Researchers prove mushrooms are magic for your immune system

The power of mushrooms has been concentrated, harnessed and combined in a new Australian research project.

The power of mushrooms has been concentrated, harnessed and combined in a new Australian research project. Photo: Getty

The health benefits of concentrated mushrooms have been proven even further with the release of a new Australian study.

It’s been known for some time that certain mushrooms can bolster the body’s immune functions – but an Aussie collaboration has uncovered a holy trinity of fungi that outstrip what science thought was previously possible.

Researchers hope it’s the first step in unlocking the untapped potential of combining different mushroom varietals to achieve maximum health results; a process known as synergising. The formula discovered has since been patented and will be sold to the public.

The popularity of mushroom teas and elixirs – concentrated powders made from various varieties, touting various health benefits – has exploded in the past 12 months.

As with any promise-the-world superfood product, consumers are urged not to believe everything a label promises. Dietitians Association of Australia spokeswoman Melanie McGrice said there weren’t any health ill-effects for most people, but there could be easier (and cheaper) ways of harnessing the powers of mushrooms.

Senior author of the Australian research team, whose results were published on Friday, Joe Tiralongo was reticent to make any comments on the commonly found teas and elixirs, but said their findings gave weight to consumer and industry confidence.

Having fun with fungi

Associate Professor Tiralongo, from Griffith University, said it was well documented that mushrooms have the ability to activate cell immunity in humans.

They do this through their possession of beta-glucans, which humans don’t have. So when human cells come into contact with this foreign body, the immune system starts to fire up and respond.

The research team – Associate Professor Tiralongo, plus staff from the National Institute of Complementary Medicine, the School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences, and Integria Healthcare – started with nine varieties of whole mushroom extract products, all of which are commercially available.

They then tried a range of combinations, testing them against an individual blood sample, until they found the magic trio: a mix of reishi, shiitake and maitake.

(This trio has gone on to be patented by Integria Healthcare and will be sold commercially. Integria Healthcare sponsored this research.)

When combined, Associate Professor Tiralongo told The New Daily, themix created a synergistic process. Basically, the best part of the individual mushrooms came together to create a super-force.

“What we found that was surprising was that the (combination) gave three to four times impact that what we would expect,” Associate Professor Tiralongo said.

That impact was a boost to the body’s immune system, which is one of the main reasons consumers are seeking and taking these sorts of products.

Associate Professor Tiralongo said the research was a successful collaboration between industry and academia that should give confidence and reassurance to consumers.

The next step is looking further afield for more mushrooms that could produce similar – if not better – results.

Don’t be kept in the dark

An accredited practising dietitian, Ms McGrice said it was still early days when it comes to proving the health claims made by mushroom-based elixirs and brews.

That’s not to say mushrooms in themselves aren’t healthy – they’re stacked with nutrients and vitamins, she told The New Daily.

Which is why, she said, people could still find the same benefits from just eating a mushroom in its natural state.

“You’re probably spending between $10 and $30 for the teas, but you think about how many mushrooms you could buy for that amount … it’s probably the same benefit,” she said.

Imbibing a mushroom that’s been concentrated and processed meant people could also lose out on some of their nutritional content, including fibre.

“One of the benefits is if mushrooms are left outside they can absorb the vitamin D from the sunlight, and so by eating the mushroom, you can get a dose of vitamin D, too,” she said.

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