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A Quick Guide to Medicinal Mushrooms

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For centuries, medicinal mushrooms have helped different cultures enhance wellness, digestion, immunity, healing, and much more. Today, medicinal mushrooms are making their way into the mainstream wellness, health, and culinary spheres as science recognise their unique benefits. 

But what are medicinal mushrooms? Are they worth the hype, and which ones should you take?

Here’s a quick guide to medicinal mushrooms. 

What are medicinal mushrooms?

Medicinal mushrooms are macroscopic fungi used as powder or extracts to balance a healthy diet or aid in preventing, healing, or alleviating multiple diseases. Research shows that medicinal mushrooms produce over 130 medicinal functions and exhibit a broad spectrum of pharmacological activity. 

Generally, mushrooms are naturally low in calories and provide great nutritional benefits. They can provide you with vitamin D, vitamin B, selenium, and potassium to help nutrient absorption, energy, fibre and lower inflammation. 

Types of medicinal mushrooms

Each medicinal mushroom has unique benefits. The common types are found in supplements, powders, extracts, and other products and include:

  • Lion’s Mane. Sometimes referred to as the intelligence mushroom, the Lion’s Mane is famous for its potential brain health benefits. A study on older adults with mild cognitive impairment showed that Lion’s Mane improved mental function when consumed daily for four months. Lion’s Mane can positively impact memory, cognition, and concentration and is rich in antioxidants that can help lower inflammation in the body.
  • Reishi. Sometimes called the immortality mushroom, Reishi can help your body fight bacteria and viruses by helping stimulate T-cells production. It can boost your immune system and may help fight cancer by increasing cells that shrink tumours and kill cancer cells. Reishi can also help your body build stress resilience, soothe busy or anxious minds, improve sleep and decrease depressive symptoms.
  • Chaga. Chaga dates back thousands of years and is a powerful medicinal mushroom featuring the highest antioxidant potency of any food. Studies show that Chaga can reduce inflammation and oxidative stress if you have an inflamed bowel. Chaga can also help prevent cancer and high blood sugar and can be a complementary treatment for diabetes and heart disease. Chaga is also high in fibre and contains nutrients like vitamin D, vitamin B, iron, zinc, and calcium.
  • Turkey tail. Turkey Tail grows on tree trunks worldwide and features high antioxidant content. It’s best known for immune health benefits and contains polysaccharide-K (PSK), which can improve outcomes in patients with cancer. Studies show that PSK is effective in helping repair immune cell damage caused by chemotherapy when used as adjuvant therapy in stomach cancer patients. The Turkey tail mushroom is also rich in beta-glucans which naturally build and stimulate the immune system. It can also help balance gut bacteria, reduce inflammation, improve insulin resistance and boost athletic performance.
  • Cordyceps. Cordyceps have long been used in improving stamina, appetite, libido, sleep, and endurance. Cordyceps increases energy production, oxygen, and blood flow, and can improve post-workout recovery, making it a favourite mushroom among fitness enthusiasts. A study on athletes who took a Cordyceps strain for six weeks found that it significantly increased maximum oxygen uptake (VO2). Cordyceps also has the potential to reduce inflammation, manage type 2 diabetes, and treat certain cancers but more research is necessary.
  • Shiitake. Shiitake mushrooms are famous worldwide, and you can enjoy them fresh, cooked, dried, or in supplement form. Shiitake can help fight inflammation and cancer and offer significant heart health benefits by lowering LDL cholesterol, preventing plaque build-up in arteries, and improving circulation. Studies also show that consuming two dried Shiitake mushrooms daily can improve your immunity with increased cell proliferation and activation of immune markers. 

Considerations when buying medicinal mushrooms

Not all mushrooms and mushroom products are the same. Ensure you only purchase mushrooms from competent sources you can trust. Supplements are a convenient and common way to use medicinal mushrooms but ensure they don’t contain fillers and other additives you need to avoid. 

You’ll get better results from a concentrated extract than from a powder form. Look for supplements extracted through hot water or soluble compounds from the fruiting body instead of mycelium. Mycelium supplements don’t usually have medicinal quality, and you may only get starch. 

Check the label for mentions of active polysaccharides and triterpenoid compounds. Mushroom supplements or powders can be potent so ensure you start small and increase the amount as you get used to them. 

Remember, results are not immediate, and you require patience when taking medicinal mushrooms. You may need to wait a few weeks before experiencing the medicinal mushroom benefits.

Simona LeVey did her degree in psychology at Tel Aviv University. She is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.

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