When we think of mushrooms, we tend to think about the poisonous, psychedelic or culinary kind that offer delicious flavours and aromas and are rich in nutrients, proteins, fibres, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. But mushrooms, which belong to the fungi kingdom, also boast some pretty amazing health benefits. Although they have gained popularity in recent years, medicinal mushrooms have been used in particular cultures to support the body defence system, mental health and longevity for over 5,000 years! Fungi are actually one of the oldest living organisms on earth and can be found virtually anywhere—from deserts to Antarctica, to space stations and even nuclear reactors!
Fun Facts About The Fungi Kingdom
There are 1.5 million types of fungi in the world and six times as many species in the fungi kingdom as all plants on earth! According to the Journal of Traditional and Complementary medicine, over 14,000 species of mushrooms have been identified, with more than 2,000 of them considered to be edible and/or medicinal (1).
As humans, we share nearly 40% of our DNA with fungi! (2) How? Well, mushrooms are heterotrophic, which means that unlike other plants, they cannot turn sunlight into food or energy. Instead, they rely on external environmental sources of organic carbon, like the plants, animals, and humans around them, to obtain their nutrition. This is why it’s crucial to know from where your mushrooms are sourced, whether they are harvested from the wild, non-GMO or organically grown, and if they’ve been exposed to pesticides sprays and chemical fertilizers.
Mushrooms are made up of three parts:
- The mycelium – a white stringy seth found underneath the earth that is essentially the root system. It communicates information and transfers nutrients, builds soil and gives life to all plants on earth.
- The fruiting body – basically the top of the mushroom, is considered the most important part used in functional remedies.
- The spores – which are technically mushroom seeds.
What’s So Magical About Mushrooms Anyway?
Mushrooms are highly underrated. They boast a long list of medicinal properties (and more still being discovered) and their benefits are not limited to body defence alone. They also include:
- Tumour reducing – modifies the immune response and provides nutritional support during chemotherapy.
- Immunomodulating – works to calm your immune system over an extended period of time
- Antihypercholesterolemic – lowers cholesterol
- Hepatoprotective – support a healthy liver and liver function
- Antidiabetic – lowers blood glucose levels
Wait, it doesn’t end there! Some have adaptogenic effects that can help your body adjust to stress and encourage relaxation, and improve focus, mood and energy. They stimulate your body’s stress-protection response and help the systems involved return to homeostasis. Adaptogens help clear the brain fog by clearing out the symptoms caused by stress so you have better concentration and clarity, essentially allowing you to leave that stress response at the door and figure out what is really happening in your body.
As humans, our stress triggers have evolved from being chased by a bear while foraging for food to meeting work deadlines, driving in traffic, working out regularly, making dinner while juggling kids’ homework, sports or social activities. You get the idea. The thing is, our stress response in any of these situations remains the same. When we experience these types of stressors, our body’s natural response is to flood the system with stress hormones to give us enough energy to act, aka the fight, flight or freeze response. When we experience these common day stressors, but have nothing to fight or flee from, we end up with all these stress hormones circulating in our body with nowhere to go. When this happens, our body’s other functions take the backseat, like feeling hunger or digesting your food to produce energy, detoxification and balancing your hormones. And with every stress trigger, we perpetuate the cycle and continue to flood our system. At the end of the day, we find ourselves with all this build-up of bottled up stress and hormones that have no way of being dispersed. Over time, we start feeling more tired or irritable, having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, gaining or losing weight unexpectedly. Unfortunately, more often than not, we don’t think to attribute these symptoms to the underlying stress.
So if you’re thinking of kicking your health up a notch, including functional mushrooms into your daily diet is an easy and natural way of getting your dose of antioxidants and nutrients. Consider adding them to your meals, taking them in powder form as a supplement, or adding them to a warm comforting drink.
Which Mushrooms Should I Eat And Why?
Should you decide to go out foraging for your mushrooms, keep in mind that culinary, psychedelic and poisonous mushrooms are typically grown on the ground, but functional mushrooms are found on trees.
Here are the top 7 therapeutic mushrooms to include into your daily routine for optimal health:
Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis): Unlike other fungi that grow on trees or in the earth, cordyceps naturally grow on caterpillars and the larvae of insects. They’re known for their various nutraceutical and therapeutic potential and have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for ages due to their long list of health benefits including reducing blood-glucose and cholesterol levels, modulating the immune system, reducing inflammation, increasing energy production for physical performance, and boosting strength and sex drive.
Chaga (Inonotus obliquus): Known as the “king of mushrooms,” chaga grows on the side of birch trees and it can be boiled and used as a coffee substitute. It’s bitter earthy flavour bears great similarities to that of coffee. It gives you energy and helps you focus without the caffeine side effects like the jitters, heart palpitations and even anxiety. Chaga helps to build and nourish your system, has antiviral and immunomodulatory effects, helps fight bacteria and tumours, stimulates the immune system, and as noted in the Journal of Internal Medicine, are also anti-inflammatory.
Lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus): White stringy fungus that grows on the side of trees that looks like the mane of a lion. Lion’s mane is an ideal morning drink because it helps support focus, productivity and creativity, provides you with a greater sense of mental clarity, giving you greater tools to deal more efficiently and quickly with whatever stressors come your way.
Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum): Known as the “queen of mushrooms,” can help with occasional stress, gets us prepared for a night of rest, and helps us naturally fall asleep. It’s found to have anti-cancer properties (particularly for lung, colorectal cancer) and to reduce the side effects of chemotherapy, boost the body’s defence function to fight off inflammation, illness and disease. It also improves mental well-being, soothes digestive problems like a leaky gut or stomach ulcers, and alleviates fatigue.
Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor): Helps suppress inflammation and boost the body’s defence, antibacterial and anti-cancer properties, often used in conjunction with chemotherapy or radiation to enhance cancer treatments in some parts of the world. It can also be used to prevent and treat common colds and flus, and even improve digestion.
Maitake (Grifola frondosa): Aids in stabilizing blood sugar levels, keeps your cholesterol levels in check, kills cancer cells, promotes fertility and may be therapeutic against polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). A published study showed that maitake mushrooms were even stronger when paired with shiitake mushrooms.7
Shiitake (Lentinus edodes): Their meaty texture and woodsy flavour make them perfect for soups, salads, sauces and stir-fries. Shiitake mushrooms are packed with B vitamins which help support the adrenals and helps balance hormones, boost energy production and lift the brain fog so you can have sustained focus throughout the day. Studies have shown them to have the power to fight cancer cells, cardiovascular disease and infections, and improve the health of AIDS/HIV patients. They also contain many chemical compounds that protect your DNA from oxidative stress.
No. 1 Shopping Tip When Buying Any Type Of Mushroom
The most important tip I can share when shopping for culinary or medicinal mushrooms is to make sure they are from a clean source, meaning either wild or organic. As allies to the ecosystem, mushrooms are super absorbers of environmental toxins, and some can even absorb and break down plastics! And those are not compounds any of us want to be ingesting.
If you’re thinking of including mushrooms to your supplements list, keep in mind that unlike other supplements that are normally used for a short period of time or to address a specific or a chronic issue, functional mushrooms are meant to be taken daily to build and nourish the system long term.
That is why I love using products from the company Four Sigmatic. I know I’m guaranteed high-quality, organic and non-GMO products that are free from fillers, carriers and pesticides. Four Sigmatic have combined delicious concoctions of functional mushroom blends and adaptogens into delicious coffees, protein powders and elixirs that can be easily included into your daily routine so that you feel physically and mentally well supported throughout the day.
There’s no better time than now to take the step to elevate your health and tap into the humongous world of fungi. Click here to learn more about Four Sigmatic and if you decide to order, confirm the promo code ‘DRNATHALIE’ was applied at checkout to get 10% off of your purchase. Incorporating mushroom blends is an easy addition to your daily routine to get all the health benefits.
(1) Vikineswary Sabaratnam, Wong Kah-Hui, Murali Naidu, Pamela Rosie David. (2013) Neuronal Health – Can Culinary and Medicinal Mushrooms Help? J Tradit Complement Med. (Jan-Mar; 3(1)) : 62–68. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3924982/)
(2) Young, R., & Raphelson, S. (2019, January 28). One mycologist on why fungi are ‘critical for the survival of life on this planet’. One Mycologist On Why Fungi Are ‘Critical For The Survival Of Life On This Planet’ | Here & Now. Retrieved February 15, 2022, from https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2019/01/28/mushrooms-fungi-disease-bees
U.C San Diego Health. November 12, 2021. Can Ancient Botanical Therapies Help Treat COVID-19? https://health.ucsd.edu/news/releases/Pages/2021-11-12-can-ancient-botanical-therapies-help-treat-covid-19.aspx)
Phan CW, David P, Sabaratnam V. (2017) Edible and Medicinal Mushrooms: Emerging Brain Food for the Mitigation of Neurodegenerative Diseases. J Med Food. (Jan;20(1)) 1-10. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28098514/)
Sabaratnam, V., Kah-Hui, W., Naidu, M., & Rosie David, P. (2013). Neuronal health – can culinary and medicinal mushrooms help?. Journal of traditional and complementary medicine, 3(1), 62–68. https://doi.org/10.4103/2225-4110.106549)
Kozarski, M., Klaus, A., Jakovljevic, D., Todorovic, N., Vunduk, J., Petrovi?, P., Niksic, M., Vrvic, M. M., & van Griensven, L. (2015). Antioxidants of Edible Mushrooms. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 20(10), 19489–19525. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules201019489)
Ashraf, S. A., Elkhalifa, A., Siddiqui, A. J., Patel, M., Awadelkareem, A. M., Snoussi, M., Ashraf, M. S., Adnan, M., & Hadi, S. (2020). Cordycepin for Health and Wellbeing: A Potent Bioactive Metabolite of an Entomopathogenic Cordyceps Medicinal Fungus and Its Nutraceutical and Therapeutic Potential. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 25(12), 2735. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules25122735)
Vetvicka, V., & Vetvickova, J. (2014). Immune-enhancing effects of Maitake (Grifola frondosa) and Shiitake (Lentinula edodes) extracts. Annals of translational medicine, 2(2), 14. https://doi.org/10.3978/j.issn.2305-5839.2014.01.05)
Design, A. (n.d.). Four sigmatic mushroom academy®. Four Sigmatic. Retrieved February 15, 2022, from https://us.foursigmatic.com/m/mushroom-academy