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Columnist
Add mushrooms to list of cancer treatment tools
By Dr. Patrick Massey | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 9/8/2008 12:05 AM

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When it comes to cancer treatment, I believe that we have finally reached a point where we need to seriously consider incorporating mushrooms into the overall medical approach.

A review article outlining the importance of one specific mushroom - Coriolus versicolor - in the treatment of several types of cancer was published in the recent issue of the Journal of the Society for Integrative Oncology. The article summarizes more than three decades of solid research that showed patients who consumed Coriolus versicolor or one of its extracts during chemotherapy had better survival rates.

The use of mushrooms as a cancer therapy has been common in Asia for many years. Coriolus versicolor is often recommended because of its potent anticancer properties. This particular mushroom grows on the side of trees in many parts of the world, including the U.S. In China, it is called yun zhi (cloud fungus). In the U.S., it is commonly referred to as turkey tail.

Coriolus versicolor is the source of Krestin, arguably the most commonly used anticancer compound in the world. Krestin was first discovered by a Japanese chemical engineer in 1965 and is approved by the Japanese government as an anticancer therapy.

Standard treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy can dramatically reduce the number of cancer cells in a person's body, but ultimately the immune system is responsible for killing the remaining cancer cells. Mushrooms contain a number of unique long chain sugars called polysaccharides. Polysaccharide recognition is one way that our cells communicate and how natural killer cells differentiate between normal and cancer cells. A number of mushroom polysaccharides, especially from Coriolus versicolor, specifically enhance the activity of natural killer cells.

There is significant research to indicate that extracts from Coriolus versicolor show activity against lung, gastrointestinal and breast cancers, with more than 140 papers published in the medical literature, including 43 human clinical trials.

Although Coriolus versicolor and its extracts appear to be safe, I strongly recommend medical supervision during cancer therapy. In addition, safety in children, pregnant women and those with kidney disease has not been established.

• Dr. Patrick D. Massey, M.D., Ph.D., is medical director for complementary and alternative medicine for Alexian Brothers Hospital Network.