Adding mushrooms to your pizza might be as far as you use this fungi now. But, did you know that some mushrooms have medicinal benefits when used routinely? Functional medicinal mushroom products are hitting the supplement shelves at a fast pace. Can mushrooms really have profound health benefits? Here’s the research on 5 of the best medicinal mushrooms to add to your diet.
But First, a Few Words About Adaptogens
While each of these five mushrooms have their own unique medicinal benefits, they’re all also adaptogens. What are adaptogens? We never thought you’d ask. Adaptogens are herbs or other plants that help the body adapt to stress. With the level of stress most of us have today, it’s no wonder adaptogens have consumed the health and wellness market.
Herbalists and those practicing eastern medicine have used adaptogens for centuries. Current research is ongoing to prove the effectiveness of adaptogens to benefit our stress response. And the FDA has not concluded that these mushrooms have any clinically-verified benefits.
One more note before we get to the list: these are not “magic mushrooms.” They will not get you high in any way (unless you really, really love eating mushrooms.)
Medicinal Mushrooms to Add to Your Diet
1. Lions Mane
Lion’s mane, or Hericium erinaceus, is a white globe-shaped mushroom found in North America, Europe, and Asia. It has a reputation of improving mood and mental clarity as well as immune health.
Lion’s mane could be helpful in improving cognitive function. In a study of 50-80 year old people with mild cognitive impairments, daily intake of lion’s mane supplements improved cognitive scores compared to the control. This study also suggests that the longer the supplement is taken, the better it works as scores improved as time went on.
Lion’s mane has historically been used to improve mood and overall well being. Studies on these benefits are limited. But, current research indicates that Lion’s mane could help to decrease anxiety and depression symptoms. So if mental focus and mood seems to be troubling you, Lion’s mane could be a beneficial supplement to add to your routine.
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Cordyceps, is not exactly a mushroom, but very closely related and grouped with medicinal mushrooms. It is a parasitic fungi that begins growth from caterpillar larva. That sounds a bit disgusting, but it has tons of health benefits — making your queasiness worth it.
Naturally cordyceps is only found in the mountain regions of China. If you take cordyceps in supplement form, it’s most likely been commercially created in a laboratory, not from the wild.
One of the oldest uses of Cordyceps is to increase longevity and stamina.It’s use to improve athletic function has been studied over the past few decades to validate these uses. Animal studies indicate that cordyceps can significantly increase endurance as well lactate clearance. You can use your muscles at higher rates of intensity for longer periods when you have an increased lactate clearance.
In addition to improved endurance, cordyceps’ active constituents have a biological and medicine-like effect on liver, kidney and cardiac disease. Animal studies have found evidence that cordyceps can protect the liver from the development of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. So while folk healers in China have used this for centuries, modern science is catching up and learning additional ways this fungus can benefit our health.
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Reishi, or Ganoderma lucidum, has been used for centuries in Asian countries. Chinese culture calls it the herb of spiritual potency. And it has a reputation as a mushroom that promotes longevity, well-being, success and increased immunity. (Who couldn’t use a little bit of that these days?) We need more scientific research, but there does seem to be some reishi mushroom benefits.
Several studies have shown promise for using reishi to combat cancer as well as bacterial and viral infections. Limited human studies have been done, but the few that have are encouraging. Researchers observed an 80% rate of improvements in cellular immunity in advanced cancer patients while taking reishi supplements in one study.
For centuries Eastern medicine has used reishi to enhance well-being and vital energy. Anecdotal evidence says this is true, but we’re always working to find proof.
A group of 132 patients with neurasthenia were studied. Neurasthenia is a disease largely attributed to emotional disturbance accompanied by physical and mental fatigue, headache, and irritability. The patients treated with the reishi extract had their fatigue issues improve significantly when compared to those who received the placebo.
Chaga mushroom looks more like a pile of dirt than a mushroom. Don’t let it’s odd appearance fool you. This medicinal mushroom grows on birch trees in the northern hemisphere and is full of anti-cancer and immune boosting potential. So should you add this medicinal mushroom to your diet?
Russia and countries along the Baltic Sea have used Chaga as a treatment for cancer for centuries. Modern research is finding evidence that it can impair cancer cell and tumor formation and progression in cancers such as melanoma and colon cancer .
Research on chaga and the immunocompromised (such as those undergoing chemotherapy treatment) has shown evidence that this mushroom can act as an immunity enhancer.
Chaga could also help improve the gut microbiome which has a positive effect on our immune system as a whole. Research has found that the Inonotus obliquus (scientific name for chaga) polysaccharide changes the gut microbiota and promotes a healthy bacterial profile.
5. Turkey Tail
Turkey Tail can be found all over the world and is easily identified by its swirling color variations and shape like the tail of a wild turkey. It has been a staple in Traditional Chinese Medicine as an immunomodulator. Immunomodulators are substances that help to positively change the way your immune system reacts to threats or attacks. Which comes in handy during the stresses of modern life.
Turkey tail has similar benefits to chaga when it comes to immune support and helping to combat cancer cells. Several studies with various cancers have found benefits with the addition of turkey tail supplements. One study found that radiation-induced decline in natural killer cells was improved by a 6-gram dosing per day of turkey tail. This suggests that immunity can be enhanced with Turkey Tail in those undergoing radiation and chemotherapy.
How to eat medicinal mushrooms
You can eat some medicinal mushrooms the same as you would white button or portabellas. Others are best in powdered, liquid, or pill form. For example, you can eat Lion’s mane raw, cooked, or dried. Cordyceps is mostly taken as a supplement due to its accessibility and short supply of the wild variety. Turkey Tail, reishi and chaga are most often found in powdered, liquid or pill form due to the woody or chewy texture of the mushroom.
Product Review: Pure Essence Lion’s Mane 4X Mushroom Capsules
The bottom line – Should You Add Medicinal Mushrooms to Your Diet?
If you’re looking to enhance your immunity, mood, well-being, or brain health you may want to try adding some medicinal mushrooms to your daily routine. Modern research into these benefits is still relatively new. But many cultures have used these mushrooms for centuries to support a wide array of health issues.
But medicinal and functional mushrooms aren’t an overnight cure for anything. You likely won’t see the benefits of these mushrooms until you’ve incorporated them into your diet for a while. Create an enjoyable routine if you are trying one out. Make sure to do your research, and ask your doctor before adding any nutrition supplement to your routine. This is especially important if you have a pre-existing condition or take medications.
Kelsey is a Registered Dietitian, freelance writer, and plant focused food blogger. She’s passionate about making plant focused eating accessible, fun, and delicious. In addition to geeking out over nutrition science, Kelsey is an herbal enthusiast and loves to experiment with homemade and natural alternatives in the home and spending time with her two small kiddos and husband.