Kidney Coach

Medicinal Mushrooms and Their Therapeutic Effects


You may have heard that medicinal mushrooms are great for our immune system, but did you know that they can also help maintain a healthy cardiovascular system, improve kidney function, combat fatigue and protect your liver? We’ll get to the juicy stuff, but of course, I want to start with the basics. 

The use of mushrooms for medicinal purposes predates modern cultivation and scientific interest for thousands of years. In traditional Eastern medicine, mushrooms were used to treat diseases, increase longevity, and cleanse the mind and spirit. Modern investigations into the medicinal effects of mushrooms began in the late 1960s. Science continues to reveal the efficacy of mushrooms, and new uses for them will undoubtedly continue to be discovered. 

What Counts as a Medicinal Mushroom?

Medicinal mushrooms are deemed as such because they’ve been studied for their ability to improve or sustain health. It is estimated that there are around 700 species of mushrooms with medicinal properties however there are several, more well-known mushrooms that have been used by traditional cultures, especially in Asia but also including regions in Eastern Europe and Africa, and that have been well studied in the scientific literature. These include:

  •     Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)
  •     Shiitake (Lentinus edodes)
  •     Chaga (Inonotus obliquus)
  •     Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus)
  •     Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor or Coriolus versicolor)
  •     Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis)

Health effects of Mushrooms

Medicinal mushrooms offer a wide variety of health benefits:

  •     Antioxidant
  •     Anti-inflammatory
  •     Anticancer
  •     Antidiabetic
  •     Antiallergic
  •     Immune balancing
  •     Cardiovascular protector
  •     Cholesterol-lowering
  •     Antibacterial
  •     Antiviral
  •     Antiparasitic
  •     Antifungal
  •     Aid detoxification
  •     Liver protective

One of the best-known actions of medicinal mushrooms is their immune balancing actions. Let’s have a look at why this activity is so important.

The Mushroom-Immunity Connection

During the last two decades, there has been increasing recognition of the role of the human immune system in maintaining good health. A healthy immune system is critical for not just our physical health but our mental health as well, meaning our immune health plays a key role in our overall health and quality of life. Historically, mushrooms have had a long and successful medicinal use, especially in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for many forms of immune disorders. 

All medicinal mushrooms contain powerful polysaccharides known as beta-glucans, which are primarily responsible for their immune-modulating effects. Beta-glucans have been shown to stimulate the host immune response to defend against bacterial, viral, fungal, and parasitic infections. There is also emerging evidence that beta-glucans may ‘train’ the body’s immune cells to react more effectively when a pathogen is detected. 

So, what does this actually mean?

Well, basically, medicinal mushrooms can improve the functioning of our immune system so we are less likely to succumb to various infections- whether from bacteria, viruses, parasites, or fungi and if an infection does happen to take hold, our immune system is better able to deal with it, which typically means less severe symptoms and a faster recovery.

But it’s not just infections that our immune system acts against. Our immune system is involved in the development of other diseases such as autoimmune conditions, allergies, cancer, and yes, even kidney disease. 

The human immune system is a complex balancing act. When we have an infection or disease to fight, our immune system ‘upregulates’ (becomes stronger) to fight the infection. Too much immune activity, however, can lead to an overactive immune system- which is the case in autoimmune conditions. 

Helping to regulate the immune system is one of the greatest known superpowers of mushrooms. They have been shown to have immunomodulating effects, which means they help keep the immune system in balance- stimulating it when there’s something to fight (such as an infection or cancer) and downregulating it when it’s overactive (such as allergies or autoimmune conditions).

Anti-cancer effects of Mushrooms

The beta-glucans from mushrooms also have anti-cancer activity. Extensive research in this area over the last 40 years has demonstrated that mushrooms have potent anticancer properties that slow the growth of tumors, regulate tumor genes, decrease tumoral angiogenesis and inhibit metastasis or spread of tumors.

Several mushroom compounds are now used extensively in Japan, Korea, and China, as adjuncts to standard radiotherapy and chemotherapy with numerous studies showing significant improvements in quality of life and survival and reduced side effects from conventional treatments. 

Is there a place for mushrooms in kidney disease?

The short answer is yes and here’s why.

I mentioned earlier that the immune system is involved in the development of a variety of diseases, with kidney disease being one of them and this may be news to some people. Obviously, when we’re talking about autoimmune kidney diseases, this relationship between the immune system and kidney disease is more obvious but what about other types of kidney disease?

Well, let’s think about the role of the immune system for a minute- one of its roles is to deal with injury or damage in the body. Inflammation is the immune system’s normal response to injury. We actually need inflammation and the release of the various immune cells that go with it in order to heal. Problems arise when our immune system is underactive and not able to mount the necessary healing response, or overactive which means it doesn’t shut off that inflammatory response when it’s supposed to.

Part of the initiation and progression of kidney disease is damage within the kidneys, the cause of that damage can vary but like damage elsewhere in the body, our immune system is responsible for dealing with it. When our immune system isn’t in balance or functioning appropriately, this damage isn’t repaired properly, and we end up with large amounts of inflammation and oxidative stress within the kidneys which causes even more damage- can you see the vicious cycle that can start here?

So, by improving the function of our immune system, medicinal mushrooms can help with the process of repair that goes on throughout our whole body (including our kidneys) on a daily basis. 

Anti-inflammatory and Antioxidant Actions

Studies also show that medicinal mushrooms contain a variety of different anti-inflammatory compounds and antioxidants, and they can stimulate the activities of antioxidant enzymes such as superoxide dismutase (SOD) and glutathione peroxidase (GSH). 

We know that inflammation and oxidative stress are involved in the development of most chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and kidney disease. Many of the health benefits of mushrooms can be attributed to their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant actions. 

There are two medicinal mushrooms that I wanted to specifically highlight for their benefits when it comes to kidney disease, and they are Cordyceps and Reishi.


Of all of the known medicinal mushrooms, there is one that stands out when it comes to kidney disease and that is Cordyceps. Cordyceps is one of the most famous TCM medicines and medicinal mushrooms and has been traditionally used as an adaptogen and immune-supportive herb, to support the kidney and lung systems. 

Uses of Cordyceps include: 

  •     Kidney disease
  •     Boost exercise performance
  •     Fatigue
  •     Anti-aging
  •     Anti-cancer effects
  •     Diabetes
  •     High cholesterol
  •     Cardiovascular disease
  •     Erectile dysfunction
  •     Asthma

Cordyceps has a long history of use for the treatment of CKD and a Cochrane review of 22 studies concluded that Cordyceps as an adjuvant therapy to conventional medicine significantly decreased serum creatinine, increased creatinine clearance, and reduced proteinuria (protein loss in the urine). It also significantly increased hemoglobin levels and albumin levels and improved lipid metabolism. 

Cordyceps has been researched and shown to be beneficial in diabetic kidney disease, autoimmune kidney diseases such as IgA nephropathy, and lupus nephritis, alongside immunosuppressant drugs in patients following kidney transplant and may help reduce scarring of the kidneys. 

If you’d like to learn more about Cordyceps and its role in CKD, check out one of my previous articles here where I discuss Cordyceps in more detail. 

Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)

Reishi is regarded in TCM as a nourishing tonic and aphrodisiac which tonifies the qi and calms the spirit, in TCM it is referred to as ‘the mushroom of immortality.’ Triterpenoids and polysaccharides are the major active components of Reishi and are well-known for their numerous pharmacological properties. 

Uses of Reishi include:

  •     Anti-cancer effects
  •     High blood pressure
  •     Asthma
  •     Stress
  •     Liver disease
  •     High cholesterol
  •     Obesity
  •     Insomnia 
  •     Fatigue
  •     Lower urinary tract symptoms in men
  •     Kidney disease

Reishi has also been studied in the treatment of kidney disease. Animal studies have shown that Reishi and its variety of bioactive components have potent kidney protective effects and benefits have been seen in the prevention and treatment of diabetic kidney disease, polycystic kidney disease, kidney injury due to ischemia (lack of oxygen), and chemotherapy drugs and injury due to loss of protein in the urine.

In a study of patients with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS) with persistent protein loss in the urine despite medical treatment, treatment with Reishi reduced levels of inflammation in the body suppressed damage to kidney cells, and successfully suppressed proteinuria in all patients.

Other medicinal mushrooms

Many medicinal mushrooms have overlapping health benefits, for example, all mushrooms have an effect on the immune system, but they also have their own unique qualities. Here’s a quick breakdown of some of the medicinal qualities of the most commonly used medicinal mushrooms.

Shiitake (Lentinus edodes)

Actions & Uses:

  •     Anti-cancer
  •     Antiviral
  •     Liver protective
  •     Immune stimulating
  •     Cholesterol-lowering

Maitake (Grifolia grandosa)

Actions & Uses:

  •     Anti-cancer
  •     Immune stimulating
  •     Blood pressure-lowering
  •     Blood sugar lowering
  •     HIV

Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor or Coriolus versicolor)

Actions & Uses:

  •     Anti-cancer
  •     HIV
  •     Respiratory, Urinary, and Digestive tract infections

Chaga (Inonotus obliquus)

Actions & Uses:

  •     Anti-cancer
  •     Immune stimulating
  •     Antiviral
  •     Fatigue
  •     Anti-inflammatory

Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus)

Actions & Uses:

  •     Brain & cognitive support
  •     Stress support
  •     Anti-cancer
  •     Antibacterial
  •     Anti-inflammatory
  •     Cardiovascular health

Final thoughts

As you can see, medicinal mushrooms have a wide variety of health benefits (and I haven’t even included them all!) but for those with kidney disease, you really can’t go past Cordyceps whose benefits have been backed by a number of research studies.

Don’t forget, before starting on any new supplements it’s important to discuss this with your health care provider to ensure they are appropriate for your use and alongside any medications you may be taking.

Hopefully, you’ve found this overview of medicinal mushrooms interesting, please let me know by clicking the ‘SHARE’ button below or leaving a comment on our Facebook page

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