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Bioactive Constituents

β-glucans (Beta-Glucans)

β-glucans are a class of polysaccharides composed of sugar monomer units. Humans cannot digest β-glucans because each sugar is connected with a β-link.  Dietary glucose typically comes in the form of starch, which is digestible to humans because the sugars are connected by an α-link.  A familiar β-linked polysaccharide is cellulose, common vegetable fiber.  However, the β-glucans found in medicinal mushrooms are distinct from cellulose, having (1→3) linkages rather than (1→4) linkages, and containing a broader diversity of monomers, such as galactose, xylose and mannose.

β-glucans can activate an immune response because they resemble the antigens on the surface of many pathogens.  When taken orally, β-glucans reach the large intestine intact, where they may be interpreted as a pathogen by macrophages, initiating elevated levels of natural killer cells and T lymphocytes which prevent illness[1].

Some researchers report immunomodulating activities of β-glucans without well understood mechanisms of action.  The β-glucans found in Ganoderma lucidum were shown help treat HIV/AIDS[2],[3] and have antitumor properties[4].


Glycoproteins are polymers of proteins and sugars found on the outside of cell walls.  White blood cells use glycoproteins to identify pathogens.  In fact, blood types are determined by the glycoproteins found on the surface of blood cells. The immune system reacts to a blood transfusion as it would to a pathogen if the cells present the wrong glycoprotein.

The immune system is said to develop antibodies when it learns to identify a unique glycoprotein on the surface of a pathogenic cell, including fungal infections.  The glycoproteins found in some fungi have similar medicinal properties to β-glucans; for example, golden oyster mushrooms were shown to have an inhibitory effect against leukemia cells[5].


Arabinoxylan is a polysaccharide fiber composed xylose chains with branching arabinose units.  It is a common structural component in the cell walls of grains and plants, especially wood.  Arabinoxylans have been shown to alleviate the symptoms of Type II diabetes by modulating metabolism of sugar[6].  They have also been shown to have antitumor and immunomodulatory activity[7].


Triterpenes are organic structures composed of 30 carbons and 48 hydrogens. Various triterpene structures are ubiquitous in life; for instance, squalene is a triterpene precursor used by humans to synthesize cholesterol.  Ganoderic and lucidenic acid, two triterpenes found in Ganoderma lucidum, have been shown to exhibit anticancer, anti-inflammatory, antihistamine and hypotensive activity[8].  The betulinic acid found in Inonotus obliquus has been shown to exhibit anticancer, anti-inflammatory and antiviral activity[9].


Free radicals are a class of molecules with an unstable electron configuration, so they can damage cells by oxidizing them.  Antioxidants help prevent cellular damage by donating electrons to free radicals, rendering them harmless.  A number of medicinal mushrooms have been found to contain high antioxidant levels, including Ganoderma tsugae, Ganodrma lucidum and Coriolus versicolor[10].

[1] Ka-Hing Wong, Connie K. M. Lai & Peter C.K. Cheung.  Molecular Mechanisms of Immunomodulation of immune cells by Mushroom β-glucans.  The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shatin, New Territories, Hong Kong, Chaina.

[2] D. Mtango, A. Masele, Y.Mgonda, E.Lyamuya, M.J. Mbwambo, K.E. Mshigeni and S.T. Chang.  Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial Treatment of HIV/AIDS with Ganoderma lucidum mushrooms. 

[3] S. L. B. Kajuna. The General Importance of the Beta-Glucan Receptor as the Basis for Immunologic Bioactivity of Ganoderma lucidum polysaccharides.  Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Hubert Kairuki Memoprial University, Tanzania.

[4] Marvin Berovic, Mirjan Svagelj, Bojana Boh and Branka Wraber.  Submerged and Solid State Cultivation of Antitumor Extra and Intracellular Fungal Polysaccharides of Ganoderma lucidum and Grifola frondosaUniversity of Ljubljana.

[5] Jian-Nan Chen, Yuh-Tai Wang and James Swi-Bea Wu.  A Glycoprotein Extracted from Golden Oyster Mushroom Pleurotus citrinopileatus Exhibiting Growth Inhibitory Effect against U937 Leukemia Cells.  American Chemical Society, 2009.

[6] Lu ZX, Walker KZ, Muir JG, O’Dea K.  Arabinoxylan fibre improves metabolic control in people with Type II diabetes.  Department of Pathology, Monash Mecial Centre, Victoria, Australia.

[7] Li Cao, Xiuzhen Liu, Tianxiu Qian, Guibo Sun, Yan Guo, Fengjin Chang, Sumei Zhou and Xiabo Sun.  Antitumor and mmunomodulatory activity of arabinoxylans: a major constituent of wheat bran.  International Journal of Biological Macromolecules, 2011.

[8] Kim H.W, Kim B.K.  Biomedical triterpenoids of Ganoderma lucidum.  Int J Med Mushr. 1999.

[9] Mullauer F.B, Kessler J.H, Medema J.P.  Betulinic acid, a natural compound with potent anticancer effects.  Anticancer Drugs 2010.

[10] Jeng-Leun Mao, Hsiu-Ching Lin, Chin-Chu Chen.  Antioxidant Properties of Several Medicinal Mushrooms.  National Chung-Hsing University.  Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2002.