Fungi Facts

Fungi Facts #1

Mushrooms more like us than plants

In many ways, mushrooms are more closely related to animals than to any other kingdom of life.  Just like us, mushrooms take in oxygen for their respiration and metabolism and exhale carbon dioxide as a waste product.  More than 465 million years ago, animals and mushrooms (fungi) shared a common evolutionary ancestry.  Thus, humans and mushrooms share some of the same risks of infection from some of the same microbes.   This may explain in part why humans derive so many health benefits from mushrooms; the same compounds that mushrooms produce to protect themselves from infectious agents also serve to protect us when we consume mushrooms and mushroom products.

The protein in mushrooms contains all 8 essential amino acids and is similar in many ways to animal proteins. In fact, nutritionists in the USA and UK are now promoting the substitution of meat for mushrooms in familiar recipes as an effective strategy in the fight against obesity and cardiovascular diseases.  Mushrooms also contain Vitamin B12, an essential vitamin generally obtained from animal products and something that vegetables can’t produce at all.  Additionally, mushrooms contain the chemical precursor to Vitamin D and, just like us, when their surfaces are exposed to sunlight, their Vitamin D content increases dramatically. SF

Fungi Facts #2

World’s Largest Living Organism

What do you think is largest living organism?  A whale?  A giant redwood tree?  Think again, scientists now believe a fungus is the largest and also possibly one of the oldest living organisms on earth.

In 1992, a paper was published in Nature (Nature 356:428-31) that reported on the discovery of a mushroom, Armillaria  bulbosa, in Michigan that they determined to have been genetically stable for 1500 years and that they estimated covered a below-ground area of 37 acres and conservatively weighed more than 100 tons.  This “Humongous Fungus” story set off media frenzy.  A few months later, other researchers with the US Forest Service reported that they had been working on an even larger fungus, Armillaria ostoyae, that covered over 1500 acres in southwestern Washington.  The story doesn’t end here. In 2000, another group of researchers reported that they had found an even larger growth of A. ostoyae that covered nearly 2200 acres and was estimated to be more than 2,400 years old.  An adult blue whale may weigh up to 200 tons.  The mass of a giant redwood is estimated to be about 1,000 tons, most of which is dead xylem tissue.  The fungal biomass of the 2200 acre mushroom may weigh as much as 6,000 tons.

It is important to note that the mass of this humongous fungus is made up primarily of the mycelia, the underground, vegetative/digestive stage of the mushroom organism.  The fruiting bodies (mushrooms) of this fungus are really quite average in size.  The thread-like, extensively branched and inter-connected mycelia of Armillaria species form “rhizomorphs” that are able to transport food and other materials long distances, thus allowing the fungus to grow through nutrient poor areas located between large food sources such as tree stumps.  There is still some controversy as to whether or not these large fungal growths can be properly termed a single organism.  The researchers were able to determine that the growth was a single organism from DNA analysis of samples of the fungus taken from across the wide areas.  However, although the genetic material appears to be identical across the forested areas sampled, unless the fungal mycelium is fully connected (impossible to prove conclusively), the growth may be more properly termed a clonal colony of numerous smaller individual organisms. SF

Fungi Facts #3

What in the world is a “Biological Response Modifier” and what does it have to do with mushrooms??

Alternative and Complementary Medicine (ACM) is a term that has been coined to refer to healing practices that do not fall within the realm of conventional medicine.  Commonly cited examples include naturopathy, chiropractic, herbalism, Traditional Chinese Medicine and nutrition therapy.  An extremely important concept in ACM is the concept of Biological Response Modifiers (BRM).  Substances are regarded as being a BRM if:

(1) They cause no harm and place no additional stress on the body
(2) They help the body to adapt to various environmental and biological stresses
(3) They exert a nonspecific action on the body supporting some or all of the major systems, including nervous, hormonal and immune systems, as well as regulatory functions (Brekhman 1980)

This concept is very similar to the concept of a “tonic” in Traditional Chinese Medicine.  It is also similar to the concept of “adaptogens” in Alternative and Complementary healing modalities.  Mushrooms are the ultimate Biological Response Modifiers.  Taken as an organic, whole food dietary supplement, mushrooms have virtually no unwanted side effects and are safe and beneficial to take on a daily basis.   Mushrooms contain literally thousands of enzymes, proteins and bioactive compounds that provide our bodies with an extremely wide array of nutritional “tools” to enable our bodies to cope with a wide variety of stresses.  Extensive research has shown that mushrooms provide a very broad-based support to the health of all of our bodily systems including nervous, respiration, hormonal, digestive, reproductive, cardiovascular and immune systems. SF

“Let food by thy medicine and medicine by thy food”

*Brekhman II (1980) Man and Biologically Active Substance, Pergamon Press, New York.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *