Respiratory system function
Our lungs provide us with one of our most fundamental requirements: oxygen. Composed of millions of tiny, interconnected air sacs called alveoli, their combined surface area can be up to 800 square feet. Every available square foot works around the clock to not only move oxygen from our inhaled air into our blood, but to release carbon dioxide from our blood back into the air, and interruptions in this process can have significant consequences. Our lungs are one of the largest interfaces between us and the outside world, and they need to be equipped to deal with airborne particulates that can bring in pollutants, allergens, and infectious pathogens. Healthy immune function in the lungs is essential to respond to these threats. The response to pollutants requires strong detoxification and elimination functions; the response to allergens requires balance in our adaptive immune responses, determined by the ratio of T cell subtypes; and the response to pathogens requires a precise and efficient innate immune response that can eliminate infection before it takes hold.
Respiratory system dysfunction
Respiratory system dysfunction appears in predictable patterns, including airway obstruction, reactivity, inflammation, and susceptibility to infection. When pollutants and infection damage the lungs, the airway or the alveoli can become weak, as in obstructive lung disease, collapsing when air is trying to leave the lungs. This can lead to an accumulation of carbon dioxide in the blood, along with diminished oxygen, and lead to organ dysfunction throughout the body. In people predisposed to allergy, airborne allergens can trigger skewed immune responses, typified by a high ratio of TH2 to TH1 helper T cells, and the activation of mast cells that release histamine, leading to airway contraction, mucus production, and compromised lung function. Dysfunction of the innate immune system, and front-line NK cells and phagocytes (macrophages and dendritic cells), can lead to recurrent airway infections. Our responses to allergens and pathogens can both lead to airway inflammation, which in turn increases the likelihood of further allergy, infection, inflammation, and obstruction, in a positive feedback cycle.
The LUNGS formula
Cordyceps has been used for centuries in Chinese and Tibetan medicine for lung support, enhanced energy and physical performance, kidney disease, and longevity. Modern research has corroborated many of these actions. Cordycepin, a key constituent of cordyceps, attenuates inflammatory cytokine and IgE production, reducing the release of IL-4, IL-5, and IL-13, as well as blocking the inflammatory NFκB pathway. Cordyceps is well-known for its ability to enhance physical performance, improving oxygen utilization via its anti-hypoxic effects, and was shown to improve exercise recovery in male cyclists as discussed above. Cordyceps has been sufficiently researched in humans to merit a meta-analysis of its efficacy in patients with moderate obstructive airway disease. In studies including 1,238 total participants, cordyceps alone or in traditional herbal formulas used alongside typical Western medicine treatment was superior to Western medicine treatment alone in a variety of parameters, improving the lung function measurements FEV1 and FEV1:FVC ratio, six-minute walking distance (a measure of functional capacity), and overall respiratory symptom scores, while reducing the number of respiratory disease exacerbations over the course of a year.
Oyster mushroom is known for its polysaccharide content, which is extracted and studied as the extract pleuran. Pleuran administration to children with recurrent respiratory infections reduces the frequency of upper and lower respiratory tract infections, and modulates allergic responses by reducing the number of eosinophils, which are key drivers of allergy, and stabilizing the levels of allergy-associated antibodies (IgE). In one trial, this reduction in atopic/allergic responses contributed to the reduction in the frequency of respiratory infections, demonstrating the interplay between allergic immune responses and infection. Oyster mushroom also increases the number of natural killer (NK) cells, key members of the innate immune system that defend against viral infection, correlating with a reduced number of respiratory infections in a trial of athletes and prolonged physical activity.
Reishi has been studied in vitro, in animal models, and in human clinical trials; it also has a millenia-long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine. In the lungs, reishi acts to reduce allergic/atopic responses by diminishing release of the cytokines IL-4 and IL-5, key markers of the TH2 T helper cells implicated in allergy, as well as IL-17A, implicated in TH17 helper T cell responses that drive local inflammation. Reishi extracts also increase production of IFN-𝛾, pushing T cells towards TH1 and away from TH2 responses. Ganoderic acids C and D specifically inhibit the release of histamine from mast cells, a key mechanism in allergic airway disease. In patients with fatigue and systemic pain, daily reishi supplementation improved endurance, lower body flexibility, and speed, speaking to its ability to improve function and performance in humans; corroborating this, a trial of reishi and cordyceps supplementation improved post-exercise recovery in male cyclists, and improved free-radical scavenging activity following cycling races. Reishi’s immune-modulating, anti-allergic, and ergogenic (performance-enhancing) actions make it an excellent choice for many types of lung conditions.