Yes, you read that right. Certain kinds of mushrooms have immune boosting and anti-cancer effects. Some examples of these mushrooms include Shitake (yes, the same one we eat in Chinese restaurants), Maitake, Reishi, Cordyceps, Coriolus, Agaricus and Cordyceps. The good folks over at Aloha Medicinals have known about this forever. I spoke with Dr. John Holliday who spearheads their research a while back to get the lowdown on this very interesting area. Subsequently, I began using their products on my patients.
And I found they work. They extend life, slow progression, and keep life quality high in dog cancer patients beyond traditional care expectations.
They do this in three main ways. First, they are immune enhancing. Second, they stimulate the immune system. Lastly, they help with the toxic side effects of chemo and radiation.
Coriolus contains two interesting compounds that have attracted major interest in China, PSK and PSP. PSK has made it all the way to stage 3 clinical trials (out of 4). Taken together, PSK and PSP improved survival times significantly for cancers of the lung, stomach, ovary, breast, colon, rectum, the nasal-throat area, and cervix. In addition, they improved life quality, decreased pain, boosted the immune system, and decreased side effects of chemo and radiation. Here is the link. These compounds are very exciting and are found in Aloha Medicinal products.
An extract of Maitake taken by mouth was shown to help human patients live longer and suffer less cancer symptoms in a study out of Japan. Patients with cancer of the liver, breast and lung showed the most improvement, while those with leukemia, stomach cancer, and brain cancer showed minimal improvement. This paper also showed that the immune system was more active in the patients receiving the Maitake extract.
Cordyceps extract did slow the growth of tumors in mice, and was able to protect mice from some of the side effects from the chemo drug taxol in another study. In particular, the mice were able to regenerate their white blood cell counts, as white blood cell suppression is a frequent side effect seen with chemo. Cordyceps was also able to mitigate the effects of radiation toxicity in mice in a further study.
Immune suppression is a big part of cancer progression, and these mushrooms help overcome this problem via immune stimulation.Coriolus, Shitake, Maitake, Reishi, Cordyceps, Agaricus and others contain a carbohydrates in the beta-glucan family. Beta-glucans stimulate white blood cells (lymphocytes including T cells and NK cells, and macrophages) through several mechanisms.
Shitake extract taken orally was shown to increase red and white blood cell formation following radiation in mice. This may have positive effects for chemo agents that cause anemia and low white counts (which many do).
A clinical study is published in the Aloha Medicinals website, showing the benefit of a blend of different medicinal mushrooms in late stage cancer patients. Although they have an vested interest, it is still useful to consider.
I believe these mushrooms (K-9 Immunity, available through Aloha Medicinals), along with their boosting supplements (Transfer Factor) should be considered for a part of the full-spectrum care plan for dogs afflicted with cancer. According to Dr. Holliday, who is collecting large amounts of data on their supplement, he is possibly most impressed with the effects of these products for dogs with osteosarcoma.
A good review of the effects of these mushrooms can be found here. This paper came out of the University of California at Davis, a very respectable college.
Most of the whole mushrooms have an antioxidant effect, which may interfere with chemo and radiation. The use of these mushrooms should be timed after consultation with your vet or oncologist. Additionally, like any supplement taken orally, digestive upset is possible. They should probably be avoided in dogs with immune mediated diseases or other inflammatory disorders. Please discuss this with your vet or oncologist.