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the best medicinal mushrooms for arthritis

The 4 Best Medicinal Mushrooms For Arthritis

Arthritis is a long-term condition where the body's immune system mistakenly attacks the joints, leading to inflammation and damage. It is estimated that among the 20+ million people in the UK with muscle pain, joint pain, and back pain, around 9.5 million have some form of arthritis, with osteoarthritis affecting an estimated 8.5 million.

Causes of Arthritis

The main causes of arthritis include:

  • Wear and tear from overuse or overtraining
  • Age, especially when you’re over 50 years old
  • Obesity, especially in foot or knee arthritis
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Genetics
  • Muscle weakness

Symptoms

The common symptoms of arthritis include:

  • Limited range of motion
  • Clicking or popping
  • Muscle weakness around the joint area
  • Morning stiffness around one or multiple joint areas
  • Grating or scraping feeling in the knees
  • Bony growths in the fingers

Depending on the type of arthritis, it may also cause fatigue, low-grade fever, and inflammation of the mouth and eyes.

Traditional Treatments

The most common medical treatments for arthritis include steroids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs, analgesics, and pain creams or relievers. However, most practitioners recommend combining arthritis medication with weight loss (if necessary), physical therapy or light exercise, and supplements.

Due to the inflammatory nature of arthritis, most recommend supplements with anti-inflammatory effects. This can come from antioxidants, fatty acids, some vitamins, and even plant extracts like curcumin. 

Recently, researchers have been looking at mushrooms and their potential anti-inflammatory benefits.

The Science Behind Arthritis

Before we dive into how mushrooms can help manage arthritis, it’s important to understand the intricate relationship between arthritis, oxidative stress, and inflammation.

Oxidative Stress as a Culprit

At the core of this intricate connection is oxidative stress, a physiological imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in the body. While free radicals are natural byproducts of cellular processes, their overproduction can occur due to various factors such as stress, dietary choices, and environmental exposures. In the context of arthritis, oxidative stress emerges as a key culprit, contributing to the damage of cellular components, including DNA, and triggering inappropriate cell death (apoptosis).

Inflammation's Role in Arthritis

Inflammation, the body's response to injury or harmful stimuli, is a protective mechanism designed to eliminate the cause of cell injury, clear out damaged cells, and initiate tissue repair. However, in the case of arthritis, this normally beneficial process becomes dysregulated. Prolonged or excessive inflammation in the joints characterises inflammatory arthritis, leading to structural damage and ongoing pain.

The Vicious Cycle

The connection between arthritis, oxidative stress, and inflammation forms a vicious cycle. Oxidative stress triggers the release of pro-inflammatory signals, leading to an inflammatory response in the joints. In turn, chronic inflammation perpetuates oxidative stress, creating a self-sustaining loop that contributes to the progression of arthritis.

Mushrooms for Arthritis

When people hear the word “mushroom,” they associate it with the fungus that seems to grow anywhere there's a dead tree or the kind you mix in delectable dishes. However, some mushrooms have been studied for their medicinal properties such as anti-inflammatory compounds which are found in medicinal mushrooms such as Cordyceps, Chaga, Reishi, and Shiitake and could be a natural aid for those with arthritis. 

Chaga

Chaga contains over 200 bioactive compounds and molecules known to exert antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It grows on several trees, such as spruce, alder, and birch. Researchers suggest its medicinal properties are due to its terpenes, beta-glucans, chitin, and melanin content—the very substance that gives it its charcoal-like colour.

Chaga's ability to neutralise free radicals helps break the cycle of oxidative stress, offering relief to the cellular components within the joints. Chaga’s metabolites contribute to the preservation of DNA health by shielding it from the damaging effects of oxidative stress. Notably, a study illustrated that human blood cells treated with chaga mushroom extracts before exposure to the free radical H2O2 exhibited 40% less DNA damage compared to those not subjected to pretreatment [1].

Studies also suggest that Chaga's metabolites, beyond boosting antioxidants, contain substances that contribute to anti-inflammation, potentially alleviating symptoms such as pain and stiffness associated with arthritis [2].

The mushroom's impact extends beyond antioxidants; Chaga also modulates the release of specific cytokines associated with inflammation, contributing to a more balanced inflammatory response [3]. Studies also indicate that Chaga acts as an inhibitor of nitric oxide (NO) and COX-2, providing a potential explanation for its ability to alleviate temporary discomfort [3, 4].

Cordyceps

Cordyceps is a type of parasitic fungi that grows on insect larvae. Because of its unconventional cultivating method, Cordyceps has been largely known as one of the most expensive mushrooms in the world. A lab-made version called cordyceps militaris allows mass production for supplement purposes to be more practical and affordable while possessing the same quality of medicinal properties.

For arthritis, Cordyceps possess a compound called cordycepin, which has been studied for its unique anti-inflammatory properties. In animal studies, cordycepin has been shown to reduce both pain and stop arthritis progression. [5]

Cordycepin works by blocking a special protein called CPS4 that triggers inflammation, especially in cases of osteoarthritis. Researchers notably stated it works differently from most anti-inflammation medication by attacking the same target from a different angle by blocking cps4 instead of the usual cytokines and interleukin proteins. This makes the mushroom a potential suitable complementary treatment for inflammatory conditions. [5]

Reishi

Reishi is known to be one of the best medicinal mushrooms for improving sleep as well as managing allergy symptoms. Reishi contains triterpenoids, peptidoglycans, and beta d-glucans, all of which are known to possess anti-inflammatory properties.

Reishi’s polysaccharides, in particular, show promise in helping manage rheumatoid arthritis by reducing inflammation, influencing immune responses, preventing excessive blood vessel growth, and protecting bones and cartilage. [6]

Reishi’s polysaccharides have been found to help manage arthritis in the following ways:

  • Anti-inflammatory effects: Reducing the growth and movement of cells causing inflammation in the joints, as well as adjusting the balance of different chemicals that contribute to joint inflammation.
  • Immunomodulatory effects: Influencing cells responsible for presenting antigens, affecting how immune cells function. Polysaccharides also balance immune responses, regulating the production of antibodies and the activity of immune cells.
  • Anti-Angiogenic effects: Hindering the formation of new blood vessels, which is beneficial in preventing excessive growth of blood vessels in inflamed joints.
  • Osteoprotective effects: Inhibiting the production of substances that harm bone and cartilage, as well as promoting the formation of bone cells, thus protecting joints and bones.

Shiitake

Shiitake contains beta d-glucans, a compound known to reduce inflammation and reduce cholesterol absorption. 

The beta-glucans in Shiitake play a role in regulating an overly active immune response by influencing anti-inflammatory cytokines [7]. This can aid in reducing inflammation, thus helping combat symptoms of arthritis.

In a 2011 study, Shiitake mushrooms were credited with helping lower the severity of arthritis in animal subjects. A 2018 study also noted its inherent alkalizing effect could help reduce uric acid crystals from depositing in the joints. Shiitake achieves this by increasing the amount of uric acid the body removes through urination. [8, 9]

Arthritis is often linked to the presence of these uric acid crystals in the joints. By promoting the removal of uric acid, Shiitake mushrooms may play a role in reducing the risk or severity of arthritis, providing a potential benefit for joint health.

In exploring the potential of mushrooms in managing arthritis, we uncover nature's allies in the fight against inflammation and oxidative stress. Chaga, Cordyceps, Reishi, and Shiitake, each with unique compounds, showcase promising anti-inflammatory properties. From neutralising free radicals to modulating cytokines, these mushrooms offer a natural avenue for addressing arthritis symptoms. As research progresses, the role of mushrooms in supporting joint health opens new possibilities in holistic approaches to arthritis management.

To learn about what to look for when choosing a quality mushroom supplement, click here.

 

Resources

  1. Park, Y.K., Lee, H.B., Jeon, E.J., Jung, H.S., Kang, M.H. 2008, ‘Chaga mushroom extract inhibits oxidative DNA damage in human lymphocytes as assessed by comet assay’, BioFactors, vol. 21, no. 1-4, pp. 109-112. <https://doi.org/10.1002/biof.552210120>
  2. Lull C, Wichers HJ, Savelkoul HF. Antiinflammatory and immunomodulating properties of fungal metabolites. Mediators Inflamm. 2005 Jun 9;2005(2):63-80. doi: 10.1155/MI.2005.63. PMID: 16030389; PMCID: PMC1160565.
  3. Van, Q., Nayak, B.N., Reimer, M., Jones, P.J.H., Fulcher, R.G., Rempel, C.B. 2009, ‘Anti-inflammatory effect of Inonotus obliquus, Polygala senega L., and Viburnum trilobum in a cell screening assay’, Journal of Ethnopharmacology, vol. 125, no. 3, pp. 487-493. <https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jep.2009.06.026>
  4. Park, Y.M., Won, J.H., Kim, Y.H., Choi, J.W., Park, H.J., Lee, K.T. 2005, ‘In vivo and in vitro anti-inflammatory and anti-nociceptive effects of the methanol extract of Inonotus obliquus’, Journal of Ethnopharmacology, vol. 101, no. 1-3, pp. 120-8. <https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jep.2005.04.003>
  5. Ashraf SA, Elkhalifa AEO, Siddiqui AJ, Patel M, Awadelkareem AM, Snoussi M, Ashraf MS, Adnan M, Hadi S. Cordycepin for Health and Wellbeing: A Potent Bioactive Metabolite of an Entomopathogenic Cordyceps Medicinal Fungus and Its Nutraceutical and Therapeutic Potential. Molecules. 2020 Jun 12;25(12):2735. doi: 10.3390/molecules25122735. PMID: 32545666; PMCID: PMC7356751.
  6. Meng M, Yao J, Zhang Y, Sun H, Liu M. Potential Anti-Rheumatoid Arthritis Activities and Mechanisms of Ganoderma lucidum Polysaccharides. Molecules. 2023 Mar 8;28(6):2483. doi: 10.3390/molecules28062483. PMID: 36985456; PMCID: PMC10052150.<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10052150/>
  7. Da Silva, A. C., & Jorge, N. (2011). Antioxidant Properties of Lentinus edodes and Agaricus Blazei Extracts. Journal of Food Quality, 34, 386-394. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1745-4557.2011.00416.x
  8. Kupcova K, Stefanova I, Plavcova Z, Hosek J, Hrouzek P, Kubec R. Antimicrobial, Cytotoxic, Anti-Inflammatory, and Antioxidant Activity of Culinary Processed Shiitake Medicinal Mushroom (Lentinus edodes, Agaricomycetes) and Its Major Sulfur Sensory-Active Compound-Lenthionine. Int J Med Mushrooms. 2018;20(2):165-175. doi: 10.1615/IntJMedMushrooms.2018025455. PMID: 29773008
  9. De Silva D.D., Rapior S., Hyde K.D., Bahkali A.H. Medicinal Mushrooms in Prevention and Control of Diabetes Mellitus. Fungal Divers. 2012;56:1–29. doi: 10.1007/s13225-012-0187-4.
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