Monthly Archives: October 2014

The Medicinal Power of Mushrooms and Immune Support

Mushrooms popping up last week in La Pedriza, Spain.

Toadstool sighting last week at La Pedriza, Spain!

I currently live in Madrid and, as in most of the Northern hemisphere, it’s mushroom season.  Each autumn the allure of those tender toadstools entices countless inhabitants  of the city to make their way out to the Sierra with baskets and knives in hand, dreaming of succulent sautes and other seasonal dishes.  For me mushroom season conjures up images of tasty food, but also a strong and healthy immune system allowing one to handle flu season with grace.

Each week I pick up a box of organic vegetables from a farming couple who happened to make an outing last week.They were collecting boletus edulis, or porcini mushrooms, but also had shiitake for sale.  As Gabi, the husband, began to wax about the magic of mushrooms; their versatility and flavor in culinary uses, the joy of collecting them and eventually their medicinal properties, I remembered an incredible mycology-oriented treatment I had been blessed last year.

If you’ve read my first post or the About section of this blog, you know my immune system wasn’t functioning well last year.  In September my WBC had already dipped to 2.7.  On November 14th, 2013 I received a concerned call from the laboratory saying I needed to see a doctor the following day.  I had a blood test that day that showed my white blood cell count was far too low, with a WBC of 1.78, lymphocytes measuring 837/µL and neutrophils measuring 748/µL.  I followed their advice and went in the next day for another test, the results were similar: WBC 1.79, lymphocytes 639/µL, and neutrophils 915/µL.  The low range values expected are 1000/µL and 1800/µL respectively for lymphocytes and neutrophils.  The doctors warned me that if I had a fever I should get to a hospital immediately and that if my numbers had been closer to 500/µL it would have been wise to check into a hospital.  The dangers of neutropenia or worse loomed in my head as I made my way home with plenty of warnings and fear, but little practical advice on what to do or how to heal.

“Let food be they medicine, and medicine be thy food.” – Hippocrates

Being no doctor, it was difficult to say how accurate their statements were, but it was alarming to say the least.  Fortunately, a friend had told me about an MD turned homeopath/TCM practitioner who was kind and reasonably priced.  Immediately I made an appointment.  After an hour and a half interview about my constitution, emotional states, medical history, and current woes I was sent home with a homeopathic remedy and a supplement made of maitake, reishi, and shiitake mushrooms.  Being trained in TCM, she was well aware of the ancient wisdom regarding the power of mushrooms to boost the immune system.  Dr. Eliaz, an expert in integrative medicine, sheds more light on this here in an article from the Rodale Institute.  In just one month both my lymphocytes and neutrophils were back up to acceptable levels.

After a year of taking a holistic approach towards health my energy levels are up and going into autumn my immune system is in much improved shape.  I am grateful to actually be able to hike and spend time in nature this year, observing the fall fungus take root in the renewed moisture of the woods. Rather than worrying about my health, it is a blessing to have the clarity of mind to think about all of the possible mushroom recipes out there instead.

This post is anecdotal in nature and is not intended to be used as medical advice or suggest specific treatments or methods.  Please do not attempt to use mushrooms medicinally without consulting a medical professional first.


Please follow the link below to read a great article by Amy Lansky.  She is the author of Impossible Cure, an incredible book on homeopathy that helped me put my own healing journey into perspective and understand the workings behind my experience.  The article below gives a nice introduction to homeopathy and the basics on how scholars and scientist believe other energy healing modalities work.

Healing and the Hero’s Adventure

“…we have not even to risk the adventure alone, for the heroes of all time have gone before us.  The labyrinth is thoroughly known.  We have only to follow the thread of the hero path, and where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god.  And where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves.  Where we had thought to travel outward, we will come to the center of our own existence.  And where we had thought to be alone, we will be with all the world.” – Joseph Campbell

Dealing with a chronic condition can be viewed as a long ordeal, but in many ways it mirrors the hero’s quest. A journey is undergone and eventually some greater knowledge is gathered and brought back to be shared. There is always a moment of isolation that separates the hero from ordinary life, a “why me?” sort of lament. It could come in the form of an illness, a task or destiny that needs fulfilling, or as in the case of Bilbo Baggins, an unexpected journey. In this moment we are forced to ask ourselves how to proceed.  Along the way helpers and demons will present themselves in many forms. Healers may come save the day, while in other cases one may receive misguided information. What works for some will not work for others. Each adventure into the unknown is different, but one’s faith will be tested in every case.

A path opens up to those on the quest. One full of hardship and suffering, despair and deceit.  We feel deceived by our bodies and by fate or God, and then by doctors who can help with the symptoms, but fail to offer an optimistic view or how to deal with the cause. However, it is also a path full of unexpected coincidences, spontaneous remissions, the right healer with the right method of healing, and other fruits brought forth by this forced adjustment to our usual way of life.

The hero’s journey is one of suffering and isolation, but at the same time one of union and sometimes even great joy, particularly upon breaking through to the other side, having attained a new perspective. Whether one becomes fully cured or simply adapts their condition to a new way of life, without a doubt there is always a healing that took place. An emotional healing that only one who has walked the path can understand. A coming to terms with the state of the universe and their place in it, a way of viewing the world that finally makes sense. It is there for anyone to find, we are all heroes after all, but those faced with illness are offered a special opportunity for rapid change, a freedom to leave all preconceived notions behind.

I recently watched a movie called The Sacred Science. It follows eight people with chronic conditions who journey to the Amazon of Peru seeking healing. They agree to spend 30 days working with the healing Shamans there. The patients under a special “diet” that includes certain foods, long periods of isolation and treatment with ayahuasca, and other plant medicines, as a means of gaining a new insight on their condition and breaking old life patterns they may have been stuck in. The majority are patients who tried everything allopathic medicine had to offer, and only then decided to give a different method a shot. Five of the eight patients come back completely off their medications and markedly improved.

Each participant reflected on experiencing a new level of consciousness and way of viewing their life and the world. Although they may never be able to fully explain the experiences leading to these insights to others, they know the impact it had on their own lives. An inner journey towards inner and outer health; mind, body, and soul. Having come out the other side (even when not completely cured), illness can then be viewed as a gift of suffering, a gift that led to a higher state of awareness, a higher quality of being. Many heroes have walked the labyrinth before and I hope others will continue to see their struggle and opportunity in the same light.

A personal case study: How much does our mind affect our symptoms?

Back in Spain again. The frightening images begin to replay in my mind. Lumbering up subway stairs fatigued, only to find myself nearly too weak to push open the heavy door. Leaning on a desk for support in front of a full class of students, pretending to feel OK. Waking up with fear every workday, wondering if I’ll have enough energy to get through it. Hours and hours in waiting rooms and on public transportation between appointments with people who have little time for me, lacking the personal touch most doctors don’t seem to possess anymore. Standing on the scale to see I’m 20 pounds below my normal weight and then being told by various specialists that I’m allergic to many foods or that my body won’t tolerate other ones…what to eat to keep from withering away? The terror of being in a crowded subway train full of people with sniffles and sneezes on a rainy day after having a doctor tell me my immune system was functioning at a sub-par level. Frightful hours on the internet trying to figure out what the heck is wrong with me (never a good idea).

Suddenly, being back in Spain, old symptoms start to show up again. It doesn’t make any sense. You see, I felt fine over the summer. After close to 10 months of getting worse and worse and then eventually slowly improving, from what was determined to be Post Viral Fatigue Syndrome, I had a pretty great summer back in California. It wasn’t perfect, there were bad days and moments of doubt, but for the most part I was pretty normal. My symptoms were mostly under control. I had started doing activity again. Light hiking, short jogs, yoga, I was even starting to get back into surfing. I could enjoy a beer or glass of wine without instantly feeling light-headed. I took trips to Mexico and New York. I was back up to my pre-Peace Corps weight and looked just the same as before I left.  Most importantly, I didn’t go to bed wiped out, wondering how I’d feel the next day.

So how could this be happening again? This year in Spain was supposed to make up for last year. I was actually going to have energy to dedicate to my English classes and students this time, rather than feigned enthusiasm masking a depressed-laden exhaustion. But here I was…manifesting many of the same symptoms I thought I had overcome. Strange nerve sensations made my arms feel numb. My sciatica was back, and my legs felt weak when I walked. I was sore all over and felt nausea when I tried to eat. I had trouble getting down most types of food. My groin, parts of my arms, and chest were red and itchy. Physically I felt like I had been catapulted directly back to the land of all of the issues from before.

Logically it didn’t make any sense. How could changing geographic locations, returning to a place, bring back all of this? At home I was fine. This went on for 3 to 4 days as I explored the issues at hand and dove into my emotions about the whole thing. Once I was honest with myself I realized that I was afraid I would get worse again and thinking about a lot of “what if” scenarios regarding my livelihood. It was starting to look like last year because I was afraid it would be like last year. I was consumed by a subconscious fear that had worked its way to the surface. I cried and I panicked. It was all one, big nervous breakdown. At last as I slept one night I had an overall sense of calm wash over me and I knew it would be okay. The next day I felt back to normal.

To what extent do our thoughts and fears dictate our experiences? Just what’s lying below the surface of conscious thinking? How do we put ourselves in a place of mind to thrive rather than thrash about? To choose health rather than illness?