How Medicinal Mushrooms Can Improve Liver Health

Last Updated on August 25, 2022

Medicinal mushrooms have long been used as complementary therapies to treat various diseases. Many fear that such mushrooms may harm the liver, but this is far from the truth.

This article looks at the benefits of medicinal mushrooms for liver health. Below is a list of mushrooms we cover within the article – tap on any of them to learn more.

  • Reishi mushroom
  • Lion’s mane mushroom
  • Chaga mushroom
  • Cordyceps mushroom
  • Turkey tail mushroom
  • Maitake mushroom

Reishi mushroom

G. lucidum, more commonly known as Reishi mushroom, is well-known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity.

These properties of the reishi mushroom made it a herb of interest for researchers looking for natural agents with hepatoprotective activity. Findings from multiple studies suggest that reishi can prevent the development of liver injury and fibrosis.

Liver fibrosis can occur when the liver is subjected to:

  • Viral infections
  • Parasitic infections
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Alcohol and drug-induced liver injury

Whatever the inciting cause of liver injury, the principal mechanisms of liver damage are recognized as immune factors and inflammation.

For instance, inflammation is initiated by Nitric Oxide (NO) synthesis. NO synthesis is stimulated by inflammatory mediators such as TNF-α and IL-1β. Studies show that supplementation with reishi can inhibit the production of NO.

But, there are several other mechanisms by which reishi mushrooms may improve liver health. Some of them are:

  • Ganoderma lucidum polysaccharide (GLP) inhibits iNOS protein expression.
  • GLP decreases ALT levels. ALT is often used as a marker of liver injury.
  • It improves liver injury to a tissue level, as shown by studies demonstrating improvements in hemorrhage and necrosis.
  • Decreases granuloma formation, the first step of liver fibrosis in chronic liver diseases.

Studies on Reishi: Liver Health

A study in mice found that GLP administration could prevent liver inflammation. The mice were induced to suffer liver injury through BCG-immunostimulant. In mice treated with reishi mushrooms, the degree of acute and chronic liver inflammation was negligible compared to the placebo group. [1]

In another study, carbon tetrachloride (CCl4) was used to induce liver fibrosis. In liver fibrosis, blockage of blood flow leads to the backflow of blood to the spleen causing enlargement of the spleen. The study found that GLP supplementation improved splenomegaly. [2]

These findings suggest that GLP’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties could protect the liver from undergoing damage caused by harmful external agents.

Lion’s mane mushroom

Hericium erinaceus (HEM), also known as lion’s mane mushroom, is widely used for its immune-boosting, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties.

While its role in Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and mood disorders has been extensively studied, its potential as a hepatoprotective agent has been rarely studied.

Researchers interested in the hepatoprotective activity of lion’s mane believe it can be beneficial in preventing liver damage even in alcoholics. Some properties of HEM that make it a hepatoprotective agent are:

  • It may inhibit alcohol toxicity by decreasing the activity of total antioxidant status (TAOS). TAOS activity is a marker of oxidative stress. Oxidative stress by alcohol or other agents is an initiator of liver injury.
  • HEM suppresses alcohol-induced release and activation of a proinflammatory transcription factor, NF-κB. NF-κB is known to be associated with alcoholic liver disease.
  • In mice subjected to alcohol intoxication, HEM inhibited the rise in levels of AST and ALT, which are both markers of liver injury.

Studies on Lion’s mane: Liver Health

A study on mice with acute alcohol intoxication revealed that Hericium Erinaceus (HEM) prevented alcohol-induced liver damage. The levels of ALT and AST, which are markers of liver damage, were much lower in the group receiving HEM in comparison to the placebo group. (3)

Furthermore, the group treated with lions mane had less fibrosis than the control group. The study concluded that supplementation with 200 mg per kg of HEM limited liver damage caused by acute alcohol exposure.

More studies evaluating the hepatoprotective activity of lion’s mane mushrooms are needed to see its potency in improving liver health.

Chaga mushroom

Inonotus obliquus, also called Chaga, is a medicinal fungus known for its antioxidant activity. As a potent antioxidant, Chaga mushrooms may be beneficial in preventing liver injury. But, only one study on an animal model has looked at the hepatoprotective activity of the Chaga mushroom.

The hepatoprotective activity of the Chaga mushroom may be attributed to its following properties:

  • Radical-scavenging activity.
  • Prevents cytotoxic injury even at low concentrations.
  • Prevents cellular leakage of ALT, AST, and LDH.

Studies on Chaga: Liver Health

A study in rats that examined the hepatoprotective activity of Inonotus obliquus water extract (IO-W) found it to possess potent radical scavenging activity against tertbutyl hydroperoxide (t-BHP)-induced oxidative liver injury.

The study concluded that taking Chaga mushrooms may protect the liver against oxidative damage by free radicals. [4]

Cordyceps mushroom

Cordyceps militaris (CM) is a medicinal herb known for its anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. These properties of cordyceps may make it a beneficial supplement to improve the health of liver tissue.

Researchers believe its hepatoprotective activity and ability to retard hepatic injury is because of its ability to:

  • Elevate activity of antioxidative enzymes
  • Enhance immune system functioning
  • Increased bioactivity of albumin bioactivity
  • Lower hepatic collagen content which would otherwise promote fibrosis

Studies on Cordyceps: Liver Health

Few studies have looked at the role of cordyceps in liver health. A study in a rat model looked at the hepatoprotective activity of a compound derived from cordyceps namely “Compound Codyceps-TCM-700C (CC-700C)”. [5]

The researchers evaluated the ability of this compound to protect the liver against carbon tetrachloride-induced injury. Levels of ALT and AST were both found to be lower in the cordyceps group than in the control group.

Other markers used to evaluate liver injury such as prothrombin time (PT), serum albumin, serum bilirubin, total cholesterol (TC), and triglyceride (TG) were all restored to near-normal levels in those treated with cordyceps.

Turkey tail mushroom

Trametes Versicolor or turkey tail mushroom possesses antioxidant activities and many other health benefits.

Like other medicinal mushrooms, its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties may be responsible for its hepatoprotective action. A few researchers have looked at its potential in improving liver health.

Studies on Turkey tail: Liver Health

Extracts of turkey tail mushrooms were used in a study to evaluate their ability to prevent oxidative stress and liver tissue damage in mice after CCl4 intoxication.

The study found that the turkey tail extracts reduced oxidative stress and prevented liver tissue damage, which makes them beneficial in acute liver damage. [6]

Maitake mushroom

Grifola frondosa, commonly known as Maitake, is a medicinal mushroom with potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory action. Its possible role in protecting the liver against external agents has made it a topic of interest among few researchers.

Although it is known to be beneficial for the health of hepatocytes, the exact mechanism by which it does so is unclear.

Studies on Maitake: Liver Health

Few studies have looked at maitake and its role in liver health. One study in an animal model found that Grifola frondosa polysaccharides (GFP) may be a promising therapeutic agent for treating liver injuries.

Conclusion: Can medicinal mushrooms improve liver health?

The ability of medicinal mushrooms in improving liver health is mostly attributed to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity. Of the known medicinal mushrooms, Reishi mushrooms have the most evidence to back up their hepatoprotective activity.

The hepatoprotective action of other mushrooms has also been studied, but the literature is limited on them. Current evidence indicates a promising future for medicinal mushrooms in improving liver health but further large-scale studies are needed to establish its mechanism, safety, and efficacy.

References:

  1. Zhang, Guo-Liang et al. “Hepatoprotective role of Ganoderma lucidum polysaccharide against BCG-induced immune liver injury in mice.” World journal of gastroenterology vol. 8,4 (2002): 728-33. doi:10.3748/wjg.v8.i4.728
  2. Lin, Wen-Chuan, and Wei-Lii Lin. “Ameliorative effect of Ganoderma lucidum on carbon tetrachloride-induced liver fibrosis in rats.” World journal of gastroenterology vol. 12,2 (2006): 265-70. doi:10.3748/wjg.v12.i2.265
  3. Hao, Lijun et al. “Protective Effect of Hericium erinaceus on Alcohol Induced Hepatotoxicity in Mice.” Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM vol. 2015 (2015): 418023. doi:10.1155/2015/418023
  4. Hong KB, Noh DO, Park Y, Suh HJ. Hepatoprotective Activity of Water Extracts from Chaga Medicinal Mushroom, Inonotus obliquus (Higher Basidiomycetes) Against Tert-Butyl Hydroperoxide-Induced Oxidative Liver Injury in Primary Cultured Rat Hepatocytes. Int J Med Mushrooms. 2015;17(11):1069-76. doi: 10.1615/intjmedmushrooms.v17.i11.70.
  5. Ko, Wang-Sheng, et al. “Compound Cordyceps TCM-700C exhibits potent hepatoprotective capability in animal model.” Fitoterapia 81.1 (2010): 1-7.
  6. Rojas-Franco, P, Cano-Europa, E, Ortiz-Butron, R, Valenzuela-Garza, R, Blas-Valdivia, V & Franco-Colin, M 2015, ‘Efecto hepatoprotector del micelio de Trametes versicolor en un modelo de ratón de la cepa NIH’, Revista Mexicana de Ciencias Farmaceuticas, vol. 46, no. 1, pp. 56-63.
  7. Meng M, Zhang R, Han R, Kong Y, Wang R, Hou L. The polysaccharides from the Grifola frondosa fruiting body prevent lipopolysaccharide/D-galactosamine-induced acute liver injury via the miR-122-Nrf2/ARE pathways. Food Funct. 2021 Mar 15;12(5):1973-1982. doi: 10.1039/d0fo03327h. PMID: 33586729.


Medicinal Mushroom Supplements in the United States and canada

If you are to consume medicinal mushroom supplements, check out our guides below. This will help you identify high quality medicinal mushroom powders and capsules in the United States and Canada.

Medicinal Mushroom Supplements in Australia

If you are looking for medicinal mushroom supplement powders in Australia, check out the following guides:

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DISCLAIMER
The information on this website is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. All information found here is not meant as a substitute for, or alternative to, information from your doctor for ongoing medical treatment you currently receive. If unsure, please consult with your doctor before using medicinal mushrooms. Any content related to cancer should not be considered as prescriptive medical advice and should not be a substitute for any cancer treatment, unless advised by your doctor first. The efficacy of these products has not been confirmed by TGA and FDA-approved research. If you are pregnant or on prescription drugs that thin the blood, consult with your medical professional before using medicinal mushrooms.
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