Use of Shiitake Mushrooms in Treating HIV, AIDS Symptoms, and Other Diseases

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Historic documents relate the use of the shiitake mushroom in ancient China to the 1st century BCE, where it was referred to as “ko-ko” and “hoang-mo,” and is believed to have been cultivated since that time. Today, shiitake is prescribed

Shiitake has been renowned in Japan and China as a food and natural curative for thousands of years.  According to historical records, in the year 199 CE, the Japanese Emperor Chuai was given the shiitake by the Kyusuyu, an indigenous people of Japan.  Even older documents trace use of the shiitake in ancient China to the 1st century BCE, where it was referred to as “ko-ko” and “hoang-mo,” and is believed to have been cultivated since that time.

Shiitake is currently the second most popular mushroom in the world.  The recent interest in this fungus is partly due to the exotic and delicious taste which is considered far superior to the bland, white button type typically carried in supermarkets around the world, but also because of the growing amount of scientific research that has shown its remarkable curative properties.

Light amber in color, shiitake are found on fallen broadleaf trees, often preferring chestnut, chinquapin (a variety of evergreen), beech, oak, Japanese alder, sweet gum, maple, walnut, and mulberry.  Shiitake are not found naturally in the United States, but have been widely cultivated for several decades now, indoors being the preferred method.

Nutritionally, shiitake contains lipids (essential fats), water-soluble carbohydrates, fiber, a number of minerals including but not limited to iron, zinc, magnesium, phosphorous, and high levels of calcium, vitamins K, B2 and C, substantial fiber, and high amounts of ergosterol (a pro-vitamin which converts to vitamin D in the presence of sunlight).

Two chemicals found in shiitake that are drawing particular interest by the scientific community are Lentinula edodes mycelium extract (LEM) and lentinan.  Both these naturally-occurring substances have demonstrated remarkable anti-tumor abilities when taken orally or injected directly. These two substances are believed to work by enhancing various immune system functions rather than attacking the tumor cells directly. Thus, a diet of shiitake can not only serve to fight tumor activity in the body, it will help build immune defenses against any number of other diseases.

Of particular interest to scientists is that initially it was believed that lentinan only activated defense mechanisms in people who already had compromised defense systems and were actively fighting an invading illness, but had no direct benefit to healthy individuals.  Now shown not to be the case, lentinan has been proven to augment the immune systems of healthy individuals, meaning that a diet rich in shiitake can help people improve their immune systems and build an on-going defense against invading disease.

Another interesting curative factor of shiitake are studies that confirm that lentinan can activate natural “killer” cells in vitro, meaning that both an expectant mother and her unborn are receiving the immune-activating benefits of shiitake when consumed.  Additionally, shiitake can resist conditions in the body that would naturally inhibit T-cell (white blood cell) activation, meaning both mother and unborn are not only resistant to invading disease, both are able to maintain on-going resistance and T-cell production.

One area of particular interest in shiitake research is in regards to the HIV and AIDS symptoms.  Proven to be quite difficult to treat with modern pharmaceuticals, shiitake’s concentration of LEM and lentinan show great promise in their ability to inhibit these conditions, with LEM thought to have the greatest potential.  While lentinan has shown remarkable defense properties against various cancers, bacteria (particularly tuberculosis), and parasites, LEM has been shown to have a direct effect on the HIV, helping to inhibit HIV infection by inhibiting the virus’s ability to replicate, and may be useful in combating AIDS.

(Model of AIDS virus)

In addition to these areas of study, lentinan is shown to have the ability to ward off bacterial infections resistant to antibiotics, slow the growth of cancerous tumors, lower blood levels of cholesterol and harmful lipids, and increase survival time for patients with inoperable gastric cancer and recurrent breast cancer.

Across the board, shiitake is prescribed for many diseases involving compromised immune function including cancer, AIDS, environmental allergies, candida infections, and abnormal frequency of flu and colds, and also seems to be beneficial for soothing bronchial inflammation related to emphysema and bronchitis, in regulating urine incontinence, and reducing chronic high cholesterol.

Note: the vast majority of the curative properties of shiitake is found in the caps.


Medicinal Mushrooms,  by Christopher Hobbs

USF Journal links

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