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You may also want to visit www.mycotherapy.co.uk for more information on the therapeutic use of medicinal mushrooms.
Are there any side effects?
Exhaustive analysis of data from several large scale clinical trials with mushroom polysaccharides confirms that side effects from mushroom supplements are minimal. In a study of 469 patients taking Lentinan only 32 reported any adverse reaction, none serious (most common were rash/redness, chest oppression and nausea), and a review of a well designed trial investigating the benefit of PSK for gastric cancer in the Lancet concluded that no toxic effects could be observed 'even after meticulous review of all the patient records.
Some people may experience a change in bowel habit, especially at higher intake levels, but this is usually transient, lasting no more than 3-4 days.
Can I prescribe mushroom supplements for patients with candidiasis or other fungal conditions?
The common myth that eating mushrooms will in some way facilitate the growth of candida or other fungal conditions is unsupported by clinical experience and research evidence.
Not only are mushrooms very low in the sugars that are considered by some to promote candidal growth but they also strengthen the body's immune response to all fungi and in some cases contain compounds with direct anti-fungal activity.
But aren't mushrooms considered Damp in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM)?
No. While some mushrooms are considered to nourish Yin energy (ie. Tremella fuciformis - Bai Mu Er), none of them are considered to increase pathogenic Damp. Indeed for two of them (Polyporus umbellatus - Zhu Ling and Poria cocos - Fu Ling) the main use in TCM is as diuretics to Drain Damp and clinically mushrooms can be very beneficial in the treatment of conditions that are considered Damp in TCM, such as candidiasis.
Can mushrooms be taken alongside conventional treatment?
This is a complex area but in many cases the mushrooms used medicinally are also foodstuffs and in the vast majority of cases there are no reported interactions with prescription medication. Indeed mushroom extracts are routinely prescribed alongside prescription drugs, especially chemotherapeutic drugs, in China and Japan.
There is also evidence from research on the combination of Maitake D-fraction (10mg/kg/day) and vancomycine (10mg/kg/day) in the treatment of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in mice that mushroom polysaccharides can improve the effectiveness of antibiotics with an increased survival rate in mice given both the antibiotic and the polysaccharide extract.
Specific cautions are noted in the information on the individual mushrooms.
Are Mushrooms safe for Pregnant of Breastfeeding Women?
Tests with commercial mushroom products show no affect on male or female fertility, foetal abnormality, penetration into the foetus or excretion in breast milk, blood coagulation or arthritis from polysaccharide based products. Neither do they possess teratogenic or genotoxic properties.
However, anti-fertility effects have been reported for Auricularia auricula and neither it, nor Tremella fuciformis, which has similar polysaccharides, is recommended for women who are pregnant or planning to conceive.