What are the Benefits of Taking Functional Mushrooms?

Every month there seems to be a new food trend – a new “wonder food” that purports to revolutionize your health. Over the years, we’ve seen the good, the bad, and the downright ugly of health fads.

But once in a while, something truly miraculous comes along. A health food trend emerges with benefits that have to be felt to be believed. That’s where functional mushrooms come in.

It’s easy to dismiss this trend as any other. But then again, it’s not really a trend at all. It’s more of a rediscovery. The health-enhancing effects of functional mushrooms have been known for centuries, we’re only just learning about the benefits of these hidden gems now.

What makes them gems, you may ask? Here we’ll discuss just some of the benefits of taking functional mushrooms.

 

Why take functional mushrooms?

Where to begin?!

We could fill books with the sheer range of benefits. Indeed, some people have. But we’ll get to the specifics in a bit.

Needless to say, functional mushrooms can improve almost every aspect of your body’s functioning. They may help prevent serious diseases by boosting your immune system or ameliorate symptoms already present in the body. They may give you a physical boost, taking your fitness and health to the next level. Or, they may work wonders in your brain, helping to improve your memory and cognition, whilst alleviating that troublesome anxiety and depression that’s been holding you back.

Plus, they’re remarkably nutritious. Packed with vitamins and minerals, there’s no need for supplements. Just load up on these protein-rich goodies.

Nor do you have to start swallowing pills like most health supplements. You can chop them up and throw them in a stir-fry. Or use a mix to make your morning coffee. It’s never been easier to stay healthy!

 

What are the main benefits of functional mushrooms?

In the East, healthcare practitioners have long-known the health benefits of functional mushrooms. For many, they’re a part of everyday life. Western science has been a little slower to catch on. But, since we first started examining these fruits of the forest, there is a growing wealth of evidence for their effects.

Let’s walk through some of the headlines.

 

Disease prevention

Part of the reason we get sick is that our immune systems aren’t functioning their best. Stress and modern diets do nothing for our immune systems. They grind them down so that when an infection hits, we have no reserves to fight it off. If you feel like you suffer from cold after cold and the flu wipes you out every year, now you know the likely reasons.

Functional mushrooms can have a profound effect on immune function because there are several types of immune cells that can be directly affected by the compounds called "polysaccharides" in functional mushrooms. They are thus able to influence and activate the immune system on a grand scale while also influencing specific processes such as increasing cytotoxic ability.

All of the functional mushrooms in our beverages can boost your immune system! For instance, the Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lingzhi), our "Queen of Immortality" has been shown to improve white blood cell functioning. Reishi can also alter inflammation pathways, thereby preventing the harmful effects of an overstimulated immune system. Reishi mushrooms also display anti-cancer effects and mediate blood sugar control, with potential benefits for diabetes.

 

reishi mushroom, pieces of dried reishi mushroom, and wooden spoons of reishi powder sitting on a wooden table

Figure 1. Reishi’s positive effects on the immune system are just some of the ways this awesome ‘shroom can benefit us. Photo by wasanajai. (Shutterstock).

 

Affects on Insulin

Reishi isn't the only mushroom studied to help those with diabetes.

The Maitake mushroom (Grifola frondosa) has two beta-glucans in particular that help those with diabetes: factor X and SX. While both serve to lower blood sugar, factor X normalizes insulin function in the body, while SX promotes insulin production and increases the use of blood sugar by the cells. Maitake could be largely helpful to those suffering from diabetes because it not only increases the production of insulin, but also lowers blood sugar levels by limiting the body’s absorption of sugars. In fact, a 2015 study found that maitake mushrooms had very positive benefits in regulating blood sugar levels and improved glycemic responses in diabetic rats.

Insulin is not solely a diabetic-related problem, either. Those suffering from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), a disorder that affects 6-12% of women in the US and is one of the leading causes of infertility, are also often insulin resistant. With Maitake’s effects on insulin production and function, it has been shown to also help those suffering from PCOS. In one study, a Maitake polysaccharide extract helped to facilitate ovulation in the majority of women taking it, and several women in the study who expressed interest in becoming pregnant were able to do so.

 

Maitake mushroom growing on a mossy log

Figure 2. The Maitake mushroom has a myriad of benefits, but its affects on insulin are truly astounding. Photo by puttography. (Shutterstock).

 

Anticancer Properties

Functional mushrooms are known for their anticancer properties, but none so much as the Turkey Tail mushroom (Trametes versicolor). Beautiful and colorful like the tail of a wild turkey, extracts from Turkey Tail mushrooms have been used in China and Japan alongside conventional medicine as an aid for treating a wide range of cancers since the 1960s. The Turkey Tail mushroom has two beta-glucans that have been shown to have very powerful anticancer properties: polysaccharide Krestin (PSK) and polysaccharide peptide (PSP). Krestin, one of the world’s leading anticancer drugs is derived using PSK from the Turkey Tail mushroom.

Not only does PSK boast powerful anticancer properties, but it is even far-reaching with regards to the types of cancer it affects. Studies have shown that PSK has extended survival in those suffering from stomach cancer, lung cancer, esophageal cancer, and breast cancer when taken in conjunction with conventional cancer treatment.

 

Aerial photo of turkey tail mushrooms growing on a mossy tree trunk

Figure 3. The Turkey Tail mushroom has long been lauded for its anticancer properties. Photo by JerHetrick. (Shutterstock).

 

Bone health

I'll bet that you didn't think adding Shiitake mushrooms to your stir-fry could prevent cavities, huh?

Well believe it, because it's true!

Shiitake mushrooms (Lentinula edodes) are beneficial for your teeth and bones. Because Shiitake mushrooms are rich in vitamin D2, they strengthen bones through re-mineralization and increasing calcium absorption. On those “outside bones” we call teeth, Shiitake mushrooms help to keep your teeth healthy by preventing bacteria that causes plaque from colonizing the mouth, thereby protecting the teeth against tooth decay.

 

shiitake mushrooms growing on two mossy logs

Figure 4. Not only are Shiitake mushrooms are a nutritious and tasty addition to your meal, but they're good for your teeth and bones, too! Photo by puttography. (Shutterstock).

 

Antioxidant Properties

We hear about the antioxidant properties of blueberries and pomegranates berries all of the time, but did you know that functional mushrooms also have plenty of antioxidants?

The Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) in particular has a higher score in Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity units than the açai berry. The antioxidants in Chaga have been shown to potentially lower LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol. Beyond this, Chaga has been shown to reduce oxidative stress in the brain, helping to improve learning and memory in amnesic rats in one study. In another study, Chaga helped to partially restore pancreas cells in rats which had been damaged by diabetes, proving that Chaga is a potential antihyperglycemic agent.

And the antioxidative effects don’t stop there! Chaga has the greatest amount of antioxidant superoxide dismutase (SOD) that can be found in nature. The antioxidant SOD in its various forms has shown to have various benefits including potential anticancer, anti-inflammatory, and anti-aging properties.

 

chaga fungi growing on a birch tree in the snow

Figure 5. Our fungal friend Chaga has the highest amount of the antioxidant superoxide dismutase that can be found in nature! Photo by James Aloysius Mahan V. (Shutterstock).

 

Mind enhancing

Now, we come to one of the most amazing fungi of all: The Lion’s Mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus). It’s not only its appearance which is mind-blowing, its properties are too!  

Lion’s Mane mushrooms have been shown to stimulate brain cell growth through the action of hericenones and erinacines. These benefits have been theorised to protect against Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders.

Plus, it can also alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. In one study, menopausal women consuming Lion’s Mane reported feeling less irritation and anxiety after a single month.

So they’ll soothe your mind and soul!

 

white lion's mane mushroom hanging from a tree

Figure 6. Lion’s Mane is a great ‘shroom to help alleviate depression and anxiety while also preventing neurodegenerative diseases. Photo by Nikolay Kurzenko. (Shutterstock).

 

Energy-boosting

Imagine a pill that boosted your exercise performance, helped manage diabetes, boosted heart health AND had anti-aging properties. It would be on the front page of every newspaper. Shops would be flooded with people trying to buy it.

Well, it exists. It just isn’t a pill.

It’s the Cordyceps mushroom (Ophiocordyceps sinensis).

Cordyceps help boost the body’s production of ATP, which delivers much-needed energy to your muscles. It has also been shown to increase VO2 max – a key measure of fitness - by 7% as compared to a placebo. Plus, these results have been replicated.

We do want to mention that Cordyceps is one mushroom that we do not have in our drinks, as our mushroom blend is primarily optimized for immunity. If you are looking to add some Cordyceps ‘shroom energy into your life, we recommend buying from the mushroom specialists at “Real Mushrooms,” a brand that boasts 100% pure and organic mushroom capsule and powder supplements. Be sure to check them out on Amazon!

 

bright orange cordyceps mushrooms growing out of the ground

Figure 7. We recommend Cordyceps if you’re looking for a boost of energy! Photo by Edwin Butter. (Shutterstock).

 

Who can benefit?

Everyone can benefit!

Unlike prior health fads that required intense will power to chug down the juice cleanser or stomach bizarre smoothie concoctions, functional mushrooms are accessible. As mentioned, you can consume them however you like. Though mixed into your favourite morning beverage is our preference.

The health benefits are fantastic. But even for the nutritional content alone, they’re a great dietary addition. However, there are few cases where people should be cautious about consuming functional mushrooms.

 

Who should avoid functional mushrooms?

There are two main groups who should avoid or be cautious about consuming functional mushrooms:

  • Pregnant or breastfeeding women should stay away from functional mushrooms until weaning or pregnancy is complete. This is primarily due to a lack of research about the effects of the mushrooms on growing fetuses or young children.

  • Those with pre-existing conditions, particularly clotting or bleeding conditions and autoimmune disorders. Some fungi can affect how the blood clots and therefore could cause issues. Additionally, due to the immune-modulating effects, functional mushrooms can worsen symptoms for some people with autoimmune disorders. Please discuss with your doctor if you wish to eat them.

 

The Downsides

Aside from the negative health effects for a few, there really aren’t many downsides. Some people don’t like the taste, but with so many options available that’s no longer an issue. Disguise the earthy flavour in soups, stews, coffees, or any of our other delicious beverages.

The only question left is what are you waiting for?

What benefit made you want to start taking functional mushrooms? Are there any benefits we listed here that surprised you? Let us know in the comments!

 

Cover Photo by Alliance Images from Shutterstock.

 

Sources:

Ardigò, W. (2017). Healing With Medicinal Mushrooms: A Practical Handbook. Youcanprint Self-Publishing.

HALPERN, G. M. (2007). HEALING MUSHROOMS. Garden City Park, NY: SQUARE ONE.

Isokauppila, T., & Hyman, M. H. (2017). Healing mushrooms: A practical and culinary guide to using mushrooms for whole body health. New York, NY: Avery, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

Powell, M. (2014). Medicinal mushrooms - a clinical guide. Ferndown, Dorset: Mycology Press.