Vitatips: Your Cheatsheet to Mushrooms

Are you nervous to try mushrooms? Medicinal mushrooms may sound a bit adventurous (and maybe not so appealing) but you will likely be seeing more of them as they are steadily taking over the health and wellness scene.

You may have seen them gain popularity among health fanatics and influencers, and even become included in various foods such as lattes. 

What are medicinal mushrooms?

Medicinal mushrooms make up the Fungi Kingdom. These fungi have been used extensively throughout history in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine due to their potent healing compounds, but only recently have they been making their appearance in the Western Hemisphere. 

Some popular medicinal mushrooms you are probably familiar with include chaga, cordyceps, and reishi.

These fungi are nutritional powerhouses and one of the most health-promoting foods on earth providing beneficial nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to name but a few. Used for the prevention and healing of diseases, they are said to provide up to 130 different medicinal actions to benefit human health (1).

Though they each provide different effects, overall they are known for their ability to combat illness like the common cold or flu, reduce stress, improve sleep, and even combat cancer. 

History of  medicinal mushrooms

Medicinal mushrooms have been used for thousands of years by different cultures around the world, specifically in Asia, for their many nutritional and medicinal effects. In fact, human consumption dates as far back as 3300 BC.

These mushrooms have been utilized by many influential leaders in history such as the Greek father of Medicine, Hippocrates himself (2)

Fungi have also been used in modern medicine to create drugs such as penicillin, antibiotics, and even statins. 

Though mushrooms represent ancient remedies dating back thousands of years, modern science continues to confirm their benefits. Scientific research on medicinal mushrooms started around the 1950's and has been accelerating ever since.  

There are now more and more studies revealing their mechanisms of action, how they can improve human health, and even treat certain diseases

Benefits of medicinal mushrooms

  • Enhance immune function
  • Prevent tumor growth
  • Balance blood sugar 
  • Combat cancer
  • Increase antioxidant activity
  • Neutralize free radicals
  • Support cardiovascular health
  • Lower unhealthy cholesterol levels
  • Promote cognitive health
  • Improve stamina and exercise performance
  • Contain antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and antiparasitic properties
  • Support detoxification and protect the liver

As you can see, mushrooms have a long list of benefits. However, they are each unique in their offerings and vary among individuals. 

Types of medicinal mushrooms

Examples of medicinal mushrooms include:

Cordyceps: Cordyceps is a fungus that lives on caterpillars in the high mountain regions of China. It can stimulate the production of ATP (your body’s energy currency) which can increase stamina and physical performance during exercise. Cordyceps may also have the ability to lower cholesterol levels, support heart health, and keep blood sugar within healthy levels. 

ChagaChaga is a type of fungus that has immunomodulating properties, which means it is excellent for boosting the immune system and protecting the body against infection. It also is one of the highest antioxidant containing foods and provides potent anti-inflammatory effects in the body. 

Reishi: The "chill out" mushroom, Reishi is known to support healthy sleep cycles, particularly with regular consumption. it is non-sedating therefore will not make you sleepy but provides calming and grounding effects on the body. It also has been shown to reduce overall fatigue during the day and lower levels of anxiety. 

How to receive the benefits of Mushrooms from Medicinal mushrooms?

Medicinal mushrooms contain both water-soluble compounds, known as polysaccharides and alcohol-soluble compounds known as triterpenes. To receive the most benefits, mushrooms need to be broken down with a two-step process combining alcohol and water.

But don't worry, you don't have to do any of the work, you can buy medicinal mushrooms ready to go!

Gone are the days where mushrooms just tasted like dirt. Nowadays you can find mushrooms in just about anything, such as protein powders, hot chocolate, coffee, and even granola bars. 

Though if you are looking for their therapeutic effects, we recommend seeking out quality medicinal mushrooms in powder, capsule, or tea form.

If you want to include mushrooms into your diet, certain species have been shown to have the most benefits and these include porcini, golden oyster, pioppino, oyster, maitake, and shiitake. Opt for cooked mushrooms to avoid potential toxins found in raw mushrooms. 

Are medicinal mushrooms safe?

Medicinal mushrooms are potent nutrient factories meaning they supply much-needed nutrition to the human body. They have been used for their health-promoting effects for thousands of years and are considered generally safe to consume, as it is quite difficult to reach toxicity levels.

However, always be cautious if you are pregnant, taking medications, or have a health condition thus consult your health care practitioner before supplementing. And no, they do not possess any hallucinogenic properties.

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Laurence Annez is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner and Health Coach, specializing in PCOS and women's hormones. She also holds a degree in Creative Writing and has extensive experience writing on health and wellness topics. Laurence's mission is to inspire and motivate individuals to take control of their own health and reach their ultimate health goals.

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