Medicinal Mushrooms: Mushrooms have been used for medicinal purposes since ancient times. Given that they are full of compounds that support your body’s natural defense systems, it’s not surprising that they are a popular dietary supplement today. They boost your immune system, help you manage stress, and may even help your body fight back against cancer cells.
This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD
But with all the different options, it can be challenging to figure out which one is the best option. This article will share the science behind medicinal mushrooms and the top choices for your wellness journey.
What are the benefits of medicinal mushrooms?
Medicinal mushrooms are macroscopic fungi that can be eaten or taken in supplement form to promote health benefits.
They are considered “medicinal” because they are so rich in health-promoting compounds and benefits, including:
- Antioxidants. Mushrooms are potent free radical scavengers that keep your body protected against cellular and DNA damage.
- Immunity support. Antibacterial and antiviral compounds help boost the immune system, while beta-glucans stimulate the activity of helpful gut bacteria. Mushrooms also contain immunomodulators that are beneficial in fighting infections.
- Anti-inflammatory benefits. Studies have shown certain mushrooms can reduce inflammation by suppressing pro-inflammatory cytokine production. They are also rich in many other inflammation-fighting compounds.
- Anti-cancer effects. Some studies show mushrooms can inhibit the progression of cancerous tumors, perhaps due to their high antioxidant activity combined with immune-boosting capabilities.
- Adaptogens. Mushrooms can support a healthy stress response by modulating the activity of stress hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline.
- Focus, mood, and cognitive support. There is some evidence to suggest certain mushrooms can support mental performance and cognition.
- Gut health support. Mushrooms are rich in multiple compounds known to promote healthy gut bacteria.
What are the most popular medicinal mushrooms?
If you’re ready to incorporate mushrooms, here are some of the most common and well-researched choices:
Reishi, the “mushroom of longevity,” is one of the most well-studied medicinal mushrooms for wellness and longevity. It’s deeply nourishing for your immune system, supports a healthy stress response, and even may help with sleep.
It contains many health-promoting compounds, such as triterpenoids and polysaccharides, known for their anti-tumor and anti-microbial health benefits. It’s also high in antioxidants that help your body fight back against free radical damage and oxidative stress.
Chaga is another mushroom rich in antioxidants and immune-supporting compounds. Traditionally this mushroom was used for gastrointestinal disorders for its supposed anti-parasitic and antibacterial properties. Current research suggests it may also have anti-cancer properties.
Chaga mushrooms contain prebiotics that supports your immune system and gut health. 8 They also may help reduce inflammation by suppressing the activity of pro-inflammatory mediators.
Cordyceps are known for their immune-supporting and anti-inflammatory properties. This mushroom shows promising anti-cancer benefits and has been shown to inhibit cancer growth in lab studies.
Cordyceps contain compounds with immunomodulatory properties that boost your immune system, fight infection, support stem cell activity, and inhibit cancer cell growth. It may also support fatigue and increase energy levels by improving energy metabolism and cellular respiration, especially during exercise.
Named because it looks like a turkey’s tail feathers, this mushroom is another antioxidant-rich option that helps protect your cells against free radical damage. Traditional use in Chinese medicine focused on lung support, while much of the current research supports its anti-cancer benefits.
One compound found in Turkey Tail, polysaccharide K (PSK), is already being used for cancer treatment and protection in Japan. Several studies point to its efficacy for stimulating immune cells that fight back against cancer cells, especially in conjunction with chemotherapy. Studies have examined its impact on various types of cancers, including breast, gastric, colon, and lung. An NIH clinical trial found that turkey tail supported increases in cancer-fighting cells for people with breast cancer post-radiation.
Lion’s mane is primarily used for cognition and neurological protection. It also has been well studied for its impact on mental health and improvements in focus. Lion’s mane contains compounds that can stimulate nerve growth factor (NGF) production, which can help prevent neuron death or damage. NGF is responsible for encouraging the growth of neurons while simultaneously helping them resist degeneration
Lion’s mane has also been shown in several studies to promote the growth of new neurons and nerve tissue which may be beneficial for patients with Alzheimer’s disease. It may work by inhibiting the action of beta-amyloid proteins, which are associated with Alzheimer’s disease, as seen in animal studies.
Another powerful immune supporter, Maitake, once again has been used for many years in traditional medicine. It’s a delicious addition to any dish or salad, but the supplement is often used for extra health benefits. Like other mushrooms, Maitake is high in polysaccharides, especially beta-glucans, which are known to promote immune function and support gut and heart health.
It’s also known for benefits, including cellular protection, blood sugar balance, blood pressure improvements, and even improved cardiovascular health.Maitake mushrooms may also help lower cholesterol levels, as seen in several studies.
Use medicinal mushrooms to optimize your health
It’s clear that medicinal mushrooms have a wide variety of health benefits that are worth exploring. You can experiment with different types of mushrooms to find the best fit for you, or try taking a combination supplement containing multiple mushroom species.
With so many ways that medicinal mushrooms can help you live a healthier life, it’s worth doing your research to find out which supplement is best for you. There are countless benefits of taking them as health supplements and including them in your diet.
Medical Disclaimer: This article is based upon the opinions of Dr. Daniel Pompa. The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of Dr. Pompa and his associates. This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD for accuracy of the information provided, but Dr. Pompa encourages you to make your own health care decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified health care professional.
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