Potent Cancer Fighters: The Role of a Toxic Mushroom

Sometimes they proliferate everywhere in the countryside; under rotting trees, in the open fields, on long-abandoned rooftops, on decaying matter, virtually everywhere. And at other times they don't seem to have a favorite season of their own. Mushrooms can grow at anytime, anyplace- provided there is the right environment for growth and reproduction (including in your nice, immaculately attended to lawn).

Whereas on the one hand the humble and feeble 'plant' becomes a nuisance to some, on the other hand, those who know the delicacy and medicinal properties of mushrooms have a different perspective altogether. Many of these literally hunt around for them for consumption purposes, amicably earning the name mushroom hunters (or mycophagists, scientifically). But in scientific institutions of oncology (cancer study) those that toil in research work regarding the same simple-looking 'plant' are not taking it that lightly. The latest cancer data and studies suggest that mushrooms have more to offer than literary meets the eye.

Types of mushrooms: Toxic and edible

There are different ways in which you can classify mushrooms; one of them is in human use. Here we can have toxic, edible or dietary, medicinal, and psychoactive mushrooms, as well as industrially used mushrooms. All these classes depend on the active substances involved- wherein some cause human poisoning if ingested, others are edible for their high nutrition content, while yet others are used to obtain extracts for prescription in complementary medicine, and so on.

Perhaps, what is most feared by mushroom hunters is to pick the wrong mushrooms and end up being intoxicated (poisoned) or getting their family or close friends to eat wrong varieties. And it is justified to feel so because there are varieties that have been shown to have toxic, mind-altering, and vomit inducing side effects. These, however, are so few that to come across them is not as easy as it is for the good ones. What is even more, there is a toxic variety that oncologists (scientists pursuing advanced cancer studies) have very recently reported as potent cancer fighters.

The recent studies on cancer fighting

a) The poisonous mushroom

The Amanita phalloides (death cap mushroom) resembles common edible mushrooms, yet it has a compound (called alpha-amanitin) that is rated among the most dangerous poisons found naturally. The substance has the capacity to kill any cell without exception. It is highly toxic to normal body cells as well as to the cancerous ones. This potency has been taken advantage of and is directed towards cancer cells only in a mechanism involving the body's own specific antibodies (components of the immune system).

b) The breakthrough mode of action

An immunologist (Dr. Moldenhauer) and a biochemist (Prof. Faulstich) from the German Cancer Research Center have developed a combination mechanism involving a mushroom toxin called amanitin and an antibody (an immune system component that attacks harmful foreign organisms). This antibody specifically recognizes cancer cells. What happens is that the antibody is used as a 'cab' or a transporting agent to specific cancer cells where the amanitin carried attacks and kills the cancer cells yet overlooking the healthy ones.

The antibody has highly specific receptors (or arms) that can only attach to a certain cancer cell surface protein termed scientifically as EpCAM. The fungal mushroom toxin binds (or links) permanently to the antibody, and the antibody can only bind to the surface protein EpCAM. In this form, the antibody then travels to the specific cancer site of interest where it has been directed and takes the poison there. The poison thereby kills the cancer cells with remarkable accuracy once taken into their inside parts.

c) What cancers were found to respond positively?

In the laboratory, toxin-loaded antibodies were able to arrest the growth and proliferation of
pancreatic, breast, and colorectal cancers. Bile duct cancer cells were also found to be highly responsive to the said mechanism. This was demonstrated using laboratory culture methods (whereby a favorable environment for the growth of cells outside the body is made possible and keenly monitored).

In laboratory animals, transferred human pancreatic cancer cells were made to develop into cancer and then subjected to the afore-described mechanism. Surprisingly, a single dose of the poison laden antibody was sufficient to efficiently mitigate tumor growth. Two injections of a higher dose even led to a complete tumor regression in 90% of the tested animals. Too high doses (above the mentioned ones) did not lead to any poison related damages to hepatocytes (liver cells) or even any other organs.

EpCAM and cancer

Scientists have documented studies that show that this EpCAM protein is characteristic of epithelial membrane cells (these are cells that align the outer and inner surfaces of the body). Most malignant tumors have been shown to originate from such epithelial cells. Actually, some cancers produce large amounts of this protein. Examples include pancreatic, ovarian, breast, head/neck, and bile duct cancers.

Earlier studies

A 2010 German study by Isolde (PhD) had used the extracts of death cap mushrooms to show that amanitin, the highly poisonous naturally occurring chemical substance, was capable of inhibiting development of blood cancer (leukemia) in a patient. At different dosages it caused regain of normalcy in blood cells count. The stability of a formerly advanced cancer was gained in 21 months of therapy with no associated symptoms- no liver damage occurring, and the continuous erythrocyte (red blood cells) deprivation characteristic of leukemia was absent.

What we have just learnt

Mushrooms are a delicacy to many. They grow naturally (or are cultivated) and many are the ways of categorizing them. Some are edible whereas others are highly toxic. Amanita phalloides (or the death cap mushroom) is a toxic mushroom harboring one of the most poisonous naturally occurring chemical substances known as alpha-amanitin.

Alpha-amanitin can be used as a cancer fighting substance. In the past, it has been used in complementary medicine for cancer therapy and proved efficacious against colon cancer, bile duct cancer, liver cancer, breast cancer, and tongue root tumors. There are studies that show evidence in the aforementioned cancer treatments. In leukemia, the therapy has been shown to reverse advanced stages, though the participating sample population was too small.

In the present paper, a breakthrough in alpha-amanitin therapy has been discussed. By using a specific antibody that targets specific cancer cell surface receptors, immunologists have been able to achieve remarkable results. The antibody was made to bind the poison and take it to target cancer sites without intoxicating the normal healthy ones. Once inside the cancerous cells, the poison killed cancer cells. Revealed is thus a very promising study that could lead to new cancer treatment strategies.


Moldenhauer G., A. V. Salnikov, S. Luttgau, I. Herr, J. Anderl, H. Faulstich. Therapeutic Potential of Amanitin-Conjugated Anti-Epithelial Cell Adhesion Molecule Monoclonal Antibody against Pancreatic Carcinoma. JNCI Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 2012 April; [Ahead of publication].

Riede I (PhD). Tumor Therapy with Amanita phalloides (Death Cap): Stabilization of B-Cell Chronic Lymphatic Leukemia. J Altern Complement Med. 2010 October; 16(10): 1129-1132.

Riede I. The biochemistry of the tumor cell [in German] Naturheilpraxis. 2007;12:1733-1743.

Riede I. The management of the tumor disease [in German] Naturheilpraxis. 2008;9:12-19.

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