Snow Fungus

Tremella fuciformis
(from Medicinal Mushrooms – A Clinical Guide by Martin Powell)

English name – Snow Fungus
Japanese name – Shirokikurage / Hakumokuji
Chinese name – Bai Mu Er / Yin Er

As well as being a popular culinary mushroom in oriental cuisine, T. fuciformis has a long history of medicinal use and was one of the mushrooms included in the Shen Nong Ben Cao (c.200AD). Its traditional indications include clearing heat and dryness, nourishing the brain and enhancing beauty!

Like other jelly fungi, T. fuciformis is rich in polysaccharides and these are the main bioactive component1. The principal polysaccharide is a glucoronoxylomannan with a linear backbone of 1,3 linked α-D-mannan residues with side chains consisting mainly of xylose and glucoronic acid2,3. The glucuronic acid side chains in Auricularia auricula have been found to be essential for its anti-clotting action and they are likely to contribute to T. fuciformis’s action in this regard. Unlike in some other mushrooms research has shown no effect on immunological activity from changes in size of the polysaccharide molecules2.

Research in China has focussed on its use to alleviate the side effects of radiotherapy and as an anti-aging supplement with over 40 Chinese patents citing it during the 1990’s alone4,5.

Radiotherapy – As well as demonstrating broad immuno-modulatory activity and in vitro anti-cancer activity6-8, T. fuciformis polysaccharides are considered to have a unique ability to prevent the consequences of acute radiation, restoring the blood-producing mechanism of the bone marrow9. When administered at a dose of 200mg/kg for 3-5 days prior to radiotherapy they exerted a protective effect on the bone marrow caused by Cobalt-60 irradiation with myeloid granulocytes reduced to 60% of normal with T. fuciformis polysaccharides but 20% of normal without10. They also significantly increased the 30-day survival rates in mice, dogs and monkeys exposed to Cobalt-60 γ-rays11.

Circulatory disorders – T. fuciformis polysaccharides have been shown to stimulate DNA synthesis in vascular endothelial cells, the dysfunction of which is a major factor in the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis, hypertension and thrombophlebitis, with therapeutic implications for these conditions. They have also been shown to protect endothelium cells from histamine damage, increase clotting time, reduce platelet adherence and blood viscosity9.

Neurological damage – The water extract of T. fuciformis (0.01-1 microg/ml) promoted neurite outgrowth of PC12h cells in a dose dependent manner, indicating potential for application of T. fuciformis polysaccharides in the treatment of neurological damage12.

Experiments with mice also showed the ability of T. fuciformis polysaccharides to exert an anti-aging effect by increasing the superoxide dismutase activity of the brain and liver9.

Memory impairment – Daily oral treatment with T. fuciformis (100 or 400 mg/kg) for 14 consecutive days significantly reversed the scopolamine-induced deficit in learning and memory in rats, and alleviated decrease in cholinergic immunoreactivity induced by scopolamine in the medial septum and hippocampus. T. fuciformis ameliorated learning and memory deficits partly through its increasing the central cholinergic activity and could represent a potentially useful agent that is able to improve the function of impaired cognitive processes12.

Cosmetic application – As mentioned above, T. fuciformis has traditionally been believed to benefit the skin and ‘enhance beauty’ and T. fuciformis polysaccharides have been developed for use in cosmetics on account of their excellent skin moisture retention, skin protection, flexibility and flattening effects, as well as anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic properties. Their ability to prevent senile degeneration of micro-vessels also helps maintain blood perfusion to the skin13.

CLINICAL SUMMARY
Main Therapeutic Application – Immune support, anti-ageing, radiotherapy
Key Component - Polysaccharides
Dose - 1-3g/day polysaccharide extract for health maintenance, 3-6g/day for radiotherapy support.

T. fuciformis polysaccharides are beneficial for counteracting the harmful effects of radiotherapy and also possess excellent anti-ageing activity with a combination of neurological, circulatory and immune-modulating benefits. In addition they are an ideal supplement for those who smoke because of their moistening and nourishing properties, as well as beneficial effects on the skin and immune system.

Caution – Patients on anti-coagulant medication.

1. Research advances in primary biological effects of Tremella polysaccharides. Chen FF, Cai DL. Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Xue Bao. 2008;6(8):862-6.
2. Characterisation of acidic heteroglycans from Tremella fuciformis Berk with cytokine stimulating activity. Gao Q, Seljelid R, Chen H, Jiang R. Carbohydrate Research. 1996;288:135-142
3. Antioxidation activities of polysaccharides extracted from Tremella fuciformis Berk. Liu P, Gao X, Xu W, Zhou Z, Shen X. Chinese Journal of Biochemical Pharmaceutics. 2005;03
4. Effect of polysaccharides from Auricularia auricula underw, Tremella fuciformis Berk and spores of Tremella fuciformis Berk on ageing. Chen Yi-jun et al. Chinese Journal of Modern Applied Pharmacy. 1989-02
5. Effect of Tremella polysaccharides on the immune function of experimental aging model mice. La Y, Liu X, Pei S, Shi Y, Cai D. Chinese Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2005-04
6. Effect of Tremella polysaccharide on IL-2 production by mouse splenocytes. Ma L, Lin Z.B. Yao Xue Xue Bao. 1992;27(1):1-4.
7. Effects of Tremella polysaccharides on immune function in mice. Xia D, Lin Z.B. Zhongguo Yao Li Xue Bao. 1989;10(5):453-7.
8. Antitumor activity on sarcoma 180 of the polysaccharides from Tremella fuciformis Berk. Ukai S, Hirose K, Kiho T, Hara C, Irikura T. Chem Pharm Bull (Tokyo). 1972;20(10):2293-4.
9. Medicinal value of the genus Tremella Pers. (Heterobasidiomycetes) (Review). Reshetnikov S.V, Wasser S.P, Duckman I, and Tsukor K. 2000. Int J Med Mushr. 2000;2:345-367
10. Effect of nourishing Yin and antitoxic capsule II on oxidative injury by X-ray irradiation in rats. Chen R, Shi H.J, Hou Y. Journal of Hebei Medical University. 2006-05
11. Effect of Tremella fuciformis Berk on acute radiation sickness in dogs. Zhao T.F, Xu C.X, Li Z.W, Xie F, Zhao Y.T, Wang S.Q, Luo C.H, Lu R.S, Ni G.L, Ku Z.Q, Ni Y.F, Qian Q, Chen X.Q. Zhongguo Yi Xue Ke Xue Yuan Xue Bao. 1982;4(1):20-3.
12. Effect of Tremella fuciformis on the neurite outgrowth of PC12h cells and the improvement of memory in rats. Kim J.H, Ha H.C, Lee M.S, Kang J.I, Kim H.S, Lee S.Y, Pyun K.H, Shim I. Biol Pharm Bull. 2007;30(4):708-14.
13. Tremella fuciformis (Shirokikurage) polysaccharide. Ahashi Y, Yamamoto Y. Fragrance Journal. 2005;33,3:45-50

Written by