Mushrooms have long been touted for their myriad of health benefits, and the use of medicinal mushroom dates back thousands of years.
Mushrooms have long been touted for their myriad of health benefits, and the use of medicinal mushroom dates back thousands of years. Now, in recent times with functional medicine and nutrition going mainstream, we’re seeing a resurgence of interest in these marvelous superfoods.
Bountiful Benefits of Medicinal Mushrooms
Mushrooms are nutritional powerhouses with a myriad of health benefits including the following:
*Full of antioxidants*
*Helps to manage blood sugar*
*Support brain health and cognition*
*Support the nervous system*
*Increase energy and stamina*
Lion’s Mane: The Mushroom for the Mind
Main Health Benefit: Supports healthy brain function
Lion’s Mane is rich in a multitude of important compound: beta-glucans, which are responsible for antitumor growth, immuno-modulating antioxidants and neuro-protective chemicals*. Oxidative stress, which these compounds protect against, is closely related to the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease 1. Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) synthesis in nerve cells may be induced by certain compounds (hericenones and erinacines) found in Hericium erinaceus, thus making Lion’s Mane an amazing helper with the development and function of nerves because of its neurotrophic factors. 2
Historical Medicinal Use
Lion’s Mane, or Hericium erinaceus, is a species of mushroom that is beautiful in appearance, it has long cascading shaggy spines resembling a waterfall. Lion’s Mane grows on the trunks of hardwood trees in Northern forests and has been used in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) for millennia and has become a well-established candidate in promoting positive cognitive function.
Reishi: The Mushroom of Immortality
Main Health Benefit: Sleep aid and potent immunomodulator
Much of the polysaccharides in reishi mushroom are associated with immune functions, and if taken over time can significantly support the immune system*. It is also known to improve sleep, reduce stress and fatigue.
Historical and Medical Use
Reishi or Ganoderma lingzhi, has been recorded for its use for around 2000 years. Most notably used in China by Taoist monks to promote calmness, as well as enhance their meditative practices. It has even been used by Chinese royalty who sought longevity and held Reishi or “the mushroom of immortality” in high esteem. Reishi was listed the most cherished among the superior herbs, that are considered to prolong life, prevent aging, boost qi, and make the body light
Cordyceps: The Caterpillar Fungus
Main Health Benefit: Improves lung capacity and increases energy
Cordyceps are an incredible energy boosting mushroom because of their ability to increase ATP production through pre-cursor compounds like adenosine and cordycepin. ATP is the compounds which gives our cells energy. This is why Cordyceps is recommended when it comes to physical performance. In TCM, Cordyceps is also used for lung related issues like asthma or even seasonal allergies.
Historical and Medical Use
Cordyceps has been described as a treasure in old Chinese medical books and Tibetan medicine. With hundreds of different species, it is a parasitic fungi that preys on insects. Traditional healers have recommended the fungus as a powerful tonic because it improves energy, appetite, stamina and endurance.3 The most well known species of cordyceps is Cordyceps sinensis; the most expensive mushroom in the world costing over $20,000 per kilogram, sold almost exclusively in Asia. It is a rare combination of a caterpillar and a mushroom and found at high altitudes in the Himilayan Plateau.
Chaga: The Mushroom that’s not a Mushroom
Main Health Benefit: Boosts digestion and clears skin
Chaga is rich in antioxidants, and supports immune function, liver health, brain health and increases longevity.4 Medicinal and Historical Uses Chaga or Inonotus obliquus, which is commonly referred to as a mushroom is actually a highly prized sclerotium or woody canker that grows in the colder regions of the Northern Hemisphere on birch trees. First medicinal uses seem to have come out of Russia around the 16th century when used as a tea to treat stomach ailments. After 1966, Chaga gained more exposure after its healing powers were written about in Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s book, Cancer Ward. As Chaga grows primarily on birch trees and much of the sclerotium itself is actually wood fiber and not mycelium, many medicinal compounds from birch like betulin and betulinic acid end up in the sclerotium. The outer black layer on the canker contains high amounts of melanin which can be beneficial for our skin*.
Until recently Chaga could not be cultivated but now in Finland they are inoculating birch trees with this fungus. Lab cultivated Chaga does not develop in to sclerotium and as it does not grow on birch but on grain, it does not contain the important medicinal compounds that come from birch.
Turkey Tail: The Mushroom of Multiple Colors
Main Health Benefit: Boosts immune system function
Turkey tail improves immune function by stimulating cytokine production, increasing natural killer cells and other immune boosting functions. Medicinal and Historical Uses Turkey Tail mushroom, or Trametes Versicolor, is one of the most well researched medicinal mushrooms. It grows on dead logs worldwide, and receives its name because its rings of brown and tan look like the tail feathers of a turkey. In TCM (traditional Chinese Medicine) turkey tail has been used for treating lung disease, and in Japan, the drug PSK, which is derived from turkey tail has been used to strengthen the immune system when given with standard cancer treatment. 5 China also has a similar drug called PSP. Turkey tail contains one of the highest amounts of beta-glucans for all mushrooms, which will help keep our immune systems healthy when used over an extended period of time*.6
Shiitake: The Fragrant Mushroom
Main Health Benefit: Improves cardiovascular health
Shiitake mushrooms are the most popular mushrooms in the world and have a meaty and versatile flavor, hence why they’ve been used as a food source in Asia for hundreds of years. In China, shiitake is called Xiang gu (香菇), which translates to fragrant mushroom. During the Ming Dynasty in China, shiitake was deemed “the elixir of life”. They’re great to cook with, and are also loaded with B-vitamins, helping to control blood sugar levels and reduce inflammation in the body. Shiitake has been cultivated in Japan for centuries, and has received its name from shii trees (related to beech and oak) they’re found growing on. Shiitake has a long been used as both a food and a supplement in TCM, as it is thought to boost longevity and improve circulation. Lentinan, a polysaccharide in shiitake mushrooms, has shown great promise as an immunotherapy agent. 7 Research has also discovered a compound in shiitake, eritadenine, that has lowered cholesterol in some studies*.
Maitake: The Dancing Mushroom
Main Health Benefit: Helps to regulate blood pressure and supports immune function
Maitake mushrooms are known to help regulate our immune systems by stimulating the immune system’s lymphocytes such as natural killer cells and t-helper cells. Medicinal and Historical Uses Maitake, Grifola frondosa is commonly known as Hen of the Woods or the Dancing Mushroom. It is plentiful in the deciduous forests of North America and Japan. It is an edible mushroom with an earthy flavour. TCM has used this mushroom for its support on the immune system. The mushroom (fruiting body) contains polysaccharides such as beta-glucans, which have been linked to healthy cell growth and turnover.
Maitake became quite famous in the 1990’s after Dr. Hiroaki Nanba, a pharmacologist out of Japan at Kobe Pharmaceutical University, began isolating and testing different polysaccharide fractions from Maitake. Many of these fractions were quite potent immunomodulating agents.
What is Mycelium?
Mycelium is the root system of the mushroom, it is the precursor to the fruiting body we simply know as a mushroom. Mycelium and mushrooms are not synonymous. The key active compounds found in mushrooms that research has linked to health benefits are: beta-D-glucans, triterpenoids and ergosterol.
Beta-D-glucans have been identified as primary sources of medicinal activity; they are a naturally occurring structural component of the cell walls of mushrooms that can activate or potentiate both innate and adaptive immunity.
Triterpenoids play a complementary role with beta-glucans in immune system activation; primary activities include: liver protection, antioxidant activity, reduced histamine response and reduced inflammation.
Furthermore, a sterol called ergosterol is present in all fungi which has recently been discovered to also have immunomodulating and antioxidant properties. Ergosterol in fungi is similar to cholesterol in humans.
the Fungi Kingdom is one of the most diverse groups of organisms that are neither plant nor animal, and absorb nutrition from other organisms while playing the important role of ecological decomposers. Suffice it to say, these mushrooms (lion’s mane, reishi, chaga, cordyceps, chaga, turkey tail, shiitake and maitake) offer a slew of health benefits.
*Disclaimer: The statements made in this article have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Any products mentioned are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information in this article is intended for educational purposes. The information is not intended to replace medical advice offered by licensed medical physicians. Please consult your doctor or health practitioner for any medical advice.
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