What does your dog have in common with a mushroom?
Both species need protection against viruses, bacteria, molds and parasites. The physiological mechanisms which mushrooms have developed to protect themselves against the harsh realities of life can provide a carnivore that ingests them with that same defense!
Mushrooms are fungi – specifically, cap fungi. Fungi are genetically closer to animals than plants, and in the classification of living things, fungi are a separate kingdom. They have cell walls like plants, but the walls contain chitin, like insects. Chitin is a white, horny substance found in the outer skeleton of insects and crustaceans and in the internal structures of other invertebrates. Chitin is what gives mushrooms their meaty texture.
Mushrooms as Superfoods
Like animals, fungi absorb nutrients from plant or animal matter around them, and they cannot photosynthesize as plants do. The amino acid content of mushrooms is comparable to that of animal proteins, and they contain all the main classes of lipids. Mushrooms are the only non-animal-based food which contains vitamin D. They also contain nice amounts of vitamins B, C and E.
Medicinal mushrooms can provide your pet with nutrients that are superior to those provided by most plants, making them true superfoods. This is why most traditional medicine systems include fungi.
Mushroom nutrients are protected by the chitinous wall so their nutrients are released only upon warming. But it’s important to note that most mushrooms contain monomethyl hydrazine, a compound found in jet fuel. It is highly carcinogenic, but inactivated by cooking. This shouldn’t stop you from using mushrooms however, because they are packed with immune regulating properties. Just be sure they are first cooked, for both and your dog.
Mushrooms as immune modulators
What does immune modulation mean? Studies show that constituents present in mushrooms can increase the effectiveness of natural killer cells, T cells, and macrophages, which are an important part of the immune system. They patrol the body for viruses, bacteria and cancer cells.
Mushrooms can increase levels of other normal physiological mechanisms that boost immune function as well. These natural body compounds are complement 3, interleukin and interferon.
These are part of your dog’s natural defense against viruses. Biologically active substances present in mushrooms include terpenes, alkaloids, coumarins, lectins, flavonoids, beta 1,3 D-glucan, beta 1,6 D-glucan, and polysaccharides. You will commonly see glucans listed as ingredients in immune modulating supplements. And now you will recognize these ingredients as constituents derived from mushrooms.
Immune modulation via medicinal mushrooms can help with the destruction and clearance of viruses, bacteria, harmful fungi, parasites and cancer cells. It can also help push the reset button on allergies and autoimmune disease.
Cultural use of medicinal mushrooms
Using mushrooms for medicinal purposes is not a new idea. Ancient cultures have hunted, cultivated and harvested mushrooms for thousands of years to promote wellness and to treat disease.
Modern science has long recognized the efficacy of fungi too. Penicillin was derived from mold and many current pharmaceuticals are derivatives of mushrooms. Fungus-derived cyclosporine has become a commonly used immunosuppressive. First used to prevent tissue rejection in the organ transplant industry, it is also used for the management of dry eye in dogs because it stimulates tear production. You may know it by its brand name, Atopica, which allopathic veterinarians use to manage allergies, inflammatory bowel disease and several other immune mediated diseases where immunosuppression is deemed necessary.
But the whole mushroom is neither immune stimulating nor immunosuppressive, but rather immune modulating. It is when a constituent is isolated that an extreme effect is seen. The fungus and plant kingdoms have a beautiful way of balancing their own internal effects.
Mushrooms as cancer fighters
Mushrooms don’t kill cancer; they help your pet’s body fight cancer.
In studies, extracts of G. lucidum (reishi) containing beta D-glucan were effective in stimulating T cells to release cytokines (interleukens) which have been proven to fight tumor cells. (Essa and Memon)
Lentinan is an immune modulator from Lentinula edodes that triggers Tumor Necrosis Factor and Natural Killer Cells. This is a real substance and a cell type found in the body that can kill cancer.
Mushrooms provide natural antioxidants
Other nutritional benefits of mushrooms include their effectiveness as antioxidants for free radical scavenging. Free radicals are produced as a result of cellular metabolism. Too many free radicals lead to aging, arthritis and cancer.
Synthetic antioxidants are suspected to be carcinogenic, so researchers are seeking natural antioxidants and finding them in mushrooms such as G. lucidum and C. versicolor. Through the power of chemical reduction, these mushroom extracts can donate hydrogen atoms to break the free radical chain. Agaricus spp. has high glucan content, which makes them great at donating hydrogen atoms, which is the job of an antioxidant.
Mushrooms act as prebiotics
Prebiotics feed probiotics, which are the good bacteria in your dog’s gut. Good bacteria prevent diarrhea and constipation, produce B vitamins and support the immune system.
There are three to four pounds of germy ecosystem in the gastrointestinal tract and this system needs feeding. High-fiber mushrooms are perfect for the task: mushroom terpenoids are antimicrobial against pathogenic bacteria, and not against beneficial bacteria.
A 2013 study by the Institute of Food Technologists found that the polysaccharides from the stem of Lentinula edodes and other mushrooms can enhance the survival rate of Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, and Bifidobacterium longum during refrigeration. The mushroom constituents also had protective effects on these probiotics in simulated gastric and bile juice conditions. These results showed that mushroom wastes, which are cheaper than other sources, could be an important new alternative source of prebiotics. (Chou et al, The applications of polysaccharides from various mushroom wastes as prebiotics in different systems)
Kombucha: topical skin and wound healer
You can grow your own kombucha “mushroom”! This is made from a starter fungus you can get from
a friend or order from an online supplier. Dissolve six cups of sugar in Chinese green tea and add this liquid to the starter kombucha fungi. Allow seven to 10 days to ferment, then either offer the fermented tea as a drink or apply it as a rinse to your dog’s irritated or yeasty skin.
This SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast) is considered by many to be a mushroom but is actually a combination of yeast and bacteria. It works well to crowd out bad bacteria but some sources caution that this probiotic tea can become contaminated and cause acidosis. It can also cause significant detox symptoms, so watch the amount you give your dog.
Cordyceps sinensis, the king of mushrooms
From the phylum Ascomycota, cordyceps is the famous caterpillar fungus, worthy of special discussion.
This fungus attaches its stalked fruiting body to a caterpillar larva. The fungi and larvae are collected and sold as a unit and the preservation of this symbiotic relationship may be crucial to the efficacy of the product. Use care when selecting a supplement: some products examined by the FDA contained only rice flour. Not all supplement makers are reputable.
Cordyceps contains important constituents such as polysaccharides, vitamins B, E and K, amino acids and fatty acids. It has been used for lowering cholesterol, protecting the liver and kidneys, anti-cancer, antioxidant, anti-asthma and for balancing blood sugar. A cordyceps extract has been shown to reduce tumor size and prolong survival time in mice with lymphoma.
In TCM Cordyceps is a kidney tonic. Studies have shown beneficial effects against nephrotoxins, which can damage kidneys. Cordyceps increased corticosteroid production and protected the kidneys in studies where it was used with cyclosporine to prevent tissue rejection.
A cordyceps powder inhibited antigen-induced eosinophils in rats and a cultured extract improved respiratory symptoms in 75 to 85 per cent of participants with severe disease in two clinical studies. Eosinophils are a type of white blood cell that increases in the blood in response to allergens.
Mushrooms have amazing potential as functional food medicines and it is easy to see why they can push the reset button on allergies and autoimmune disease. I use these major six mushrooms in every cancer treatment protocol for my canine patients. However, even holistic veterinarians have barely scratched the surface of the potential for these miraculous mushrooms to prevent and treat dis-ease.
Jodie Gruenstern DVM CVA has been practicing veterinary medicine in Muskego, Wisconsin since 1987. She is a certified veterinary acupuncturist and food therapist by the Chi Institute. Dr. Jodie is the owner of the Animal Doctor Holistic Veterinary Complex, an integrated, full-service small animal practice. For more info and healthy products visit www.AnimalDoctorHolistic.com or www.DrJodiesNaturalPets.com.