Shiitake Mushroom Against AIDS

The plague of modern humankind has been the common cold. In current times, however, more serious viral infections, some leading to certain death, have plagued society, including hepatitis B (a liver disease transmitted through transfusions, the use of unsterile needles, or other blood-to-blood contact) and HIV (the virus that causes AIDS). Whether shiitake can cure the common cold is doubtful, but an extract of it, called LEM (Lentinula edodes mycelium) shows promise as a treatment for more serious viral infections, including hepatitis B and HIV.

You may have encountered mushroom mycelium while digging in rich soil; it is a stringy, weblike material that looks like a rotted root system. When temperature, moisture, and other conditions are right, the mycelium develops fruiting bodies, or the portions we call mushrooms. In Japan LENI has been the focus of many studies.

HIV: Test-tube studies in Japan have shown that LEM was less toxic to normal cells and more toxic to cells infected with HIV than AZT, a drug that slows the progress of AIDS.

Researchers also found that LEM contained substances that increased cell formation in bone marrow, the site where most immune system cells are born; other researchers discovered that lignins (a main constituent of dietary fiber) in LEM were causing the increases.

In test tubes, LEM lignins have been shown to prevent HIV cells from proliferating and damaging T cells, as well as preventing cell damage from herpes simplex I and II, two viral infections that often accompany HIV infection. The test-tube studies are promising, but clinical studies are needed to determine the effect of the LEM lignins on HIV in the body.

As for lentinan, the shiitake polysaccharide drug, it alone has shown no effect against HIV in test-tube experiments, but a combination of lentinan and AZT has been shown to be 24 times as effective at inhibiting HIV as AZT alone. Trials of lentinan in combination with anti-HIV drugs were approved in Japan in the late 1980s and have shown positive results. A long-term, carefully controlled study at several hospitals in the United States used a similar strategy of giving AIDS patients lentinan in combination with an anti-HIV drug and found the therapy superior to the anti-HIV drug alone.


  • Reprinted from Herbs for Health, 1996.

Shiitake’s lentinan trials against cancer

In 1969, researchers at Tokyo’s National Cancer Center Research Institute isolated a polysaccharide compound from shiitake that they named lentinan. Doses of 0.5 to I mg lentinan per kilogram of body weight caused tumors in laboratory mice to regress or disappear in 80 to 100% of the subjects. Researchers have since demonstrated that lentinan works by stimulating immune system cells to rid the body of tumor cells. In clinical trials, lentinan administered with chemotherapy has increased the life span of cancer patients, improved the effectiveness of chemotherapy and kept tumors from growing.
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Shiitake Mushroom to fight against Heart Disease

The body could not function without cholesterol, which helps break down fats, or lipids, in the small intestine so that they can be absorbed into the bloodstream. In the liver, cholesterol combines with lipids and proteins in the blood to form various complexes called lipoproteins (LDL or “bad” cholesterol). It has been linked to clogged artery walls, which can lead to heart attack or stroke. High-density lipo-proteins (HDL or “good” cholesterol), on the other hand, have been shown to scavenge excess LDL from the bloodstream and carry it to the liver for excretion or processing into good cholesterol.

According to studies performed in Japan during the 1970s, shiitake contains an amino acid called eritadenine that accelerates cholesterol’s processing in the liver. In addition, shiitake’s high dietary fiber helps the body process cholesterol.

In a 1974 study, 40 elderly people and 420 young women ate 9 grams of dried shiitake or the equivalent amount of fresh shiitake (90 grams) daily. After seven days, total cholesterol level (the types of cholesterol affected were not distinguished) had decreased 7 to 15% in the elderly and 6 to 12% in the young women.

Another 1974 study involved 30 young women. Ten added 90 grams of fresh shiitake and 60 grams of butter to their daily diet, ten added only the butter, and ten added only the shiitake. After seven days, the total cholesterol level of the shiitake and butter group decreased an average of 4%, while that of the butter group increased an average of 14% and that of the shiitake group declined an average of 12%. The researchers concluded that shiitake had “completely nullified” the effect of the butter on the cholesterol level of the first group of participants.

Shiitake mushroom and Hepatitis


Active constituentsbeta(1-3),(1-6)D-glucans

The significant antiviral and immune stimulating properties of Shiitake were not recognised until Japanese scientists isolated several important compounds from Shiitake with well-studied pharmacological effects including LEM and Lentinan2.

The major active constituent of Lentinan is a protein-bound polysaccharide. It contains about 24.6% protein and 44% sugars. The polysaccharide of Shiitake is in a triple helix structure containing glucose molecules with mostly beta-(1-3) linkage and beta-(1-6) side chains

In a clinical trial of 40 patients with chronic hepatitis B, LEM improved liver function and reduced viraemia

Traditional use

Records of traditional Chinese use of Shiitake dating back to the Ming Dynasty suggest using Shiitake as a medicinal mushroom to improve stamina and circulation, cure colds and promote good health.
Pharmacological and clinical research

Modern Japanese research has revealed that Lentinan in Shiitake mushroom extract has significant immune modulating, lipid-lowering,
and antiviral properties.

It has been found to be able to activate macrophages and lymphocytes to modulate the release of cytokines, which may account for its antiviral properties.


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