You may be seeing medicinal mushrooms sprout up everywhere lately as supplements and superfood ingredients in chocolate and even coffee! But why all of the sudden interest in these adaptogenic mushrooms?
Astoundingly there are over 1.5 million different fungi and mushroom varieties, some of which are edible, some which are poisonous, some which are hallucinogenic and some which are classified as medicinal mushrooms and have amazing health benefits – which I’m going to talk about today.
Medicinal mushrooms, just like most health “trends” however are nothing new, and have been used for centuries in traditional health practices such as Total Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurveda. As an increasingly health conscious population, it’s no surprise that functional foods and natural medicine, like medicinal mushrooms, are increasingly gaining interest, research and market demand.
What are the health benefits of Medicinal Mushrooms? And which is the best one to take?
Classified as adaptogens, which you can also check out more info on here, they work to re-balance the body, and are especially great at reducing stress levels. Modern lifestyles mean the majority of us are suffering from chronic stress on some level, so it’s no surprise that natural stress reducing supplements are becoming more and more popular.
Definitely classified as a super food, medicinal mushrooms have been the focus of more and more research in the Western world over the past 20 years. This ever growing body of evidence is supporting what traditional medicines have thought in the past, that these mushrooms have a huge range of medicinal functions, including anti-oxidant, anti-parasitic, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic, anti-viral, as well as being cardio-protective, immune boosting and even potentially cancer preventing and fighting.
Mushrooms are a rich source of beneficial active ingredients and nutrients, such as B vitamins and vitamin D, and especially anti-oxidants, including glutathione (the “master” anti-oxidant) and ergothioneine.
Mushrooms and fungus have also played a role not just in Eastern medicine, but Western too, helping to aid in the discovery of penicillin (made from the penicillium fungus), cholesterol reducing statins (lovastatin made from Aspergillus terreus and oyster mushrooms) and immuno-suppresing Cyclosporine (made from Tolypocladium inflatum).
Each different type has their own set of health benefits, so there’s not really one which can be classified as the “best” medicinal mushroom. Plus it’s important to always remember that we’re all unique, and our health approach should always be individual for us.
Medicinal Mushroom List:
Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis)
Cordyceps is the energiser of the group, and while it’s not a “stimulant” it works to boost the body’s production of ATP (our energy currency). It also helps to increase cellular oxygen production, which can also be helpful for asthma sufferers, and blood flow therefore being helpful for athletes in increasing stamina and endurance.
Chaga (Inonotus obliquus)
Chaga grows on birch trees and is a powerful immune system booster. It’s a powerful anti-inflammatory, which is a key component for good health; inflammation is linked to nearly every chronic and autoimmune health problem and so it’s important to keep under control.
It’s also a powerful antioxidant, which is also key for overall health, as it has the ability to scavenge harmful free radicals. Chaga has also been studied for it’s ability to fight off common viral infections, such as the flu, and is also currently being studied, along with other medicinal mushrooms, for it’s role in fighting cancer.
Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)
Named “the Queen of mushrooms”, or “the mushroom of immortality” Reishi like other medicinal mushrooms is great for boosting the immune system, regulating hormones and lowering cortisol (stress) levels.
Reishi is also great for reducing anxiety and helping the body to calm and relax. It’s also great for those with sleep issues (so, pretty much everyone), as it can help enhance the quality and quantity of deep, slow wave sleep.
Lions Mane (Hericium erinaceus)
The brainiac of the bunch, Lion’s Mane is a nootropic which works to help improve memory and concentration by activating the central nervous system and the brain. It helps to stimulate a peptide called nerve growth factor, NGF, which is essential for growth and health of neurons in the brain.
Shiitake (Lentinula edodes)
This is the one you’ve most likely already heard of, as it can be easily found at your local supermarket! Just because it’s more common than the others doesn’t mean it’s any less powerful; it’s been used in TCM for centuries to boost Qi (life force), for skin and beauty, to aid the liver, reduce cholesterol levels and as a great source of B Vitamins (great for reducing stress), Vitamin D and zinc.
Maitake (Grifola frondosa)
Maitake has been studied for its effects regulating glucose levels and increasing insulin production.
It may also be helpful in warding off cold and flu viruses, aiding optimal blood pressure levels, regulating health immune system function as well as lessening the side effects of chemotherapy.
Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor, Coriolus versicolor)
Named after it’s colourful stripes and resemblance to turkey tails, this fungus which grows on dead logs is one that’s backed by a lot of research.
Turkey Tail contains powerful polysaccarides PSP and PSK, which are studied for their immune boosting effects, especially for cancer patients who are currently undergoing chemo. Unlike most pharmaceutical drugs, Turkey tail also showed no negative side effects in the study.
It’s a great digestive aid, and can help against small intensinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) and candida, and also helps the immune system overall thanks to it’s anti-viral and anti-microbial properties.
How do you take medicinal mushrooms?
Like any nutritional supplement they can be taken in a number of ways, including supplements, in powdered form (how I take chaga) or even in food and drinks (like the cordyceps and reishi coffee I have). Medicinal mushrooms are generally safe for use and have no side effects, however it’s important to remember that not everything is suitable for every body. To determine the right medicinal mushroom and dosage for you, it’s always ideal to speak to a qualified practitioner (or just do a lot of your own research too).
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- Cordyceps militaris polysaccharides can enhance the immunity and antioxidation activity in immunosuppressed mice.
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- Immunomodulatory Activity of the Water Extract from Medicinal Mushroom Inonotus obliquus.
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- Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. Chapter 5 Cordyceps as an Herbal Drug
- Effect of Cs-4 (Cordyceps sinensis) on exercise performance in healthy older subjects: a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.
- National Cancer Institute: Medicinal Mushrooms (PDQ®)–Health Professional Version
- Medicinal mushrooms as an attractive new source of natural compounds for future cancer therapy
- Submerged-Culture Mycelia and Broth of the Maitake Medicinal Mushroom Grifola frondosa (Higher Basidiomycetes) Alleviate Type 2 Diabetes-Induced Alterations in Immunocytic Function.
- Maitake extracts and their therapeutic potential.