Fungal mycorrhizae: ecosystem modulators

A nice article from Nature magazine shares some interesting research on the mycelia of mushrooms (the main growing part, usually underground, which produce the spore-bearing fruiting bodies we harvest and eat). We've known for a long time that mycelia are everywhere, almost saturating soil and contributing to the ecological balance of forest and field alike. We've even studied how some plants, like orchids for example, engage in a delicate balance with the root-like tendrils of fungal mycelia (known as mycorrhizae), benefiting in both nourishment and protection. Recent research has focused on how the web of fungal roots in the soil of the forest acts as a literal 'network', sharing and balancing resources between itself and different species of green plants. It seems quite likely, in fact, that many plants could not exist without their fungal symbiotes: but the story goes deeper than that.
Mushroom mycelia can take nutrients, especially sugars, from the roots of strong, green plants (like established trees) and "feed" them to weaker understory herbs and seedlings who have less access to light for photosynthesis. A neat example: in the spring, mycorrhizae shunt nutrients from the early trout lily to feed new maple seedlings, while the reverse occurs in the fall. Inter-species nutrient balance is maintained by these fungal networks!
This research continues to increase my respect for the Kingdom Fungi, and I am beginning to suspect that these organisms are the great modulators and networkers of the living world. It is no wonder to me that they are so effective in modulating the function of human physiologies as well, helping to balance immunity and inflammation so effectively. Hopefully more research on this subject will be forthcoming -- it is a field we know woefully little about.
In the meanwhile, Paul Stamets is the man.


Hyperactivity linked to food additives

A British study published in the Lancet has documented the effects of certain specific food coloring agents (sunset yellow coloring, also known as E110; carmoisine, or E122; tartrazine, or E102; ponceau 4R, or E124; the preservative sodium benzoate, or E211; and other colors) and preservatives (primarily sodium benzoate) in kid's drinks. Over 300 children, roughly split between three and eight year olds, underwent the blinded trial. The results were striking: the drinks with additives were linked with higher rates of impulsivity, inattention, and general hyperactivity.
Critics of the study were quick to point out that this is simply an association, not a "cause-and-effect" phenomenon. True enough, but many variables were controlled in this research: drinks, which were given to children in a double-blind fashion, were the only sources of additives. Assignment of the laced drinks was random. And this study builds on previous data gathered by the British government (which is why it awarded over $1 million for this recent research).
So, in my opinion, we are beginning to get scientific backing to the herbalist's idea that synthetic food additives are not only damaging to the liver and metabolism, but also interfere with the psyche. In fact, as many herbalists might tell you, the link between the liver and the spirit is a very real one, and the metabolism of toxic synthetics can lead to inflammatory processes all over the physiology, not just in the nervous system. Back to whole, local foods!