Inflammation is a response of the immune system to harmful triggers, including pathogens, damaged cells, and toxic compounds. It initiates the healing process and also defends the body against further damage. Inflammation is characterized by 4 classic signs: rubor (redness), tumor (swelling), dolor (pain), calor (heat), plus loss of tissue function.
In a normal, acute inflammation, the occurring events and interactions between various inflammatory components are well-regulated. This should efficiently minimize unnecessary damage to healthy tissues and restore tissue homeostasis. The result is quick healing without leaving byproducts such as scar tissue while maintaining most of the original tissue function.
In some cases, however, several factors can induce prolonged and uncontrolled inflammation that becomes chronic inflammation. This leads to a variety of diseases and tissue injuries. Infectious pathogens, cell damage, and toxic substances can trigger the inflammatory signaling pathways; the most common are NF-κB, MAPK, and Jak/Stat. Uncontrolled inflammation that occurs in several systems at once is called multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS), a dangerous condition that often leads to death.
Current paradigms on inflammation treatment
Chronic inflammation also occurs when acute inflammation fails to heal the tissue and eliminate threats. Cardiovascular diseases, atherosclerosis, type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and cancers are caused by this process. Inflammation-mediated tissue injury is already observed in nearly all organs in the body, ranging from the heart, gastrointestinal system, kidney, brain, lungs, to the reproductive system.
The most commonly available pharmaceutical agents used to treat inflammation are NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and steroids. They work by either modifying several inflammatory pathways or inhibiting the whole immune response. Newer, more specific regiments are becoming available, including targeted therapy and cytokine inhibitors.
Unfortunately, these regimens have some unwanted side effects. NSAIDs are dangerous to either the heart or the gastrointestinal tract, depending on which type is used. Many people are forced to take other types of drugs together with NSAIDs, one of which is gastroprotectant drugs, to neutralize its effect. Steroids, on the other hand, suppress the immune system, resulting in the body being prone to opportunistic infections. Newer drugs are safer, but they come at a higher cost and are more scarce among most health centers.
There are also limited options available to target most inflammatory signaling pathways, such as NF-κB, MAPK, and Jak/Stat. Therefore, researchers are seeking safer, more affordable, yet equally effective substances to treat acute and chronic inflammation in the hope of giving doctors and patients more options in their treatment.
Medicinal Mushrooms for Inflammation
Various healthy, edible mushrooms are known for their positive effects in many health disorders. A popular one, in particular, is Ganoderma lucidum (Reishi). A study evaluated the effect of triterpene extract from Reishi in inflammation. The anti-inflammatory effects of Reishi are mediated by the inhibition of transcription factor NF-κB. In addition, it also suppressed the activity of MAP kinases (MAPK). In a Nature study, it was also found that Reishi can regulate the immune system by suppressing both the Jak/Stat and the T-cell receptor signaling pathway.
Another species is Hericium erinaceus (Lion’s Mane) that is widely consumed in the Far East for its nutritional qualities and health benefits. Lion’s Mane contain a number of metabolic substances such as hericenones and erinacines that play an important role in regulating the immune system. It exhibits anti-inflammatory properties by regulating oxidative stress and inhibiting MAP kinases. In the inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBD) case, Lion’s Mane improves damage in colonic mucosa by downregulating MPO activation, NF-κB, and TNF-α.
Similar to Lion’s Mane, Agaricus blazei (Royal Sun Agaricus) has become during the last years the subject of intense medical research because it shows notable immunomodulating and tumoricidal effects. The fruiting body of A. blazei is rich in β-glucans. In fact , it’s the medicinal mushroom with the highest content in these bioactive compounds. Beta-glucans have been proven to exert an immunomodulating effect by regulating the Th1/Th2 2 immune response and activating the innate immune system. Besides its well-known anti-allergic properties, in a study it was shown to prevent non-alcoholic steatohepatitis by preventing oxidative stress. Similar to Lion’s Mane, it can improve symptoms and quality of life of IBD patients by reducing proinflammatory cytokines and attenuating inflammation effects.
Considering their numerous health benefits, medicinal mushrooms can work as an holistic preventive and an adjuvant measure together with conventional treatments. Mycomedicine gives great promise as a natural therapy for acute or chronic inflammation. The combined use of the standard therapy and mycomedicine can effectively control inflammation, preventing disease progression, and minimize side effects. This leads to improved symptoms and enhanced quality of life of the patients. Deeper investigations are embraced to further evaluate the use of medicinal mushrooms in more patients all around the world.