The Lowdown on Medicinal Mushrooms

Fresh mixed forest mushrooms on the wooden black table, top view.

Mushrooms have been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years in cultures around the world. Now, modern scientists are discovering the fascinating healing properties of mushrooms, with more than 100 species of mushrooms currently being studied for their potential health benefits.

Medicinal mushroom and fungi are thought to possess approximately 130 medicinal functions, including antitumor, antioxidant, antiviral, antibacterial, and antiparasitic effects. They can also modulate the immune system, protect the heart and liver, and balance blood sugar and cholesterol. With so many potential benefits, here is what you need to know about medicinal mushrooms.

Mushrooms for your immune system

Researchers have found that medicinal mushrooms contain multiple bioactive compounds that have beneficial effects on the immune system. For example, in a 2014 study, researchers gave participants 5 to 10 grams of dried shiitake mushrooms daily for four weeks. Consuming mushrooms was associated with a substantial increase in the number and effectiveness of both “T immune cells” and natural killer cells.

Mushrooms for better sleep 

Medicinal mushrooms such as reishi, cordyceps, and lion’s mane can help reduce stress, boost cellular rejuvenation, stimulate the growth of neurons in the brain, and optimize neurological function. These functions can enhance our ability to get a deep and restful night’s sleep and boost the body’s healing abilities during sleep. 

Mushrooms to prevent inflammation

A healthy immune system is capable of slowing and stopping the inflammatory response to an invader once the threat had been neutralized. But as we age, the inflammatory response stays switched on, resulting in the chronic, low-grade inflammation that is potentially at the root of many diseases.

Red reishi mushrooms, cordyceps mushrooms, and many other types have been shown to reduce the pro-inflammatory substances produced by immune cells and boost the recognition of foreign invaders. This helps the inflammatory response find balance again. 

Mushrooms to fight cancer

Medicinal mushrooms have antioxidant properties and may enhance immune response, resulting in potent cancer-fighting abilities. For example, reishi and maitake mushrooms contain complex sugars known as beta-glucans. Lab studies suggest that these compounds may help stop the growth and spread of cancer cells by supporting healthy cell growth and turnover.

Mushrooms for a healthy heart 

Several studies have shown a beneficial impact of mushroom intake on heart health markers such as cholesterol, blood pressure, and inflammatory damage. These benefits are believed to be thanks to therapeutic compounds found in mushrooms, including sterols and triterpenes.

Mushrooms for your brain

One type of medicinal mushroom called lion’s mane has been shown to activate a peptide known as “nerve growth factor” or NGF. NGF is necessary for the growth, maintenance, and survival of the neurons in your brain. Taking lion’s mane stimulates neurons to regrow so they can continue to function even into old age. 

In one study, elderly men and women with mild cognitive impairment were given lion’s mane for a period of 16 weeks. The mushroom-eating group showed significantly improved cognitive function compared with the placebo group. 

Mushrooms for healthy blood sugar 

Medicinal mushrooms are being used in experimental medications that aim to decrease blood glucose levels. Research has shown that Agaricus mushrooms and Reishi mushrooms have had beneficial effects on diabetes symptoms in lab animals. Thus, medicinal mushrooms may hold promise as a new, effective approach for the treatment and prevention of diabetes.

Mushrooms against viruses

Reishi mushrooms have been shown to actively reduce the number of viral cells and the severity of symptoms in viruses such as Epstein-Barr, Herpes, and HIV. Mushrooms may have the added benefit of decreasing fatigue, fever, and other typical viral symptoms by decreasing the production of substances called cytokines.

How to get the benefits of mushrooms every day

Exotic medicinal mushrooms aren’t the only ones with benefits. There is considerable evidence that all edible mushrooms, even the most common grocery store varieties like button, crimini, portobello, or oyster mushrooms, have potent health-boosting properties. Try incorporating mushrooms into salads, stir-fries, or omelets. 

Medicinal mushrooms, on the other hand, can be enjoyed as part of a hot cocoa or coffee beverage or mixed into a smoothie. Some find them pleasant simply mixed into some hot water with a little honey or maple syrup for sweetness. Alternatively, you can take capsules if you want to avoid the bitter, earthy flavors.

Try adding some medicinal mushrooms to your daily routine for amazing health benefits that may help keep you healthy for years to come. 

-The UpWellness Team

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