Immune system function
Immune function is a complex balancing act between just enough and not too much. We are born with two powerful branches of immunity: the innate and the adaptive immune system, and the normal function of both is essential for health. The innate immune system is our first line of defense and includes cells like macrophages, neutrophils, mast cells, and natural killer (NK) cells. These cells have special receptors that recognize pathogens in our environment, responding to them swiftly and efficiently, inside or outside of cells.
When a pathogen cannot be dealt with by the innate immune system alone, it calls on the adaptive immune system for help. This system, composed of T cells and B cells, is what allows our bodies to mount antibody responses (with B cells), to directly kill cells growing out of control or infected by viruses (with cytotoxic T and NK cells), and to coordinate the right type of response, at the right time, to restore normal function. These responses are all communicated by special chemical messengers, called cytokines, that allow our immune system to talk to itself throughout the body. We need just enough communication to get the job done, but not so much that things get out of hand.
Immune system dysfunction
We are constantly fighting against a deluge of incoming pathogens, and a never-ending cycle of inappropriate cell growth. Our adaptive immune systems are on patrol 24/7, with NK and T cells sniffing out cells infected by viruses or growing out of control. This surveillance is followed by action, with these same NK and T cells also tasked with eliminating their targets. Under normal circumstances, this is enough to keep us going, but many things can get in the way: stress, poor diet, insufficient sleep, metabolic dysregulation, leaky gut, microbiome dysfunction, and many, many other factors can stop our normal surveillance system from working. With too much immune activation, these normal responses can turn against us, damaging our organs; with too little, we can no longer clear infected or out-of-control cells, leading to infectious illness and unobstructed, atypical cell growth, the consequences of which can be life-threatening.
The IMMUNE formula
Reishi has been studied in vitro, in animal models, and in human clinical trials. Research has included work on isolated fractions of the mushroom (like Ganopoly, a polysaccharide fraction), on triterpenoids, and on the whole mushroom. Results at these three levels are consistent in their findings of immunomodulation, demonstrated by the effects of Reishi on some important cytokines. Reishi use generally increases the cytokines IL-2, IL-6, and IFN-γ (markers of immune activation), while decreasing IL-1 and TNF-α (key markers of inflammation).
This simultaneous gas-and-brake action both stimulates and suppresses immune activity, toning and modulating immune responses. In patients with immune dysfunction and conditions of unregulated cell division, this results in increased effectiveness of standard treatment, as well as increased quality of life and function. In vitro models suggest that this biological response modification is accomplished by inhibiting cell proliferation, angiogenesis, migration, cell adhesion, and invasion, and increasing apoptosis (cell death) in dysfunctional cells. Reishi also stimulates the activity of regulatory T cells, key players in stopping out-of-control inflammation and self-reactive immune cells. Triterpenes from Reishi have been shown to directly destroy viral proteins and to inhibit neuraminidase, a protein that allows viruses to replicate in humans. Last but not least, Reishi inhibits the release of histamine from mast cells, modulating responses in allergic conditions.
Like reishi, turkey tail is an immunomodulator and has been studied in over 40 human clinical trials in patients with a variety of conditions of immune dysfunction (as well as numerous in vitro and animal studies). The proteins and polysaccharides in turkey tail have a variety of actions, including the stimulation of the cytokines IL-2, IL-12, IL-18, and IFN-γ, demonstrating immune-stimulating activity. Turkey tail polysaccharides also modulate the microbiome, increasing beneficial strains and inhibiting the growth of pathogenic strains, further supporting our immune system. Key to the benefits of turkey tail is its ability to increase the numbers of cytotoxic T and NK cells in patients with conditions of immune dysregulation, bolstering our natural anti-viral and anti-tumor immune responses.
Learn more in our professional turkey tail monograph
Maitake shares many of the immune-stimulating and immunomodulating properties of reishi and turkey tail. Whole mushrooms, as well as protein and polysaccharide fractions, demonstrate increased production of IL-2, IL-10, IL-12, TNF-α, IFN-γ, which serves to enhance natural innate and adaptive immunity. Human trials in patients with conditions of immune dysregulation back this up, and also demonstrate, like turkey tail, increased NK cell numbers, bolstering natural anti-viral and anti-tumor immune responses.
The Big Picture
Our natural innate and adaptive immune responses do a good job keeping us safe from invaders, from abnormal growth inside of our bodies, and from out of control inflammation and immune activation. Sometimes, however, we need a little help - our modern lifestyles can compromise our abilities to defend and regulate ourselves, and we need something extra to get it in gear.
Mushrooms are a key piece of the puzzle. As we have seen, reishi, turkey tail, and maitake are all potent immunomodulators, stimulating our natural responses when necessary, and putting the brakes on inflammation and activation when they get out of hand. All of these mushrooms have been studied in Petri dishes, animals, and humans, and the IMMUNE formula is our attempt to pass these benefits on to you, in doses that are reflective of the available clinical trials. We’ve done our best to include the right mushrooms, in the right amounts, so that you have one less thing to worry about.