Are you interested in learning more about medicinal mushrooms and their potential health benefits? Then this blog post is for you! Here, we'll cover everything you need to know about medicinal mushrooms and how they can be used to improve your overall wellbeing. We'll discuss the different types of medicinal mushrooms, their potential health benefits, and how to find the best sources for them. We'll also share some tips on incorporating medicinal mushrooms into your daily routine. So if you're looking to boost your health with natural remedies, read on to find out all about medicinal mushrooms!
History of Medicinal Mushrooms
Before recorded history, medicinal mushrooms were used in traditional and folk medicines.
In 1991, a man frozen in ice around 3300 BCE (nicknamed Ötzi) was discovered in an alpine glacier, carrying two different species of mushroom: a tinder fungus capable of re-starting a fire at a new location many hours later, and a medicinal birch polypore used to fight parasites and infections.
Egyptian hieroglyphics show that mushrooms were viewed as a plant of immortality, typically eaten only by pharaohs and other nobles, and given the name "sons of the gods."
Famous Greek and Roman authors such as Seneca, Pliny, and Dioscorides wrote about mushrooms, debating their medicinal benefits.
Chinese medicine dating back to 100 BCE discusses various mushrooms and fungi used to treat various conditions, including cancer and respiratory ailments. Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) has the longest written record of medicinal use, with scientists identifying its anti-tumor properties.
Maitake (Grifola frondosa) mushrooms were highly valued in ancient Japan, while Mesoamerican cultures such as the Maya, Inca, Aztecs, and Olmecs used mushrooms for both medicinal and spiritual purposes.
Since Alexander Fleming's discovery of penicillin in 1928, many antibiotics and antiviral medications have been developed from fungi. Some argue that this played a critical role in the Allies' WWII victory.
Modern scientists continue to discover new medicinal properties of mushrooms and fungi, with many claims from traditional medicine being proven true. These natural remedies are often safer and better tolerated with fewer side-effects than many modern pharmaceuticals.
Is Fungi Smarter Than We Think?
Most people underestimate the complexity of fungi. Although they may seem simple, they are actually complex organisms that are more closely related to animals than plants. For example, the medicinal Cordyceps mushroom is intelligent and can control its host's behavior to reproduce.
The Cordyceps fungus feeds on and grows from the insect's body, then drives the host to climb a high object before emerging from the insect's head to release its spores. This fungus shows enough intelligence to wait and use the insect as a way to reproduce instead of fully consuming it at any stage of the process.
Slime molds also show intelligence. A study conducted by Japanese scientists showed that slime molds can create efficient pathways similar to the railway system of Tokyo, which human experts designed.
Mushrooms may appear similar to plants with their stem and root systems, but they lack leaves and chlorophyll, and they cannot produce energy from sunlight. Instead, they break down organic matter in their natural environment to produce energy. Despite their nutritional value, mushrooms have much more to offer, and scientists continue to explore their potential medicinal benefits.
Medicinal Properties of Mushrooms
Have you ever wondered why mushrooms are packed with compounds that offer medicinal benefits to humans? Here are a few reasons:
Defense Mechanisms: Mushrooms face tough competition from other fungi and pests for food sources. To protect themselves, they produce compounds that act as natural antibiotics in our bodies when we consume them. These compounds also have antifungal, antiviral, and antibacterial properties.
Nutrient Powerhouses: Mushrooms are rich in a wide range of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B and vitamin D, which are not commonly found in plants. They are a great way to add extra nutrition to your diet, and are especially useful for vegetarians and vegans. Mushrooms are also low in calories and sodium, but high in protein.
Fiber: Mushrooms contain both soluble and insoluble fiber, which is essential for maintaining intestinal health and reducing the risk of diseases like colorectal cancer. Eating mushrooms that are high in fiber can also help with weight loss, as fiber makes you feel fuller for longer.
Antioxidants: Free radicals in our body can damage our cells and DNA, and are caused by things like UV sunlight, inflammation, air pollution, and smoking. Mushrooms contain antioxidants that remove these free radicals from our bodies, reducing oxidative stress and damage.
Beta Glucan: Mushrooms contain high amounts of beta glucan, which can stimulate the immune system and offer other health benefits, such as helping with allergies and chronic fatigue syndrome.
Polysaccharides: Mushrooms are packed with a wide range of polysaccharides, which offer different benefits such as anti-cancer, anti-obesity, anti-diabetes, and antibiotic properties.
Many other beneficial compounds: Mushrooms potentially contain hundreds of compounds with medical benefits, such as anti-tumor compounds and compounds that boost the immune system.
Scientists are still discovering more and more potential benefits of fungi every year, and our knowledge of mushrooms and their benefits is still in the early stages.
Benefits of Medicinal Mushrooms
10 Health Benefits of Medicinal Mushrooms
Adding certain types of mushrooms to your diet can have significant positive effects in fighting cancer, leukemia, and tumors. Compounds found in mushrooms can slow down the growth of existing cancer cells, prevent DNA damage, cell mutation, and tumor formation. Mushrooms also offer secondary benefits to cancer patients, such as treating hair loss and nausea. While no mushroom is recommended as the sole first-line defense against cancer, research indicates that taking certain medicinal mushrooms can add measurable benefits to cancer treatment.
Boosting Your Immune System
Various medicinal mushrooms have antiviral and antibacterial properties that help fight the common cold, flu, and even severe infections like HIV. Mushrooms contain complex sugars and high amounts of polysaccharides that are essential for your immune system. They help regulate antibody production and increase DNA and RNA in bone marrow, where white blood cells and other immune cells are created. The high levels of antioxidants in mushrooms can also help destroy harmful free radicals that damage cells and cause inflammation and infection in your body.
Promoting Heart Health
Shiitake mushrooms contain compounds called statins, which are commonly prescribed pharmaceuticals for lowering blood cholesterol levels. Eating medicinal mushrooms can provide these compounds naturally and specifically target the "bad" or LDL cholesterol in your body while improving the "good" or HDL cholesterol levels. Mushrooms also contain phytonutrients that prevent cells from sticking to blood vessel walls and forming a buildup called plaque, a major cause of hardening arteries (atherosclerosis). Both LDL cholesterol and plaque hardening arteries are major risk factors for heart attacks, stroke, and other forms of heart disease.
Improving Energy Levels
Medicinal mushrooms can improve your physical fitness, enabling you to run faster and engage in more intense workouts, and reduce overall fatigue throughout the day. They contain compounds that increase the ability of your blood cells to carry and produce energy in your muscles. Mushrooms also help reduce the accumulation of lactic acid (a waste byproduct of exercise) within your muscles and help clear the toxin from your body faster. Other types of fungi can relax your bronchial passages and enhance respiration, facilitating faster post-workout recovery and more effective training.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
If you suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome, medicinal mushrooms may be able to help reduce fatigue and improve your quality of life, even if you're not an athlete.
Improving Brain Health
Mushrooms can improve your memory, focus, and cognitive functioning. They cause the production of nerve growth factors that are vital for treating Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, dementia, and other brain-related illnesses. The mental effects of mushrooms are gradual and cumulative, meaning you need to consume them consistently for a few months to start seeing results.
Mushrooms are low in calories and sodium but packed with vital nutrients, including high amounts of fiber that keep you feeling full and reduce the urge to snack. Eating mushrooms regularly can help you maintain a healthy body weight, a smaller waist circumference, and overall better health.
Mushrooms have a hypoglycemic effect, lowering and regulating blood sugar levels, increasing insulin receptor sensitivity, and preventing the development of complications related to diabetes. They are low in carbohydrates and sugar compared to many other types of food, making them an excellent choice for diabetics.
Relieving Asthma And Allergies
Mushrooms inhibit histamine release, reducing the severity of allergies and asthma by reducing the number of inflammatory cells and allergy-causing antibodies in your body and correcting imbalances in your immune system. They also improve the production of cells that eliminate pathogens.
While there is no conclusive scientific evidence to support it, many people believe that medicinal mushrooms, particularly reishi, can help to promote relaxation and reduce stress. Mushrooms have been used in traditional medicine for centuries to treat conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome, insomnia, and stress-related tension.
Although the effects on humans are yet to be tested, Cordyceps sinensis mushrooms have shown promise in improving male fertility and sperm production in both boars and mice. If you are a male who plans to start a family soon, incorporating cordyceps into your diet may significantly enhance the quantity and quality of your sperm.
The 8 Best Medicinal Mushrooms
Mushrooms have been known to aid in the treatment of various ailments, ranging from minor issues like low energy and inflammation to major ones like heart disease. There is a mushroom for almost any condition one may have, but the challenge is in determining which one to take given the wide variety available.
To help narrow down the options, this list includes the top 8 most researched and commonly used medicinal mushrooms.
Reishi mushrooms, which have a long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine and can be used for heart disease, cancer, diabetes, inflammation, liver damage, and many other conditions. They are usually consumed in soup, tea, or extract/capsule form due to their woody texture and bitter taste.
Chaga mushrooms, which grow on birch trees and have medicinal properties that include cancer treatment and mild blood sugar lowering effects.
Turkey tail mushrooms, which are colorful and fan-shaped and are commonly used for cancer treatment.
Maitake mushrooms, also known as hen of the woods, which can be used for high blood pressure, cholesterol, cancer, and diabetes. Unlike the other mushrooms on this list, maitake is edible and has a good texture and mild flavor.
Lion's mane mushrooms, which have a shaggy white appearance and a flavor similar to lobster. They can be used for shrinking or stopping the growth of tumors and for tissue regeneration in the brain, and are being studied for the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer's disease.
Cordyceps mushrooms, which grow out of insects and have anti-cancer properties, antioxidants, and cholesterol-lowering effects. They are also great for athletes as they strengthen the blood vessels and heart.
Shiitake mushrooms, which are commonly eaten in Asian cuisine and are great for protecting against cancer, lowering cholesterol, and treating viral infections and compromised immune systems. They may even help prevent dental cavities.
Oyster mushrooms, which are packed with vitamins and minerals and have medicinal benefits like alleviating inflammation, lowering cholesterol levels, boosting brain health, and potentially blocking cancer growth.
In conclusion, mushrooms have a variety of medicinal benefits and can be incorporated into one's diet to aid in the treatment of many conditions.
Which Mushrooms Can You Use For Other Illnesses?
Medicinal mushrooms have various properties that can be beneficial for different health concerns. Here are some of the best medicinal mushrooms for specific health issues:
Anti-cancer: Shiitake, Reishi, Maitake, Turkey tail. Taking capsules that contain a combination of these mushrooms can provide the best anti-cancer benefits.
Immune system boosting: Maitake, Cordyceps, Shiitake, Reishi, Turkey tail. Most medicinal mushroom varieties have compounds that can boost the immune system.
Depression: Psilocybin mushrooms (currently illegal in most developed countries) can greatly help with depression. Even in small doses, they can also cure cluster headaches.
Anxiety: Although no mushrooms have undergone scientific studies for anxiety, anecdotal research suggests that Reishi may have anti-anxiety effects.
Boosting energy: Cordyceps and Reishi are both great for increasing energy, especially for athletes and those with chronic fatigue syndrome.
Thyroid health: While all mushrooms can help with thyroid function, Shiitake and Cordyceps are particularly good for thyroid health.
Candida infection: Reishi is the best medicinal mushroom for fighting off Candida specifically, as it contains antifungal compounds that can combat this type of yeast infection.
How To Take Medicinal Mushrooms
Before consuming any type of medicinal mushroom, it is important to consult with your doctor to ensure that it will not interfere with any current medications or conditions, especially if taking medications for cholesterol or blood pressure.
It is also important to exercise caution when consuming wild mushrooms, as many edible and medicinal mushrooms have toxic lookalikes that can be difficult to identify. It is recommended to purchase mushrooms from reputable sources or to consume those gathered with an expert mushroom hunter who can confirm their safety.
Medicinal mushrooms can be consumed through cooking, such as Oyster, Shiitake, Lions Mane, Tremella, and Maitake, or through tea, soup, powders, or tinctures. Capsules or mushroom powders are created by drying and crushing the medicinal mushroom fruitbodies or by using a concentrated liquid extract.
Mushroom tinctures are liquid extracts of medicinal mushrooms, often preserved in alcohol, and can be made through hot water extraction or alcohol-based extraction. To maximize the benefits of medicinal mushrooms, it is recommended to consume them every day for several weeks or months, and to take a break every six months.
It is also important to consume medicinal mushrooms with vitamin C to increase absorption and to purchase high-quality, organically grown mushrooms and supplements from reputable sellers to avoid consuming contaminants.
In conclusion, medicinal mushrooms have been used for centuries in traditional and folk medicine and continue to be studied by modern scientists for their potential health benefits.
Medicinal mushrooms are packed with a wide range of compounds that offer different health benefits such as anti-tumor, anti-inflammatory, and immune-boosting properties.
Incorporating medicinal mushrooms into your diet can help improve overall wellbeing and provide a natural remedy for various ailments.
Despite being often considered simple organisms, fungi are complex organisms that are more closely related to animals than plants, and scientists continue to discover their potential medicinal properties.
With their historical significance and modern scientific backing, medicinal mushrooms have the potential to be a valuable addition to a healthy lifestyle.