SAN DIEGO, Calif. — Scientists continue to search for better treatments for COVID-19, and researchers at UC San Diego think one solution might be growing on trees.
They’ve just launched a clinical trial to see if certain mushrooms can help treat the disease in its early stages. The trial, which is enrolling volunteers now, is the first study of its kind authorized by the Food and Drug Administration.
“We think mushrooms may have the ability to reduce the severity of COVID,” said principal investigator Dr. Gordon Saxe. Saxe is a preventive and integrative medicine physician who leads the Krupp Center for Integrative Research at UCSD.
Mushrooms have been used in medicine for thousands of years, notably by the Greeks and Chinese. Studies have shown the fungi have a range of pathogen-fighting and immune-boosting properties.
The first antibiotic, penicillin, was derived from a mushroom.
These medicinal properties are a byproduct of evolution, Saxe said. Mushrooms and other fungi can be infected by viruses and bacteria just like humans, so they developed defenses over time.
“They evolved all kinds of amazing antimicrobial defenses against viruses in particular, and we can benefit from what they have produced. The medicines they contain can get conveyed to us when we ingest them,” he said.
There are about 12,000 known species of mushrooms and Dr. Saxe’s team has honed in on two: turkey tail and agarikon. Both are native to old growth forests in North America. They do not have hallucinogenic properties.
“They are no more psychoactive than the button mushrooms you would put in a stir fry,” Saxe said.
In lab tests, agarikon has shown strong antiviral activity against drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis along with H1N1 (swine flu), H5N1 (bird flu), cowpox and herpes viruses, according to mushroom expert Paul Stamets, a collaborator on the study.
In some experiments, compounds in agarikon were 10 times more potent against flu viruses than the pharmaceutical ribavirin, Stamets said.
Dr. Saxe is now recruiting 132 volunteers recently diagnosed with COVID-19 for the double-blind, controlled study at UCSD and UCLA. Volunteers will take capsules of mushroom powder or a placebo three times a day for up to two weeks. Participants will be compensated $250.
Interested volunteers should email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (858) 249-6896.
Other studies are already in the works. Research has shown mushrooms can boost the immune system, particularly helper T cells that orchestrate antibodies. Dr. Saxe is planning to launch a second FDA authorized study as early as May to explore whether taking mushrooms can stimulate a stronger response to the COVID-19 vaccines.
A third COVID study will explore a Chinese herbal formula that has been used in Eastern Medicine for more than two millennia.
“People are realizing that there was wisdom in some of the ancient approaches, but we need to retest these things using modern science,” Dr. Saxe said.
This story was first published by Derek Staahl at KGTV.