Have you heard of functional mushrooms? They’re a new trend in Western alternative medicine, and the hype appears justified.
Ancient Greek and Far Eastern practitioners used fungi as medicine for thousands of years. The Western sphere is catching up to the trend and exploring the therapeutic value of the fifth family.
It seems that mushrooms may offer immune-boosting properties and support everything from our digestive systems to mental health. Is there scientific proof to support these claims, though?
The trend is relatively recent and currently surrounded by numerous overblown claims. So today, we’re cutting through the noise. Keep reading to discover functional mushrooms’ reported benefits, available species, and ways they may support holistic health.
What Are Functional Mushrooms?
Functional mushrooms are a category of fungi heralded for their health benefits. Their effects are multi-faceted and species-dependent, but they all appear to support human well-being.
Resources usually divide these mushrooms into two groups:
- Medicinal mushrooms: Packed with beneficial bioactive compounds, like vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
- Adaptogenic mushrooms: Containing adaptogens, compounds that help us fight the adverse effects of chemical, physical, and biological stress.
Many functional fungi have both medicinal and adaptogenic properties. In the future, psychedelic mushrooms might also enter this category for their potential mental health benefits.
What’s the status of functional mushrooms in medicine at the moment?
We currently consider them dietary supplements. While they may support people’s wellness, they’re unlikely to treat illnesses in isolation. As a result, they’re best used as preventative measures and paired with healthy living practices and, when needed, pharmaceuticals.
Functional Mushrooms: Species and Benefits
According to Tero Isokauppila, Healing Mushrooms author and holistic living expert, there are currently fifteen known species of functional fungi. Here are the seven prominent in Western alternative medicine, together with their reported benefits.
Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus) holds the spotlight for its anti-inflammatory properties. This effect is diverse and may offer dietary support to people with autoimmune diseases, diabetes, IBS, and depression.
The mushroom is also said to improve cognitive functions, heart health, and immunity.
Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis) is oft-consumed for lung health and natural energy. Eating this mushroom might lower your blood pressure and loosen your airways, offering asthma relief.
Scientists also discovered anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties in cordyceps. People find it beneficial against stress, fatigue, and a weakened immune system.
Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor) is known for its immune-enhancing properties. It’s rich in antioxidants to reduce inflammation and prebiotics to promote gut health.
Shiitake (Lentinula edodes) might offer anti-bacterial, anti-tumor, energy-boosting, and immune-enhancing properties. The fungus appears to reduce cholesterol levels, supply vitamin B for energy, and provide selenium to soothe acne scarring.
The cancer-fighting capabilities stem from apoptosis, a property of some medicinal mushrooms. Shiitake might encourage tumor cell death and prevent its further growth.
Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) is the ‘king of medicinal mushrooms’ for its antiviral, anti-bacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties. It might stimulate white blood cell production to fight off illnesses and potentially reduce the risk of catching them.
Scientists are also looking at potential applications of Chaga in oncology. It might inhibit cancer cell growth and offer a valuable resource for chemotherapy.
Similarly to Chaga, Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) is a well-known immunity booster in Eastern medicine. Its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties could assist against stress and soothe symptoms of conditions like arthritis and IBS.
Reishi and several other functional mushrooms might modulate the immune system to help it fight cancer cells.
Maitake (Grifola frondosa) might aid type 2 diabetes patients by improving glucose levels and reducing cholesterol. Its antioxidant activity and vitamin-rich composition may also enhance the immune system.
Where Are Functional Mushrooms Available?
Would you like to incorporate functional mushrooms into your diet? Obtaining them in raw form can be tricky, as many species are rare and not native to the US. Luckily, this field’s growing popularity bred a swift market response.
You can now get functional fungi supplements in many health food stores. Their popularity also piqued the interest of various health and beauty care manufacturers seeking to harness natural ingredients. For instance:
- Reishi and Chaga found their way into face masks, creams, and even blushes in the case of Milk Makeup.
- Wellness companies like Clevr Blends infuse their coffee blends with mushrooms to add a kick to their brews.
- Meati produces plant-based meat alternatives packed with the power of functional mushrooms.
- A British beer company Fungtn put out myco-adaptogenic, alcohol-free, feel-good beers.
Who Should Try Functional Mushrooms?
Functional mushrooms may safely assist most people’s journey to better health. There are a few exceptions where extra caution is a good idea, though. People currently pregnant, lactating, or receiving medical treatment should first discuss usage with their physicians.
Reported side effects are few and far between, but research is still in its infancy. Improper and excessive use might lead to adverse effects like insomnia and nausea, so read supplement labels and tread with care.
Better Health With Mushroom Power
There’s potentially much to gain from incorporating functional mushrooms into your lifestyle. While the research on them is scarce, the anecdotal claims are numerous and very optimistic.
We expect science to supply more information on the magic of mushrooms in the coming years. And we’re excited for what comes after.
Reading into this only made us more excited about the fifth kingdom. Do you feel the same? If yes, visit our shop to order lab-grade mushroom spore syringes. Supplement your large-scale exploration with amateur microscopy.