Currently there are over 10,000 known species of mushrooms  , only a small fraction of the hundreds of thousands that exists worldwide. Although well-known crimini and portobello mushrooms provide a nutritious addition to many meals, there are also a number of medicinal mushrooms with a vast amount of significant medicinal and health benefits that scientists are only beginning to discover.
Mushrooms are an extraordinary organism, a type of fungi said to be more closely related genetically to animals than they are to other plants. Like humans, they take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide as a waste product. They also have an enzymatic digestive system and store their food as glycogen, two characteristics unique to animals. 
Critical to the environment, most mushrooms grow from the ground are “decomposers” that recycle decaying plant and animal matter. However, when consumed, they are also a great source of lean protein containing virtually no fat or cholesterol, are low in carbohydrates, and a rich source of fiber, vitamins, minerals and other enzymes. 
Mushrooms, associated with longevity and immortality amongst ancient Egyptians and Asian cultures, also contain a unique antioxidant called ergothioneine, which gives them their medicinal quality. Besides fighting free radicals and alleviating oxidative stress, this antioxidant is able to enter the nucleus of our cells to protect our DNA. Mushrooms are considered antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal and can support a health immune system, normalize cholesterol and lower blood pressure. Specifically they can help combat cancer, diabetes and other chronic diseases and infections, making them a necessary component for lifetime health. 
Besides consuming edible medicinal mushrooms, there are also many natural extracts on the market for immune system health. Below is a short description of three of the most powerful and important medicinal mushrooms that you’ll want to make sure are part of your health regimin for both preventitive and healing use. It’s also important to be aware that the medicinal mushroom varieties are typically tree mushroom.
Shitake mushrooms contain a polysaccharide called lentinan and other virus-like particles, which give them their potent power. Both mice and human studies have indicated that shitake extract can shrink cancer tumors. Shitake mushrooms also help lesson the effects of chemotherapy on healthy tissue, improve the immune system, reduce inflammation, attack cancer cells, kill bacteria and viruses, and even inhibit the reproduction of HIV. Recent research has also pointed out their ability to support a healthy cardiovascular system by protecting our blood vessels.
This mushroom has been used medicinally in Asia for thousands of years as an integral part of Chinese Medicine. Not only is it noted for its ability to extend life span, boost immunity and protect the liver; it is also said to provide spiritual benefits, cultivate peacefulness, open the heart and enhance wisdom. Like many other tree mushrooms, reishi mushrooms will absorb the life force energy and nutrients that a tree has accumulated throughout its life before it begins to die. Like shitake, reishi mushrooms can fight cancer, improve heart health and benefit those with the HIV virus. They are also great for allergies, anxiety, mental disorders, insomnia, bacterial infections and viruses.
Possibly more potent than the reishi mushroom and native to the birch tree, the chaga species may be considered the king of medicinal mushrooms. Its anticancer properties can be partly attributed to its beta glucans (27 different types) and melanin (highest natural source), which is a DNA protectant antioxidant. Like the other mushrooms, the chaga helps fight/prevents cancer, boosts immunity, increases lifespan and helps with asthma/allergies. It is also said to be the most alkaline food in the world due to its high mineral content, including potassium. Like other mushrooms, it is also very high in Vitamin D when dried in the sun.
A few other important medicinal mushrooms with many of the same properties include maitake, corioles (or cloud mushroom) and agaricus.
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Published On: May 31, 2013