrooms can be used alone or with other therapies and supplements for a variety of diseases and conditions, and to minimize side effects. The most common include:
• Geriatric diseases with chronic debilitation complex: muscle atrophy, cardiac problems, and weakness (Qi Deficiencies)
• Cancer – use alone or in conjunction with chemotherapy (synergistic effects)
• Cortisone therapy (adaptogenic and hepato-protective) – for side effects
• Cushing’s disease (adaptogenic) – for supportive care
• Severe parasitism in weak puppies or kittens
• Compromised immune systems (FIV, FIP, FeLV) in cats or kittens with viral upper respiratory tract infections
• Hepatitis, liver failure, mushroom poisoning
• As an adjunct to antibiotic or anti-fungal pharmaceuticals (synergistic effect)
• Acute and chronic cystitis (add Poria cocos, Polyporus umbellatus)
• Urinary Incontinence (add Cordyceps sinensi)
The “spirit” of a mushroom
Administering mushrooms, or any plant medicine, in tablet, powder or liquid form does not communicate the “spirit” of the plant to the veterinarian. As you study mushrooms through reading and learning, know there is a next step – to learn the “personality” of the plant by experiencing it in its natural form and environment. Growing medicinal plants or mushrooms in your garden, or looking for them in the wild, will give you a greater understanding and appreciation of their nature. When hunting for mushrooms, remember that they thrive in moist, damp forests with lots of dead organic matter. The underground mycelium neutralizes organic wastes into simple, easily absorbed nutrients. In fact, these great recyclers help tree roots absorb nutrients more efficiently. If you are out collecting specimens, cut only the fruiting bodies above the root bundle, then cover the mycelium with dirt. Try to minimize impact by watching where you step.
Caution: It’s best not to collect your own mushrooms unless you have extensive knowledge of different species and how to tell them apart.
Mushrooms are powerful healers that are easy to administer. They are helpful in many of the diseases and conditions that challenge us in our veterinary practices so I encourage you to consider them as a complementary therapy for your patients.
Mielle was diagnosed with a bleeding hemiangiosarcoma of the spleen. She was weak from blood loss and had not eaten in a few days. The attending veterinarian thought it hopeless and suggested it may be time to think about euthanasia. Mielle was a 14-year-old standard poodle with other issues: osteoarthritis in her knees, spondylosis, and severe KI Yin Deficiency. She was not expected to live long.
Her owners wanted to move back home to Kauai and take Mielle with them, but she could hardly stand. I saw her in August 2012 as they were seeking a second opinion, and prescribed Chinese herbs to quell the bleeding and a tonic for the blood loss. We put her on a formula of the three power mushrooms and antioxidants.
After two weeks of herbal and mushroom treatments, B12 and folic acid injections, Mielle made it onto the plane in the cabin as a “therapy” dog. (The owner had a letter from her “shrink”). She home and recovered her strength, her appetite, and now takes short walks in the neighborhood. As of mid-January, the tumor was stable, her color and pulses good, and she is maintaining a good quality of life in a loving environment. The tumor has not gone away, but the “life” and the “light” came back.
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For an in-depth presentation of “Understanding the Power of Medicinal Mushrooms in Your Veterinary Practice”, email Dr. Basko at DrBFree@drbasko.com.
Products: Whole herb extract powders from: MycoMedicinals, Fungi Perfecti, Mushroom Harvest, Sun-Ten, MayWay. Formulations (combinations) from: RESOURCES, Health Concerns, Seven Forests, and Sun-Ten.