Updated: Mar 28, 2020
Mushrooms and health are a topic I have always been fascinated with. It turns out these powerful allies are capable of bringing us great benefits, from cold and flu prevention to healing the brain. This article is to help you understand the many benefits of consuming mushrooms as both food and medicine.
Interestingly, mushrooms are more closely related to animals than they are plants! As a result, they often have to fend off the same pathogens that we in the animal kingdom do (bacteria, viruses, molds). Their own evolution with these other critters has lead them to develop strong antimicrobial compounds. In fact, several of our antibiotic medications are derived from fungi (penicillin, tetracycline, streptomycin, etc). It should come as no surprise that consuming mushrooms has a large effect on the immune system.
Using Mushrooms as Medicine
If you are trying to prevent or beat an infectious illness (bacteria, virus) then you will want to use an assortment/combination of several mushrooms. Different mushrooms have different compounds that impact different microbes. Polysaccharides, Glycoproteins, Ergosterols, and Triterpenoids will all breakdown into a potent class of chemicals called beta-glucans. The interactions of these chemicals are what give fungi their healing effects. To get the full spectrum of benefits, variety is key. Let us go over some of the most important species to consider adding to your diet or supplement regimen.
This is one of my all time favorite mushrooms for cooking! It is so easy to saute up some onions, garlic, and shiitakes as a bass for many meals. This mushroom is researched to prevent cancer, protect the liver, treat gastric reflux and anemia, thin the blood, decrease blood sugar, lower cholesterol, and can kill many pathogens (HIV, Hepatitis, cold viruses, bacteria, other fungi). This is an easy edible to get in your diet weekly or more if you are trying to ward off winter illnesses.
I often like to hunt for reishi here in the woods of New England. The species out here is a little different than the traditional Reishi from Asia (which has most of the research), but their compounds and properties are extremely similar. I will harvest these and create a combination alcohol and water extract to pull all of the active compounds from the fruiting body. I take this one regularly as Reishi is antiviral, antibacterial, antifungle, anti-inflammatory, and protects against heart disease and cancer. It is classically known as "The Mushroom of Immortality," a small clue to its usefulness.
This mushroom is more often used as a supplement than as a food, although it was traditionally used in medicinal soups. It is researched to improve energy, exercise recovery, regulates inflammation, prevents cardiovascular disease, cancer, acts like insulin to improve blood sugar, and is packed full of antioxidants. This one can be a bit strange as it is often found growing out of dead beetles, caterpillars, or other creatures. However, most of what we use in supplements is grown in the lab so you do not have to worry about that "yuck" factor!
This is another mushroom I enjoy hunting in New England. It is very abundant and easy to find, although it has a number of look-a-likes. This mushroom gets the most attention from scientists as it has been found to have many anticancer effects, especially against breast cancers. At this point it is our most researched mushroom. We believe it's primary anticancer compound is PSK (Krestin) which revs up the immune system to be able to kill off tumors. I would not recommend this one if you have an auto-immune disease. It is also very anti-fungal, antibacterial, and antiviral, a great one to add to the mix for the winter season.
This is our premier brain mushroom. Lion's mane is well researched to help people grow new nerve cells! This is essential for preventing cognitive decline with age as well as improve brain health at any age. It is researched to prevent dementia, improve depression and anxiety, helps repair brain injuries, protects the heart, improves blood sugar, regulates the immune system, protects against cancer, and aids in digestion (which is what is was traditionally used for). This is commonly found in brain health supplements and can also be used in cooking.
This mushroom is one of our best immune stimulating herbs. In this way it is excellent with cancers and should not be taken if you have an autoimmune disease. It also contains glycoproteins that help with blood sugar and heart health, and is another nutritionally dense mushroom that will add much to any diet.
Any Mushroom Variety Counts!
Even baby bellas, portobellas, buttons tops, oyster, and the common mushrooms we see on the grocery store shelf contain some of the same constituents as the above powerhouse mushrooms. All mushroom varieties contain ergothioneine, which has been shown to protect against cognitive decline, improve memory and cognition, attention, balance and performance. A deficiency in this compound is even linked to Alzheimer's disease! There are also compounds called hericenones, erinacines, scabronines, and dictyophorines that research is just starting to find can grow new nerve cells, inhibit beta amyloid production, and decrease phosphorylated tau. All are essential to preventing and treating dementias. The more we research the more we see just how essential mushrooms are to our health.
So, remember to pick up a different variety of mushroom every time you are at the store. This will ensure you get a wide array of different compounds to enhance your immune system and brain health. If you tend to have a picky palate then remember that any mushroom you enjoy is going to have a benefit. For those who cannot eat mushrooms in food, or for those who want to prevent or treat some significant health concerns, consider adding a mushroom supplement to your regimen. My favorite companies at the time of this article are Host Defense and Mushroom Wisdom. Both of which you can find on my online medicinary FullScript (always 5% off). You can link there to shop from the "Professional Supplements" link in the menu above. The most effective products are those that are extracts of mushrooms. Powdered mushrooms do very little in comparison. Stamets 7 is a great product designed by world famous mycologist Paul Stamets that will provide most people with great results (at has some additional species not discussed in this article).
To purchase the highest quality, professional grade supplements, at a discount, shop my online medicinary FullScript here.
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Yours in health and wellness,