Mushrooms have been used by humans for thousands of years as food and medicine. They belong to the Kingdom Fungi, which is older than both the plant and animal kingdoms, having evolved a billion years ago.
The use of mushrooms as medicine in ancient traditions across the world is a great reason alone to get curious about the healing powers of mushrooms. The good news is that medicinal mushrooms are also being studied today for their therapeutic benefits, and the results are noteworthy.
The mushrooms we typically consume through our diet fall under the “food” category of mushrooms. That means when we eat these mushrooms, we’re getting access to the nutrition they offer, as well as enjoying the taste and aroma of these foods.
What makes mushrooms so special is that some of them have hidden superpowers that only get released in nature when mushrooms are stressed. However, humans have become very skilled at extracting these medicines from certain species of mushrooms using the right conditions.
Of the several species of mushrooms that fall under the category of “medicine,” modern scientists have identified a number of therapeutic properties that are worth knowing about whether you’re sick or interested in optimizing your health. These medicines are typically consumed in powder, tea, pill, or tincture form. Let’s dive in.
Benefits of Medicinal Mushrooms
Some species of mushrooms have been used alongside cancer therapies in Traditional Chinese and Japanese Medicine. These mushrooms, along with others, are also being studied in the West. The healing qualities of these mushrooms are said to come from their immune system boosting effects.
As a rule of thumb, the majority of medicinal mushrooms you will come across today have been recognized for their immune system regulating qualities. Medicinal mushrooms that are associated with protection against certain types of cancer or cancer cells in research include reishi, lion’s mane, cordyceps, shitake, and turkey tail.
We know how critical our immune system is to our overall health and happiness. It’s therefore a good idea to take a preventative approach and focus on keeping this key system functioning optimally regardless of whether we have a chronic health issue. Mushrooms may just be the trick.
View this post on Instagram
More #MycologyMonday and more Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor) pictures ❤🦃🍄 . Picture by @jasonprince . From Wikipedia: "This mushroom, known as yun zhi [雲芝] in China, is used in traditional Chinese medicine; it is supposed to boost the immune system and have anticarcinogenic properties. Its polysaccharides are thought to be the effective constituents. Clinical trials in people with breast cancer, leukemias, and liver cancer remain inconclusive as of 2016." . . #turkeytailmushroom #Trametesversicolor
Obesity and Diabetes
When we repeatedly stress out insulin, the body’s most important metabolic hormone, we end up with high levels of sugar in our blood and a poorly functioning insulin hormone. This has many negative consequences, with weight gain being the most visible. Some species of medicinal mushrooms have been shown to help reduce these negative effects, and take some of the pressure off of insulin.
Medicinal mushroom species that are associated with anti-diabetic and anti-obesity effects include maitake, cordyceps, and lion’s mane. Whether you’re a diabetic or showing early signs of weight gain, medicinal mushrooms might be helpful to add to your healthy living protocol.
Stress affects all of us, and the reality is we are inundated with multiple stressors on a daily basis, even within our own homes. The impact of stress on our bodies can show up in different ways, with various symptoms. However, the underlying cause is generally associated with inflammation.
Some species of medicinal mushrooms can offer relief at the level of inflammation by acting as powerful antioxidants. Mushrooms best known for their antioxidant effects are chaga and reishi. However, those that are recommended for immune health may also be beneficial for anti-aging and overall health and vitality.
One of the most exciting areas of modern research on medicinal mushrooms is on brain health, and specifically on memory, concentration, and cognition. Lion’s mane is the species to celebrate for its therapeutic effect in the brain. Lion’s mane mushroom has been shown to not only protect the brain, but also to reverse damage, with no known side effects to date.
This means that it could potentially play a role in helping sufferers of debilitating brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, or those who have mild impairment due to old age. Whether living with a debilitating condition or wanting to improve your memory and focus for general wellness, lion’s mane mushroom might be worth experimenting with.
Takeaway on Medicinal Mushrooms
What’s clear is that medicinal mushrooms have multiple health benefits. The best way to begin experimenting with them is to look for a high quality product that is in a form you’re comfortable ingesting, be it powder, pill, or tincture. Also, it’s recommended to start small. If using a powder, start with 1/8-1/4 teaspoon for 1-2 weeks to get a sense of the potency and how your body responds to it.
You can also take a few different medicinal mushrooms at once, if you’re looking for an overall health boost. However, it’s still a good idea to take small amounts, and check in every few days on how you’re feeling. Then you can adjust from there.
If you have an existing condition or are pregnant or nursing, it’s a good idea to consult with your healthcare practitioner before getting experimental. Even if you’re planning to use the mushrooms for general health and longevity, you may still benefit from doing a little research on your own and speaking with your practitioner.
As you embark on your medicinal mushroom journey, remember that this Kingdom evolved a billion years ago and we are only starting to see the depths of its healing potential. Take joy in being among the firsts in modern day living to play with these magical mushrooms!