From dead plant matter to nematodes to bacteria, never underestimate the cleverness of mushrooms to find new food”~ Paul Stamets
When most of us think about what foods we need to eat more of to boost our health and reduce our risk of a variety of diseases, colorful fruits and veggies are usually what comes to mind.
While these foods are amazing for us, they do not include one disease-fighting, nutrient-packed superfood that we should all be focused on getting more of: mushrooms.
Mushrooms are much more than the handful of varieties that you find in the store, and some of these fungi are so powerful health wise that we categorize them as medicinal mushrooms.
A Brief History of Mushrooms
Not a fruit or vegetable, mushrooms are a distinct class of organisms called fungi and are an essential part of a sustainable world. Mushrooms are defined as any macrofungus which has a distinctive fruiting body large enough to be picked by hand and seen by the naked eye. Medicinal mushrooms in particular help to purify the environment by decomposing dead trees and plants.
Our understanding of fungi, as well as cataloguing those that do exist, is in its infancy. There are an estimated 140,000 species of mushrooms with only 14,000 thus far identified.
The use of mushrooms as medicine dates back thousands of years in Asian countries, with over 200 species of mushrooms used in traditional Chinese medicine for a wide variety of uses.
In the past few decades, Western culture has caught on, conducting research that helps us to understand how these organisms are able to provide such a wide array of benefits.
Health Benefits of Medicinal Mushrooms
The main medicinal uses of mushrooms that has been supported thus far by science includes their ability to act as an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, antidiabetic, antimicrobial, antiallergic, immunomodulatory, antitumor, hypocholesterolemic, and nephroprotective agents.
Research has shown that mushrooms are rich in B vitamins, fiber, trace minerals, enzymes, vitamins, and protein.
One of the most interesting medicinal applications of fungi is in helping to lower the risk of cancer through a variety of mechanisms. Mushrooms have been found to protect DNA from damage, inhibit tumor formation, stop cell mutation, and boost the body’s detoxification abilities.
Energy and Cognitive Function
There are few of us who haven’t experienced bouts of low energy and brain fog or fatigue, and often times it is hard to pinpoint the cause. Stress, pollution, poor diet, and many other triggers can lead to our feeling physically and mentally drained.
Medicinal mushrooms contain compounds that can help to alleviate these symptoms, leaving us feeling energetic and ready to take on the world.
The B vitamins found in high quantities in mushrooms help to turn food into energy for the body and also support proper adrenal function. They also help with our neurotransmitters, which help reduce our feelings of stress, help prevent brain fog, all while boosting our metabolism!
Many of the medicinal mushrooms fall into a category of superfoods known as adaptogens. Adaptogens are known to help our bodies cope with stress, which can help to reduce inflammation and improve mood and energy levels.
3 of My Favorite Medicinal Mushrooms
1. Reishi (Lingzhi) Mushrooms
In Chinese, the word lingzhi symbolizes longevity, well-being, and divine power.
The reishi mushroom has been used traditionally to help modulate the immune system, control blood glucose levels, boost liver health, and fight harmful bacteria.
Reishi mushrooms are very powerful adaptogens, so adding this mushroom into your daily routine can help during periods of high stress, improving your mental abilities, energy level, and mood.
Minimum potency to look for in Ganoderma Lucidem (Reishi) is 400 mg.
2. Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus) Mushrooms
Lion’s mane mushrooms are especially powerful when it comes to brain and nerve health, with multiple studies confirming their positive health effects.
One study on older Japanese subjects with mild cognitive impairment found that, compared to the control group, the group that took 250 mg tablets of lion’s mane capsules daily were found to have increased cognitive functioning scores.
Depression and anxiety symptoms have also been found to be reduced through supplementation with lion’s mane.
Mimimum potency to look for in Hericium erinaceus is 400 mg.
3. Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) Mushrooms
Traditionally used for digestive health, Chaga mushrooms have recently been found to have powerful antioxidant effects through reducing the detrimental effects of oxidative stress on DNA.
Oxidative damage to cells is a huge problem in society today, largely due to things such as pollution, pesticides and herbicides, smoking, and poor diet. Adding in chaga mushroom products can help to counteract some of this damage.
Mimimum potency to look for in Inonotus obliques is 300 mg.
How to Add Medicinal Mushrooms into Your Diet
It is good to know that while there are many mushroom supplements you can find in the marketplace, very few of them match the potency of the mushroom remedies used in traditional herbalism or the mushroom remedies used in clinical research. What does this mean? That picking the right supplement for its potency and quality are key if you want to see results.
When researching what kind a mushroom supplement has been extensively used in clinical trials and health benefits you will find that the preparation method for medicinal mushrooms was a hot water extraction method. This has proven to be most effective.
Potency is also very important to look at when consuming medicinal mushrooms. Research has established the amount needed for prevention and therapeutic benefit. The potency level can be found on the label. Make sure to then research to see exactly how much is recommended for the condition you will be treating.
There are a variety of products containing medicinal mushrooms including powders and capsules. It is best to include them in your diet daily to see the best results. Mushrooms are best taken twice daily-12 hours apart and on an empty stomach, especially when using them for a medicinal purpose.
For great information on medicinal mushrooms check out one of my favorite books: Medicinal Mushrooms A Clinical guide by Martin Powell.
If you have more questions about which medicinal mushroom would be best for your condition, please stop by Hummingbird Community Acupuncture.
- Medicinal Mushrooms
- Medicinal mushrooms: Towards a new horizon
- Ganoderma lucidum (Lingzhi or Reishi): A Medicinal Mushroom
- Medicinal mushroom science: Current perspectives, advances, evidences, and challenges
- Current findings, future trends, and unsolved problems in studies of medicinal mushrooms
- International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms
- Recent developments in mushrooms as anticancer therapeutics: a review
- Neuron health – can culinary and medicinal mushrooms help?
- Chaga mushroom extract inhibits…
- Oxidative stress and neurodegenerative…
11. The influence of the hot water extract from shiitake medicinal mushroom
Joaquina Cante, L.Ac., Shaman, is a nationally board certified acupuncturist and holistic healthcare practitioner in Boulder, Colorado. Owner of Hummingbird Community Acupuncture, she is a believer in the innate power of each individual to heal and become a better human being.