Your Endocannabinoid System, Part 2: The ECS and Its Role in Health and Disease

Your Endocannabinoid System, Part 2: The ECS and Its Role in Health and Disease

In the previous article (Part 1), we discussed the basics of the endocannabinoid system (ECS). We talked about the two main endocannabinoids, cannabinoid receptors, and their role in maintaining physiological balance within the body. Here in Part 2, we look at a small selection of health conditions and the role our ECS plays.

 

Pain

 

Pain is both a general and common symptom of many diseases and even considered a condition itself.  Although chronic and/or severe pain is one of the worst things anyone can live with, there aren’t many safe pharmacological options available. In fact, one of the most prescribed classes of drugs (opioids) are notorious for there potential for abuse and corresponding death rate. The most promising approach, based on recent research, appears to be the ECS. Modifying the activity of the ECS with phytocannabinoids has shown to provide benefit to multiple forms of pain in a variety of clinical trials.

 

Since CB1 receptors are found throughout the nervous systems in areas associated with pain, and because CB2 receptors are also involved in blunting the sensation of pain, THC, CBD, and anandamide can effectively reduce pain through its action on the ECS. Further, these cannabinoids can also work synergistically with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, such as acetaminophen) to enhance their effectiveness.

 

Obesity and Diabetes

 

Most people already know that smoking cannabis can often bring on the “munchies.” Many times, this well-known effect of cannabis is used therapeutically in cases of cachexia (muscle wasting syndrome seen with cancer) or anorexia. By interacting with various tissues (including fat, muscle, liver, and the pancreas), CB1 receptors encourage the body to store energy/calories as fat. It’s no wonder the dysfunction of the ECS is linked to obesity. CB1 receptors are up-regulated in the liver and fat tissues in various types of obesity, and this has been linked to weight gain.

 

Logically, most would think that inhibiting CB1 would counter this effect and even be exploited therapeutically as an anti-obesity strategy. In fact, this has been tried—with disastrous results. This is because CB1 receptors control a lot more than just weight, and as with biology in general, the deeper we go, we reveal a picture of increasing complexity, not simplicity. This is a perfect example, of the saying, “a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing.” Without a full understanding, you can arrive at the wrong conclusions, and studies have revealed that cannabis consumption—even with its CB1 activation—does not correlate with obesity.

 

In fact, a 2011 study found that obesity rates were about one-third lower in people who regularly smoked cannabis (at least three times per week) compared to those who did not use cannabis at all. This observation remained true even after other factors were accounted for, like age, sex, and cigarette smoking. Another study in 2013 found that current cannabis users (compared to non-users) had fasting insulin levels that were 16% lower, had higher HDL cholesterol levels (the “good” cholesterol), as well as a smaller waist circumference. Observations were even better among those who reported recent cannabis use.

 

This suggests that the ECS is involved in preventing metabolic syndrome, and there are numerous studies that confirm this. Metabolic syndrome involves glucose/insulin regulation, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, blood pressure, and obesity. When endocannabinoid concentrations or receptor activation is unbalanced, it can result in increased abdominal fat storage, and higher risk of atherosclerosis, and type 2 diabetes.

 

Cardiovascular Health

 

The ECS is extensively involved in cardiovascular regulation, and CB1 receptors mediate many cardiovascular processes, including the dilation of blood vessels, and functioning of the heart. Discussed below are a number of cardiovascular conditions that are known to be modulated by the ECS.

 

Ischemia: Ischemia is the term used when blood flow is restricted. Maintaining proper blood flow is critical and anyone who has experienced angina (chest pain from reduced blood flow), a heart attack (blood flow blockage in the heart), or stroke (blockage in the brain) will know just how important it is. In one study, researchers administered CBD prior to ischemia as well as reperfusion injury (which is a negative consequence of restoring blood flow after ischemia). Results showed that CBD enhanced anandamide signalling, which caused a reduction in cell death and reduced the number of irregular heartbeats.

 

Atherosclerosis: Atherosclerosis is a condition that can increase the risk of other more sinister conditions, including a heart attack or stroke, and is one precursor to ischemia. Less serious consequences, but no less desirable, are things like erectile dysfunction and dementia. It is characterized by plaques that inhibit blood flow. The ECS is known to be active in cases of atherosclerosis, and given the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant functions of cannabinoids (both phyto- and endocannabinoids), they may be useful for addressing the health of the vascular system.

 

The immune-related cells found in atherosclerotic plaque are known to express CB2 receptors. Even though THC predominantly binds to CB1, here it exerts an anti-inflammatory effect via CB2 activation—potentially slowing progression of the plaques. However, most of the benefits probably come from 2-AG since it has a much stronger affinity for CB2.

 

Hypertension: Known as the “silent killer” since it can go unnoticed until it’s too late, hypertension can cause significant damage to the heart, arteries, brain, eyes, and kidneys. While we discussed CB2 receptors in arterial plaque, it should be pointed out that CB1 receptors outnumber CB2 throughout the cardiovascular system. Activating CB1 receptors with anandamide or THC can lower blood pressure. In fact, the higher the blood pressure, the greater effect anandamide and THC have—just as we’d expect for a regulator of homeostasis. In other words, the individuals with the highest blood pressure would receive the most benefit.

 

Brain, Cognition, and Neurological Health

 

Studies have shown that the ECS is involved in protecting the nervous system and nerve cells in a wide variety of situations. From acute injuries to the brain or nerves, to chronic neurodegenerative disorders (like multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease), the ECS is constantly helping to bring a pathological state back to balance and health.

 

Traumatic Brain Injuries: The ECS also activates a number of other signalling pathways that protect cells. The ECS and cannabis have shown to be involved in modulating mitochondrial metabolic rate and oxygen demand. It allows cells to have greater survivability in the face of low oxygen levels or reduced blood flow. For example, both anandamide and 2-AG protect nerve cells in the cerebral cortex when deprived of oxygen and glucose (the brain’s main source of fuel). This is especially useful in cases of traumatic brain injury, and a recent study published in the latter part of 2014 revealed the incredible level of neuroprotection endowed by THC. In this study involving over 400 patients suffering from traumatic brain injury, researchers found that those testing positive for THC had an 80% lower probability of dying than patients who tested negative for THC.

 

Multiple Sclerosis: Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease where the body’s immune system attacks the its own cells (an autoimmune disease). In MS the immune system’s target is the myelin sheaths that surround and insulate the “arms and legs” of the nerve cells, which allow nerve signals and communication to proceed normally. As more and more neurons lose their myelin sheaths, nerve communication and signalling gets progressively worse. Two common symptoms of MS are spasticity and tremors, both of which appear to be helped by cannabis via activation of CB1 and CB2 receptors. A couple double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials have confirmed that both THC and CBD can improve many aspects of MS in humans, including spasticity, mobility issues, pain, and bladder problems.

 

Alzheimer’s Disease: While there are many forms of dementia, the most common form is Alzheimer’s disease, which is characterized by the accumulation of toxic proteins in the brain (called beta-amyloid). Although there are currently no conventional medical treatments for this disease, there are varying degrees of success being reported with specific dietary protocols and natural therapies—including cannabis. Here again, the CB1 receptor plays an important role, where its activation inhibits the toxic effects of beta-amyloid through a number of ways. CB2 receptors also play an important role here, where it can then help reduce inflammation.

 

Anxiety: Anxiety is a great example of the balancing act of the ECS, and also shows how the right substance in the right amounts (not too little, not too much) will bring about homeostasis in a person. Here, research has shown that small quantities of cannabinoids such as THC has an anti-anxiety effect. However, as many novice cannabis users can attest to, the same compounds can result in anxiety when taken in higher doses. Similarly, both blocking and overstimulating the CB1 receptor has the same effect of causing anxiety, which is a clear example of this fine balancing act.

Gastrointestinal Disorders

 

Even though most people associate the gastrointestinal (GI) system with digestion, in actual fact, it plays a major role in many body systems and functions. It is the throne of the immune system (with a estimated 70-80% of the immune system being located in the GI system), and plays a major role in health of the nervous system (including mood and cognition), cardiovascular health, skin health, etc. CB1 receptors, along with the endocannabinoids anandamide and 2-AG, are prominently distributed throughout the nerves that regulate the GI tract. CB2 receptors are also present, including on a type of white blood cell called a macrophage. The ECS is involved in many functions of the GI system, including stomach acid secretion and GI motility (the muscle contractions that move food through the GI tract).

Activation of CB1 and/or CB2 receptors inhibit GI motility. This would suggest phytocannabinoids would be useful in cases of diarrhoea, and a clinical trial has confirmed this. Further, numerous studies have shown anandamide protects against ulcerative colitis (a form of inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD). As with other conditions, the ECS is often up-regulated as a protective mechanism.

 

Other than ulcerative colitis, IBD can also refer to Crohn’s disease. A small pilot study in 2013 examined the effectiveness of cannabis therapy for Crohn’s disease. In this double-blind, placebo-controlled study, 5 of 11 subjects in the cannabis group achieved complete remission compared to only 1 in the placebo group. Almost all of the cannabis subjects (10 of 11) experienced significant therapeutic benefits—compared to 4 in the placebo group—as well as better appetite and sleep; all this with no significant side effects!

 

Immune System Modulation

 

As mentioned above, since the GI system houses about 70-80% of the immune system, it has a critical (and direct) role to play in helping to modulate our body’s immune response. Due to the presence of cannabinoid receptors on immune cells, and anecdotal and historical evidence suggesting that cannabis use has potent modulating effects on the immune system, there has been considerable research directed at understanding the function and role of these receptors within the context of immune response. Studies from chronic cannabis smokers have provided much of the human evidence for the immuno-modulatory effects of cannabis, and animal and laboratory studies on immune cells have also provided important evidence.

 

In fact, many may know that Echinacea has been used in traditional medicine for a very long time as an immune booster. Modern research has now shown that this herb’s traditional benefits are due to compounds called alkylamides, which activate CB2 receptors, which are plentiful on immune cells. A recent study published in 2015 compared the effectiveness of an Echinacea product to Tamiflu (oseltamivir), which is regarded as the first-line therapy for resolving flu symptoms among conventional medicine authorities. This study found that 50.2% of those in the Echinacea group recovered after 5 days, compared to 48.8% in the Tamiflu group (no statistically significant difference between groups, meaning Echinacea and Tamiflu were equally effective). Even more impressive, however, was that those in the Echinacea group reported far less adverse effects from the treatment, with the Tamiflu group reporting the usual nausea and vomiting associated with the drug. The study included over 400 patients, including children, which shows that Echinacea (and therefore, immune enhancement through ESC and CB2 activation) was also safe. This suggests a bright future for CBD or CBD-heavy cannabis strains in immune modulation.

 

Conclusion

 

As mentioned earlier, this is just a small sample of health conditions linked to a dysfunctional ECS. It’s incredibly exciting to see more research come out and I fully expect to see this turn into an avalanche of studies as prohibition comes to an end in Canada, which will further help legitimize cannabis as a powerful natural medicine and reduce its stigma globally.

 

 

Disclaimer: The information in this article is for educational purposes only, and not to be construed as medical advice. It is not meant to diagnose, or in any way replace qualified medical supervision. For diagnosing or treating any medical condition, consult with your health care provider.

 

Lee Know is a licensed naturopathic doctor, the recipient of several awards, and the author of Life: The Epic Story of Our Mitochondria (FriesenPress, 2014). He has previously held positions as a medical advisor, scientific evaluator, and director of research and development for major organizations, and currently heads up Scientific Affairs and Product Development at Cannanda.

Does fish oil a day keep the Doctor away?

Renew Life Super Critical Bonus Bottle will be on Sale in May and June 2017

Over 7000 studies on omega-3 fatty acids seem to be telling us YES! Essential Fatty Acids are natural substances your body needs to establish and maintain overall well-being. As the body cannot produce these essential fats on its own, it is very important that they are acquired through a healthy daily diet. However, the typical Canadian diet is severely deficient in these. Daily supplementation with a natural fish oil formula is an ideal source for obtaining the health-promoting benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids.

EFA supplementation can help to maintain good health but also treat certain health conditions such as:

Arthritis and Inflammatory Conditions

The powerful anti-inflammatory properties of Omega-3 oils from fish help reduce stiffness in joints and help relieve joint and muscle pain. This makes fish oils an important supplement for anyone trying to maintain joint health and mobility.

 

Attention Deficit Disorder and Memory

Recent research reveals that Omega-3’s, specifically DHA, help increase focus and memory retention in children and adults. Omega 3 fatty acids also support normal neurological development in infants.

 

Cholesterol and Blood Pressure

Omega-3 oils promote healthy cholesterol levels in the body by helping to lower bad cholesterol (LDL) levels and raise good cholesterol (HDL) levels. Clinical research also reveals reductions in blood pressure with the intake of Omega-3 fatty acids.

 

Depression and Mood Regulation

Regular supplementation of omega 3 fatty acids helps to elevate mood and lessen depression and anxiety. High potency fish oil with added Vitamin D is very useful in treating Seasonal Affective Disorder or the “winter blues”.

 

Digestive System Health

Regular Omega-3 supplementation helps to soothe and lubricate the bowel, ease elimination and supporting overall digestive health.

 

There are a lot of fish oil supplements on the market, but Super Critical Omega provides the highest-quality blend of EPA and DHA and exceeds world standards for fish oil quality and purity. Super Critical Omega is one of the strongest fish oil supplements on the market with over a 1 gram of Omega 3 per capsule PLUS 1000 units of Vitamin D3. It is the perfect choice for people dealing with chronic health conditions including depression and IBS.

 

Ultimate Digestibility with Better Absorption

Ultragest™ enteric coating ensures superior absorption and the fat-digesting enzyme lipase enhances the digestion and utilization of the beneficial oils. This combination eliminates the unpleasant aftertaste and repeating of fishy flavour often experienced with fish oil supplements.

 

100% Fish-derived Gel Caps

Encapsulated in natural fish-derived gel caps, Super Critical Omega is ideal for fish-eating vegetarians or anyone with religious dietary restrictions.

 

Quality & Purity Guaranteed

Super Critical Omega is sourced from sustainable wild and unthreatened fish that are found in cold, pristine waters and are naturally lower in environmental toxins such as: mercury, PCB’s and pesticides.

 

Purity Testing & Certification

Super Critical Omega is subject to a minimum of three purification steps to ensure the highest levels of freshness and the absence of any chemicals, toxins and heavy metals. It has received a 5-star rating by the International Fish Oil Standards (IFOS) program. This proves that it meets or exceeds all national and international standards for purity, potency and freshness.

 

With all of these benefits it is no surprise that fish oils are one of the most commonly researched and consumed natural health products in the world. Have you taken yours today?

FEATURED PRODUCT: Marseille’s Remedy Thieves’ Oil & Balm: Ancient Remedy for Modern Times

marseilles-remedy-product-photo-6The Folklore

In 1413, as the bubonic plague decimated France, thieves were arrested for robbing dead and dying plague victims, a crime punishable by burning alive.  The judge offered them leniency for their terrible crimes if they would share the secret which enabled them to expose themselves to the plague without contracting it.  The thieves explained that they were perfume makers and spice merchants who were unemployed due to the closure of France’s sea ports.  They had prepared a special herbal infusion which they applied to their hands, ears, feet, masks, and temples and this protected them from infection.  As promised, the judge did not burn the men alive…He hanged them instead.  Soon after, plague doctors began to wear beak-like masks stuffed with absorbent material soaked in the Thieves’ blend to protect them from disease.

The Thieves’ original blend, containing vinegar and garlic, was known primarily as Vinaigre de Marseille. This formula was marketed by medical suppliers as the first line of defence for hundreds of years, and has been a staple of pestilent prevention in every plague since its formulation. The rise of the modern pharmacopeia saw this staple placed in the pages of forgotten history. Marseille’s Remedy is the most traditional concentrated form of this time- honoured recipe. Its applications are numerous, as a treatment for all of life’s hygienic needs.

A Powerful, Versatile Remedy

Marseille’s Remedy is an all-natural blend of five pure, high-grade, therapeutic essential oils used to improve wellness, health, and vitality. It consists of the organic, steam-distilled oils of Cinnamon, Clove, Eucalyptus and Rosemary, plus the true cold-pressed oil of Lemon. These are sourced from Sri Lanka (the first two), Australia, France and Italy, respectively. This authentic blend naturally balances, safeguards, and synergizes (or strengthens) the healing properties of various essential oil constituents.

It can be mixed with any carrier oil for topical use, vinegar or soap for cleaning, baking soda for teeth, or used directly in a diffuser to purify air.

Its applications and usages are many, and when applied correctly, Marseille’s Remedy is a very effective antifungal, antibacterial, and antiviral treatment.

We have received many happy testimonials from customers, including in successfully treating acne, boils, warts, cold sores, and colds/coughs amongst their families, to refreshing indoor air quality, eliminating their pet’s fleas, or wiping out surface molds, among others.

Suggested Uses:

  • Clears phlegm and congested airways
  • Relieves inflammation due to sprain/strain/rheumatoid arthritis
  • Antispasmodic for symptomatic relief of digestive discomfort
  • Eliminates airborne pathogens and foul odours
  • Antifungal: Feet, hands, scalp, and mold remediation
  • Use as hand sanitizer or all-purpose cleaner
  • Can aid in the treatment and prevention of topical infectious ailments
  • Deters mites, lice, worms, fleas, and mosquitoes

Applications:

  • Topical: Combine 2 drops of Marseilles Remedy with 40 drops of carrier oil, and massage into skin, muscles, or joints.
  • Direct Inhalation: For cough and cold, apply 2 to 6 drops undiluted product to a handkerchief/tissue and inhale. Alternatively, diffuse in boiling water or in an essential oil diffuser.
  • Household: Mix with soapy water, or diluted vinegar, to clean, and sanitize. Use undiluted to remediate mold around the house, or deter pests.

 

Thieves’ Balm:

The Balm is like having a popular muscle rub product combined with the favorite leading chest rub, merged into one effective and all-natural ointment. It contains over 50% of the Marseille’s Thieves’ Oil blend, plus some grapeseed oil and beeswax for pleasant texture, plus a warming natural camphor, and a soothing, deeply penetrating natural menthol (peppermint oil compound).

The balm is effective for many of the aforementioned uses, but also can “stick” longer to the skin, so is better suited for continual topical treatments, such as in respiratory disorders, or for joint or muscle aches or injury areas.

Some parents have reported how quickly it acted as an expectorant to help expel their child’s chest cold, and many clients have had success treating symptoms of back or other body pain. Recurrent daily use can help the body modulate the inflammatory response, and resolve conditions more easily.

Since Marseille’s Remedy is a concentrated, undiluted pure blend, use responsibly. Avoid contact with eyes, membranes, or other sensitive body areas. Read label before using.

 

Have a Cheerful and Healthy Autumn and Winter!

Shiitake Mushrooms

Long a symbol of longevity in Asia because of their health-promoting properties, shiitake mushrooms have been used medicinally by the Chinese for more than 6,000 years. More recently, their rich, smoky flavor has endeared them to American taste buds. These exotic hearty mushrooms can now be found in supermarket shelves across the U.S. throughout the year.

Like other mushrooms, these specialty mushrooms are as mysteriously unique as they are delicious. While often thought of as a vegetable and prepared like one, mushrooms are actually a fungus, a special type of living organism that has no roots, leaves, flowers or seeds.

What’s New and Beneficial about Shiitake Mushrooms

  • Although immune system support has often received much of the spotlight in shiitake mushroom research, recent study results involving support of the cardiovascular system have caught the attention of many researchers. In particular, recent studies have shown the ability of shiitake mushrooms to help protect us against cardiovascular diseases (including atherosclerosis) by preventing too much immune cell binding to the lining of our blood vessels. In order for immune cells and other materials to bind onto our blood vessel linings, certain protein molecules—called adhesion molecules—must be produced and sent into action. By helping to block the adhesion molecule production process, substances in shiitake mushrooms can help protect our blood vessels. (The adhesion molecule production that is partially blocked by shiitake mushroom components includes the adhesion molecules ICAM-1, VCAM-1, and E-selectin.)
  • Shiitake mushrooms have long been recognized as a very good, non-animal food source of iron. But a recent preliminary study has determined that the bioavailability of iron from shiitake mushrooms may be even better than we thought. Although conducted on laboratory animals (female rats) rather than humans, this study found the iron in dried shiitake mushroom to be equally as bioavailable as supplemental iron in the form of ferrous gluconate. (Ferrous gluconate is a very commonly used low-dose iron supplement.) While we don’t usually spotlight research on laboratory animals, we found this result to be especially promising for individuals who consume little or no animal products and are often looking for foods that can supply valuable amounts of bioavailable iron.
  • Shiitake mushrooms can be one of the most sustainable foods in your diet! While the majority of shiitake mushrooms produced worldwide have been grown on sawdust block in a non-natural setting, it is fully possible for shiitake mushrooms to be produced on natural hardwood logs in a forest setting. This approach to shiitake mushroom production is called “forest farming” and it has become an especially popular way of growing shiitake mushrooms in the U.S, where there are now more than 200 shiitake mushroom growers. Unfortunately, forest farming is not a requirement for organic certification of shiitake mushrooms. However, all of the plant crop standards in the National Organics Program regulations apply to shiitake mushroom production, and so the combination of these two features—certified organic shiitake mushrooms that have also been forest farmed—can make a great food choice in terms of sustainable agriculture. Just look for the USDA’s organic logo on your shiitake mushrooms to determine if they are certified organic. Then check for information about forest farming on the packaging. If no information is provided, there is a good chance that your shiitake mushrooms were not forest farmed. For this reason, we encourage you to ask your store staff or contact the product manufacturer to determine if your shiitake mushrooms were grown on hardwood logs in a natural forest environment.

Shiitake, maitake, and reishi mushrooms are widely referred to as “medicinal mushrooms” due to their long history of medical use, particularly in oriental medicine traditions. It’s important to distinguish, however, between extracts and medicinal preparations made from these mushrooms and their appearance as whole foods in an everyday diet. Most of the medicinal research on shiitake mushrooms has been conducted on laboratory animals or on individual cells studied in a laboratory setting. There are hundreds of lab and animal studies that clearly document the medicinal properties of shiitake mushroom extracts. As important as these studies are in a medical context, they are still very different from studies that examine shiitake mushroom as a common and beloved food.

In contrast to the wealth of medicinal research on shiitake mushrooms, there are very few studies on shiitake mushrooms in the human diet. Among the human dietary studies that do exist, however, there is a clear message about shiitake mushrooms: they can provide us with some fantastic health benefits. Below are areas of health support that make the top of our list for shiitake mushrooms when enjoyed as a whole food.

Immune Support

No health benefit is better documented for shiitake mushroom than immune support. In fact, the immune support track record for this mushroom is fascinating. On the one hand, numerous studies have shown the ability of whole shiitake mushrooms to help prevent excessive immune system activity. On the other hand, an equal number of studies have shown the ability of shiitake mushrooms to help stimulate immune system responses under certain circumstances. In other words, from a dietary perspective, shiitake mushrooms appear able to enhance immune function in both directions, giving it a boost when needed, and cutting back on its activity when needed. It’s important to note that dietary shiitake mushroom intake—unlike intake of medicinal shiitake extracts—has not been shown to be strongly suppressive of the immune system or strongly activating. From our perspective, this finding makes sense. We wouldn’t want our everyday foods to strongly suppress or strongly activate any body system. What we would want from our foods is support of body systems under a variety of circumstances—and that is exactly what we get from shiitake mushrooms with respect to our immune system.

One especially interesting area of immune system support involves the impact of shiitake mushrooms on immune cells called macrophages. Among their many important activities, macrophage cells are responsible for identifying and clearing potentially cancerous cells from the body. In order to carry out this task, they need to be “activated” in a particular way. (In more scientific terms, their activated phenotype needs to reflect a higher level of interleukin 1-beta and tumor necrosis factor alpha, and a lower level of interleukin 10.) Shiitake mushrooms are able to help macrophage cells achieve this activated profile so that they can do a better job clearing potentially cancerous cells. Researchers refer to this result as an “anti-cancer immunity” that is enhanced by shiitake mushroom intake.

The most famous immune-supportive components in shiitake mushrooms are its polysaccharides. (Polysaccharides are large-sized carbohydrate molecules composed of many different sugars arranged in chains and branches.) Although many fungi are well-known for their polysaccharides, no single fungus has been more carefully studied than the shiitake mushroom. We know that this fungus is unique in its variety of polysaccharides, and especially its polysaccharide glucans. (Glucans are polysaccharides in which all of the sugar components involve the simple sugar glucose.) Among the glucans contained in shiitake mushroom are alpha-1,6 glucan, alpha-1,4 glucan, beta-1,3 glucan, beta-1,6 glucan, 1,4-D-glucans, 1,6-D-glucans, glucan phosphate, laminarin, and lentinan. Shiitake mushrooms also contain some important non-glucan polysaccharides, including fucoidans and galactomannins. The immune-related effects of polysaccharides in shiitake mushrooms have been studied on laboratory animals under a wide variety of circumstances, including exercise stress, exposure to inflammation-producing toxins, radiation exposure, and immunodeficiency. Under all of these circumstances, the polysaccharides in shiitake mushrooms have been shown to lessen problems. There is also some evidence that shiitake mushrooms’ polysaccharides can help lower total cholesterol levels.

Cardiovascular Benefits

The cardiovascular benefits of shiitake mushrooms have been documented in three basic areas of research. The first of these areas is cholesterol reduction. d-Eritadenine (also called lentinacin, or lentsine, and sometimes abbreviated as DEA) is one of the most unusual naturally occurring nutrients in shiitake mushrooms that has repeatedly been shown to help lower total blood cholesterol. This nutrient is actually derived from adenine—one of the building blocks (nucleotides) in the mushroom’s genetic material (DNA). The beta-glucans in shiitake mushrooms are also very likely to contribute to its cholesterol-lowering impact.

Another basic area of cardiovascular support involves the interaction between our cardiovascular system and our immune system. Recent studies have shown that shiitake mushrooms can help protect us against cardiovascular diseases (including atherosclerosis) by preventing too much immune cell binding to the lining of our blood vessels. In order for immune cells and other materials to bind onto our blood vessel linings, certain protein molecules—called adhesion molecules—must be produced and sent into action. By helping to block the adhesion molecule production process, substances in shiitake mushrooms can help protect our blood vessels. (The adhesion molecule production which is partially blocked by shiitake mushroom components includes the adhesion molecules ICAM-1, VCAM-1, and E-selectin.)

A final basic area of cardiovascular benefits involves antioxidant support. Chronic oxidative stress in our cardiovascular system (ongoing, oxygen-based damage to our blood vessel linings) is a critical factor in the development of clogged arteries (atherosclerosis) and other blood vessel problems. One of the best ways for us to reduce our risk of chronic oxidative stress is consumption of a diet rich in antioxidant nutrients. Shiitake mushrooms are a very good source of three key antioxidant minerals: manganese, selenium, and zinc. They also contain some unusual phytonutrient antioxidants. One of the best studied is ergothioneine (ET). This unique antioxidant is derived from the amino acid histidine, although it’s unusual since it contains a sulfur group of molecules that are not present in histidine itself. In studies on ET and our cells’ oxidative stress levels, one fascinating finding has been the special benefits of ET for cell components called mitochondria. Mitochondria use oxygen to produce energy for the cell. Heart cells have greater concentrations of mitochondria than most any other cell type in the body. For this reason, researchers believe that ET may be one of the key nutrients from shiitake mushrooms that provide us with cardiovascular support.

Anti-Cancer Benefits

Most of the research on shiitake mushrooms and cancer has been conducted on laboratory animals or on individual cells in a laboratory setting and has involved mushroom extracts rather than whole mushrooms in food form. For this reason, our understanding of the anti-cancer benefits of shiitake mushrooms as a whole, natural food is still preliminary. But based on research to date, we believe that adding shiitake mushrooms to your diet is likely to offer you anti-cancer benefits, especially with respect to prevention of prostate cancer, breast cancer, and colon cancer.

Medicinal extracts from shiitake mushrooms have been studied much more extensively than the whole food itself. In cell and laboratory animal experiments, numerous components of shiitake mushrooms have been show to help block tumor growth, sometimes by triggering programmed cell death (apoptosis) in the cancer cells. These components have been collectively referred to as “anti-tumor mycochemicals” provided by shiitake mushrooms. Researchers have speculated that more than 100 different types of compounds in shiitake mushrooms may work together to accomplish these anti-tumor results. While the unique polysaccharides in shiitake mushrooms were first thought to be its primary anti-cancer compounds, scientists are now convinced that shiitake provides many non-polysaccharide substances that have anti-tumor effects.

Other Benefits

The special combination of antioxidants found in shiitake mushrooms together with their highly flexible support for immune system function make them a natural candidate for providing us with protection from a variety of problems involving oxidative stress and immune function. This includes rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an area that has begun to interest shiitake mushroom researchers. Although research in this area is preliminary, we expect to see large-scale human studies confirming the benefits of shiitake mushrooms for prevention of RA.

Medicinal extracts from shiitake mushrooms have well-documented effects on a variety of micro-organisms, including bacteria, fungi, and viruses (including human immunodeficiency virus-1, or HIV-1). While we have yet to see large-scale human studies on whole food intake of shiitake mushrooms and decreased susceptibility to colds, flu or other problems related to unwanted activity of micro-organisms, this is a very likely area for future food research and discovery of health benefits.

Description

Shiitake mushrooms have brown, slightly convex caps that range in diameter from about two to four inches in diameter. They belong to the basidiomycete family of fungi. Until the early 1990’s, they were widely known by their scientific genus-species name of Lentinus edodes. However, during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s this genus-species name for shiitake mushrooms was largely phased out and replaced by a new genus-species name, Lentinula edodes.

The common name for this mushroom, “shiitake,” comes from the Japanese language. “Shii” in Japanese refers to wood belonging to the Pasania species of tree on which shiitake mushrooms naturally grow. “Take” simply translates as “mushroom.” You may sometimes also hear shiitake mushroom being referred to as the “Black Forest mushroom,” and they do indeed grow naturally in that German mountain range.

Other mushrooms with Asian roots that are also becoming more popular are reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) and maitake (Grifola frondosa). Reishi mushrooms usually have an antler or rounded, fan shape; the most popular type of reishi is red in color, although that is just one of the six colors in which they grow. Maitake mushrooms grow in a formation of clustered brownish fronds of fan-shaped petals and are commonly known as “Hen of the Woods.” These types of mushrooms are available in food markets specializing in Asian foods.

History

Shiitake (as well as reishi and maitake) mushrooms have grown wild since prehistoric times. Their therapeutic value has been prized in Asian countries, where they originated, for thousands of years. They play a critical role in Asian medicinal traditions and were noted in some of the first books on herbal medicine written thousands of years ago. In the past few decades, these mushrooms have become more popular in the United States as a result of an expanding body of scientific research supporting their numerous health benefits. The U.S. is currently home to approximately 200 commercial growers of shiitake mushrooms, and nearly half of those growers use forest farming to produce shiitake mushrooms in a natural forest setting using downed hardwood trees as the cultivation medium.

Although Japan was at one time the world’s largest producer of shiitake mushrooms, that distinction now goes to China, which produces over 80% of all commercially sold shiitake mushrooms. Japan, Korea and Taiwan also produce shiitake mushrooms, as does the United States. One quickly growing market for shiitake mushrooms is Brazil, which currently produces more shiitake mushrooms than any other South American country.

How to Select and Store

Shiitake mushrooms are available in many grocery stores throughout the country. If your local store does not carry fresh reishi or maitake mushrooms, investigate the Asian food stores in your area as they oftentimes carry these specialty mushrooms.

Look for mushrooms that are firm, plump and clean. Those that are wrinkled or have wet slimy spots should be avoided.

The best way to store loose shiitake mushrooms (as well as maitake or reishi mushrooms) is to keep them in the refrigerator in a loosely closed paper bag. They will keep fresh for about one week. Dried mushrooms should be stored in a tightly sealed container in either the refrigerator or freezer where they will stay fresh for six months to one year.

Tips for Preparing Shiitake Mushrooms

Mushrooms are very porous, so if they are exposed to too much water they will quickly absorb it and become soggy. Therefore, the best way to clean mushrooms without sacrificing their texture and taste is to clean them using minimal, if any, water. To do this, simply wipe them with a slightly damp paper towel or kitchen cloth. You could also use a mushroom brush, available at most kitchenware stores.

If the fresh mushrooms become dried out because of being stored for too long, soak them in water for thirty minutes.

The Healthiest Way of Cooking Shiitake Mushrooms

We recommend Healthy Sautéeing shiitake mushrooms for maximum flavor and nutrition. Heat 3 TBS of broth over medium heat in a stainless steel skilled. When broth begins to steam add sliced mushrooms and Healthy Sauté for 7 minutes. It is best to stir constantly for the last 4 minutes of cooking.

A Few Quick Serving Ideas

  • Shiitake mushrooms are traditionally added to miso soup.
  • Healthy saute mushrooms with onions and garlic. Serve as a side dish or as a topping for chicken, beef, lamb or venison.
  • To give your vegetable stock an extra depth, add dried shiitake mushrooms.
  • For a quick and easy Asian pasta dish, healthy saute shiitake mushrooms with snap peas and tofu. Season to taste and serve over buckwheat soba noodles (or your favorite type of pasta).

WHFoods Recipes That Feature Shiitake Mushrooms

Shiitake Mushrooms and Purines

Shiitake mushrooms contain naturally-occurring substances called purines. Purines are commonly found in plants, animals, and humans. In some individuals who are susceptible to purine-related problems, excessive intake of these substances can cause health problems. Since purines can be broken down to form uric acid, excess accumulation of purines in the body can lead to excess accumulation of uric acid. The health condition called “gout” and the formation of kidney stones from uric acid are two examples of uric acid-related problems that can be related to excessive intake of purine-containing foods. For this reason, individuals with kidney problems or gout may want to limit or avoid intake of purine-containing foods such as shiitake mushrooms.

Nutritional Profile

Like most fungi, shiitake mushrooms offer a unique variety of phytonutrients, including their well-known beta-glucan polysaccharides (especially lentinan and laminarin). A cholesterol-lowering nutrient called eritadenine (or lentinacin) is found in shiitake, as well as the recently discovered amino acid-like nutrient, ergothioneine. Shiitake mushrooms also offer a wide variety of conventional nutrients. They are an excellent source of copper, pantothenic acid, and selenium. They are a very good source of vitamin B2 and zinc. Additionally they are a good source of manganese, vitamin B6, niacin, choline, dietary fiber, vitamin D, and folate.

Introduction to Food Rating System Chart

In order to better help you identify foods that feature a high concentration of nutrients for the calories they contain, we created a Food Rating System. This system allows us to highlight the foods that are especially rich in particular nutrients. The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good, or good source (below the chart you will find a table that explains these qualifications). If a nutrient is not listed in the chart, it does not necessarily mean that the food doesn’t contain it. It simply means that the nutrient is not provided in a sufficient amount or concentration to meet our rating criteria. (To view this food’s in-depth nutritional profile that includes values for dozens of nutrients – not just the ones rated as excellent, very good, or good – please use the link below the chart.) To read this chart accurately, you’ll need to glance up in the top left corner where you will find the name of the food and the serving size we used to calculate the food’s nutrient composition. This serving size will tell you how much of the food you need to eat to obtain the amount of nutrients found in the chart. Now, returning to the chart itself, you can look next to the nutrient name in order to find the nutrient amount it offers, the percent Daily Value (DV%) that this amount represents, the nutrient density that we calculated for this food and nutrient, and the rating we established in our rating system. For most of our nutrient ratings, we adopted the government standards for food labeling that are found in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s “Reference Values for Nutrition Labeling.”

Mushrooms, Shiitake, cooked
0.50 cup
72.50 grams

Calories: 41
GI: 
not available

Nutrient Amount DRI/DV
(%)
Nutrient
Density
World’s Healthiest
Foods Rating
copper 0.65 mg 72 32.0 excellent
pantothenic acid 2.61 mg 52 23.1 excellent
selenium 17.98 mcg 33 14.5 excellent
vitamin B2 0.12 mg 9 4.1 very good
zinc 0.96 mg 9 3.9 very good
manganese 0.15 mg 8 3.3 good
vitamin B6 0.12 mg 7 3.1 good
vitamin B3 1.09 mg 7 3.0 good
choline 26.68 mg 6 2.8 good
fiber 1.52 g 6 2.7 good
vitamin D 20.30 IU 5 2.2 good
folate 15.22 mcg 4 1.7 good

References

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  • Brauer D, Kimmons T, and Phillips M. Comparison of Two Methods for the Quantitation of B-Glucans from Shiitake Mushrooms. Journal of Herbs, Spices, & Medicinal Plants, Volume 13, Number 3 (January 2007), pp. 15-26. 2007.
  • Bruhn JN, Mihail JD, and Pickens JB. Forest farming of shiitake mushrooms: an integrated evaluation of management practices. Bioresour Technol. 2009 Dec;100(24):6472-80. Epub 2009 Jul 28. 2009.
  • Chan GCF, Chan WK, and Sze DMY. The effects of -glucan on human immune and cancer cells. Journal of Hematology & Oncology 2009, 2:25 (10 June 2009). 2009.
  • Chandra L, Alexander H, Traoré D et al. White button and shiitake mushrooms reduce the incidence and severity of collagen-induced arthritis in dilute brown non-agouti mice. J Nutr. 2011 Jan;141(1):131-6. Epub 2010 Nov 24. 2011.
  • Christopher L, Traore D, and Kuvibidla S. Consumption of diets fortified with edible mushrooms alters IL-6 secretion in vivo and in vitro and spleen cell proliferation in dextran sodium sulfate (DSS)-treated mice. FASEB J. April 2010, 24; (Meeting Abstract Supplement) lb390. 2010.
  • Driscoll M, Hansen R, Ding C et al. Therapeutic potential of various beta-glucan sources in conjunction with anti-tumor monoclonal antibody in cancer therapy. Cancer Biol Ther. 2009 Feb;8(3):218-25. Epub 2009 Feb 3. 2009.
  • Falandysz J. Selenium in edible mushrooms. J Environ Sci Health C Environ Carcinog Ecotoxicol Rev. 2008 Jul-Sep;26(3):256-99. 2008.
  • Fang N, Li Q, Yu S et al. Inhibition of Growth and Induction of Apoptosis in Human Cancer Cell Lines by an Ethyl Acetate Fraction from Shiitake Mushrooms. The Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine, Volume 12, Number 2 (March 2006), pp. 125-132. 2006.
  • Gold MA, Cernusca MM, and Godsey LD. A competitive market analysis of the United States shiitake mushroom marketplace. Hort Technology, July 2008; 18: 489 – 499. 2008.
  • Hearst R, Nelson D, McCollum G et al. An examination of antibacterial and antifungal properties of constituents of Shiitake (Lentinula edodes) and oyster (Pleurotus ostreatus) mushrooms. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2009 Feb;15(1):5-7. Epub 2008 Dec 2. 2009.
  • Kojima H, Akaki J, Nakajima S et al. Structural analysis of glycogen-like polysaccharides having macrophage-activating activity in extracts of Lentinula edodes mycelia. J Nat Med. 2010 Jan;64(1):16-23. Epub 2009 Aug 27. 2010.
  • Kuvibidila S and French C. White button, shiitake, and portabella mushrooms inhibit the secretion of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and the proliferation of the androgen dependent LNCap prostate cancer cell line. FASEB J, Apr 2011; 25: 979.11. 2011.
  • Martin KR and Brophy SK. Commonly consumed and specialty dietary mushrooms reduce cellular proliferation in MCF-7 human breast cancer cells. Exp Biol Med (Maywood). 2010 Nov 1;235(11):1306-14. Epub 2010 Oct 4. 2010.
  • Ramberg JE, Nelson ED, and Sinnott RA. Immunomodulatory dietary polysaccharides: a systematic review of the literature. Nutrition Journal 2010, 9:54 (18 November 2010): 1-22. 2010.
  • Rao JR, Smyth TJ, Millar BC et al. Antimicrobial properties of shiitake mushrooms (Lentinula edodes). Int J Antimicrob Agents. 2009 Jun;33(6):591-2. Epub 2008 Dec 31. 2009.
  • Regula J, Krejpcio Z, and Staniek H. Bioavailability of iron from cereal products enriched with dried shittake mushrooms (Lentinula edodes) as determined by iron regeneration efficacy method in female rats. J Med Food. 2010 Oct;13(5):1189-94. 2010.
  • Rop O, Mlcek J, and Jurikova T. Beta-glucans in higher fungi and their health effects. Nutr Rev. 2009 Nov;67(11):624-31. Review. 2009.
  • Sasidharan S, Aravindran S, Latha LY et al. In vitro antioxidant activity and hepatoprotective effects of Lentinula edodes against paracetamol-induced hepatotoxicity. Molecules. 2010 Jun 23;15(6):4478-89. 2010.
  • Spierings EL, Fujii H, Sun B et al. A Phase I study of the safety of the nutritional supplement, active hexose correlated compound, AHCC, in healthy volunteers. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 2007 Dec;53(6):536-9. 2007.
  • Willcox DC, Willcox BJ, Todoriki H et al. . The Okinawan Diet: Health Implications of a Low-Calorie, Nutrient-Dense, Antioxidant-Rich Dietary Pattern Low in Glycemic Load. J. Am. Coll. Nutr., Aug 2009; 28: 500S – 516S. 2009.
  • Xu B and Chang K. Total phenolic, phenolic acid, anthocyanin, flavan-3-ol, and flavonol profiles and antioxidant properties of pinto and black beans (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) as affected by thermal processing. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2009; 57: 4754-4764. 2009.
  • Yarnell E and Abascal K. Holistic Approaches to Prostate Cancer. Alternative & Complementary Therapies, Volume 14, Number 4 (August 2008), pp. 164-180. 2008.

 

Gleaned from:  http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?dbid=122&tname=foodspice

 

What is Reishi?

Red Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), commonly known as Ling Zhi in Chinese, is a herbal mushroom known to have miraculous health benefits.

So what’s so good about red reishi?

  • It is non-toxic and can be taken daily without any side effects
  • When it is taken regularly, it can restore the body to its natural state, enabling all organs to function normally
  • Immune modulator – it regulates and fine tunes the immune system

What are the benefits of Reishi?

Red Reishi improves liver function

Red Reishi is primarily composed of complex carbohydrates called water-soluble polysaccharides, triterpeniods, proteins and amino acids. Researchers have identified that water-soluble polysaccharides are the most active element found in Red Reishi that have anti-tumour, immune modulating and blood pressure lowering effects.

Another major active ingredient found in Red Reishi are triterpenes , called ganoderic acids. Preliminary studies indicated that ganoderic acids help alleviate common allergies by inhibiting histamine release, improve oxygen utilization and improve liver functions. Triterpenes are bitter in taste and the level of the triterpene content contained in a product can be determined by the bitterness.

Red Reishi enhance our body’s immune system

Regular consumption of red Reishi can enhance our body’s immune system and improve blood circulation, thus improving better health conditions. Generally, Reishi is recommended as an adaptogen, immune modulator, and a general tonic. Red Reishi is also used to help treat anxiety, high blood pressure, hepatitis, bronchitis, insomnia, and asthma. 

Is there any evidence?

A considerable number of studies in Japan , China , USA , and the UK in the past 30 years have shown that the consumption of red Reishi has been linked to the treatment of a vast range of diseases, common ailments, and conditions. From asthma to zoster, the applications of red Reishi seem to be related to a multitude of body organs and systems.

However, most of the scientific research that has been conducted appears to strongly support red Reishi’s role as a normalizing substance – a nutritional supplement that can yield medical benefits through its normalization and regulation of the body’s organs and functions.

The role of Red Reishi in maintaining a healthy lifestyle can best be explained through the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) point of view because none of the known active components taken alone is as more effective than the consumption of Reishi itself. Whereas Western medicine focuses on the “cure” after the disease has already occurred, TCM, established through over 2,000 years of human observation, focuses on disease prevention by sustaining the right balance within the body through proper nutrition, exercise, and meditation. Reishi is an important adaptogenic herb in TCM in helping the body maintain this balance and also restore the balance when one is sick.

Gleaned from:  http://www.reishi.com/what-is-reishi.htm

 

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