by Dan Ketchum
Some might call medicinal mushrooms a fad, but they’ve been used in healing practices since at least 3000 BCE. Countries like China and Japan have used over 100 species of shrooms, ranging from ancient balms to modern adjuncts to radiation therapy.
While many types of mushrooms and their applications have endured since then, what we know about why and how they work has evolved immensely. With the research we have on hand, it’s time to think less about magic mushrooms and more about medicinal mushrooms.
Why medicinal mushrooms?
In a 2014 study centered around mushrooms and oncology, the journal Integrative Medicine puts it plainly: “Mushrooms are reported to have antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, cardiovascular-protective, antidiabetic, hepatoprotective, and [...] are adept at immune modulation.” And that’s just the start of the list. But what powers these healing mushrooms?
Cytokines are at the top of the list. These tiny proteins essentially act as mediators in immune response, and mushrooms stimulate their production. Part of this cytokine regulation includes reducing the presence of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which in turn helps control inflammation.
Additionally, mushrooms stimulate the production of monocytes — a type of white blood cell that removes foreign material and dead cells – and dendritic cells, an immune cell that dwells in tissues like the skin. Mushrooms also offer tons of the antioxidants ergothioneine and glutathione.
Healthiest Mushrooms: The Lineup
There are about 1,000 types of mushrooms with medicinal properties, and that list may grow as researchers continue to do their work. Long story short, you’ve got options, but here are a few of the most popular healing mushrooms:
- Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor): Named for the concentric patterns that resemble tail feathers, antioxidant-rich Turkey Tail also packs immune system-stimulating polysaccharide-K, making it a solid all-rounder as a daily immunity supplement.
- Reishi (Ganoderma iucidum): Reishi mushrooms have long been used to help improve mood and quality of sleep, and research from BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine backs up the practice, noting that the fungi produces antioxidative and anxiolytic effects, which may help reduce feelings of stress.
- Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus): Research from Behavioural Neurology and others indicates that this enduringly popular shroom may decrease amyloid plaques in the cerebral cortex and hippocampus, potentially acting as a brain booster in day-to-day use.
- Cordyceps (Cordyceps militaris): While Reishi may help you cool down, Cordyceps mushrooms’ benefits are just the opposite. The journal 3 Biotech notes that the novel bio-metabolite known as Cordycepin helps enhance blood flow and economize oxygen intake, which can lead to feelings of increased energy.
Healing Mushrooms and You
As a health supplement, healing mushrooms aren’t like the mushrooms you get in the grocery store produce aisle — that is to say, they’re not eaten whole. Instead, you’ll find that these types of medicinal fungi are typically powdered, which means they can appear in teas, instant coffees and capsule supplements like our own focus-boosting supplement FOCL Day. In powder form, you can also add healthy shrooms to smoothies and cooked meals.
Go low and slow with the implementation of mushrooms into your daily routine. Likewise, seek out U.S. Department of Agriculture-certified organic shrooms to ensure that your products contain exactly what’s on the label.
Dan has been a freelance writer and small business owner since 2009. In the healthcare realm, he’s fortunate enough to have collaborated with the likes of Civilized Life, Cetaphil, LIVESTRONG, VitaGenne, DermStore, B-Great, JillianMichaels.com and more as a writer, with work appearing in publications such as USA Today, The Seattle Times and the San Francisco Chronicle’s SFGate, among others.