Did you know that at least 80% of women will have been infected by the human papillomavirus (HPV) by age 50? It is estimated that more than 100 types of HPV exist and at least 14 of these are cancer-causing. While certain strains of HPV cause genital warts, others produce abnormal cells on the cervix (detected by Pap tests) that can result in cervical cancer. If it is not treated or detected in time, this disease can be fatal.
How can HPV infections lead to cancer?
About 70% of cervical cancers and pre-cancerous cervical lesions are caused by two strains of HPV. If the body’s immune system cannot effectively fight off an HPV infection, the virus can remain for years and, over time, cause normal cells to become cancerous. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women around the world, with 570,000 women newly diagnosed with it in 2018.
Fortunately, most cervical cancers can be prevented. With routine screenings, health care providers are better able to detect and remove precancerous cells before they progress. HPV vaccines are also available, but they cannot treat existing infection.
How can reishi help prevent and fight cervical cancer?
Known as the “mushroom of immortality,” while it cannot keep us alive forever, reishi has many general health benefits. It has been used for thousands of years in China and Japan to promote health and longevity. Researchers have found that reishi contains powerful adaptogens and compounds, including polysaccharides and triterpenoids like ganoderic acid, that support immune function and antibody production.
Our immune systems can become weakened by poor diet, insufficient restorative sleep, stress, age, chronic infections, and other diseases. When this happens, viral infections like HPV are able to take greater hold, multiply, and increase our risk for certain kinds of cancer.
As a result, the health community is paying more attention to medicinal mushrooms, especially their immune-supporting and antiviral benefits. In addition, scientists are studying these fantastic fungi to learn more about their cancer-fighting therapeutic potential. Research has demonstrated, for example, that fungal polysaccharides can modulate immune function. That means that these compounds help to strengthen the body’s immune response when needed, combating the growth of infection and decreasing the likelihood that it will form cancer cells. Through reishi’s ability to enhance our immune surveillance system, it can help the body identify and eliminate abnormal molecular patterns, thereby improving its protection from cancer-causing viruses, including HPV.
Further to this, reishi’s antioxidant capacity helps reduce free radical damage that could result in cancer. Additionally, studies suggest that the ganoderic acids—unique to reishi mushroom—have antitumour properties by being toxic to cancer cells (cytotoxic) and causing cancer cells to undergo their own programmed cell death (aptosis). And, because reishi supports healthy liver and kidney function, it can also help with the detoxification of carcinogens and strengthen the body if chemotherapy or radiation therapies are used.
Prevention is Key
While reishi mushroom, alongside conventional medical therapies like surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy can be employed to fight an existing cervical cancer, prevention is the best approach. This means getting regular Pap tests, but can also mean considering the HPV vaccine and practicing safe sex. In addition to all of its other health benefits, taking Japanese red reishi mushroom offers another layer of protection against getting cervical cancer.