You take certain supplements regularly for basic health insurance, such as a daily multivitamin/mineral and fish oil supplement. Here’s why medicinal mushrooms should be a part of this routine. If I had to recommend just one category of botanical supplements, it would be medicinal mushrooms. There are at least 270 different medicinal mushroom species, and they cover an extensive health territory. However, even if they weren’t so diverse, I would still choose these remarkable fungi—particularly certain varieties—for their powerful effects on the immune system, detoxification, cardiovascular health, and more. Mushrooms help protect us against multiple health conditions, and increase overall vitality and wellness at the same time.
It’s not just that mushrooms interact with our immune system; it’s how they do it from so many angles. Certain carbohydrates in mushroom cell walls (such as beta-glucans) seem to activate and fuel immune cells. For example, they stimulate macrophages, the immune cells that consume viruses and bacteria. Beta-glucans also interact with lymphocytes, T-cells, natural killer (NK) cells, and other immune components. They are particularly helpful with the innate immune system, the first line of defense against viral and bacterial invasions.
And there’s also evidence that mushrooms regulate and “train” the immune system. Essentially, they prime immune cells to react appropriately to pathogens and toxins, while supporting healthy cells and tissues. This is important because healthy immune function is precisely tuned to provide the exact response needed to fight harmful invaders, cancer cells, etc. If the immune system responds too slowly, or not aggressively enough, infections and even cancer can gain a foothold. On the other hand, if the immune reaction is too heavy-handed, the risk of autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or even chronic allergies increases. Mushrooms help to modulate the ideal, balanced immune response.
Medicinal Mushrooms Health Benefits
If medicinal mushrooms only benefited immunity, they would be superior natural remedies. We all know that healthy immunity is a cornerstone of long-term wellness. But mushrooms do much more.
Medicinal Mushroom Nutrients:
- important alkaloids
Medicinal Mushrooms Benefits:
- reduce blood pressure and cholesterol
- protect the liver
- inhibit inflammation
- support digestion
- boost circulation
- detoxify the body
- fight cancer
Medicinal Mushroom Varieties
Here are three of my favorite varieties, with a brief description of how they can enhance health.
Reishi mushrooms are known for their ability to boost athletic performance. They enhance blood oxygenation, which is particularly helpful for long-distance runners, mountain climbers, and anyone exerting themselves at high altitudes. They also support lung function for those with asthma and bronchitis, lower cholesterol, and reduce blood viscosity, which can help control blood pressure. On the immune side, reishi helps stimulate macrophages, as well as a cancer-fighting protein called tumor necrosis factor. Reishi mushrooms also support liver detoxification.
Cordyceps mushrooms enrich the bone marrow and energize macrophages, phagocytes, and NK cells, again supporting immunity. They have also demonstrated anti-tumor activity. Like reishi, cordyceps support athletic performance, increasing cellular energy production and oxygen utilization. They also improve heart function by reducing LDL (bad cholesterol) and increasing HDL cholesterol (the good variety).
Coriolus mushrooms show anti-tumor activity in a number of cancers. Also called turkey tail, this mushroom can also help mitigate the side effects from chemotherapy and radiation treatments, boost appetite, and increase quality of life in cancer patients. Coriolus has also shown benefits in lowering cholesterol, treating hepatitis and respiratory infections, and improving skin health.
There are a variety of ways to supplement with medicinal mushrooms. Purity is critical. The same traits that allow mushrooms to remove toxins from the body also let them absorb toxins from their environment, so seek out a high-quality brand at a supplement retailer or health food store.
Medicinal Mushroom Foods
People often ask me whether health benefits can be found in more common culinary mushrooms, such as shiitake and oyster mushrooms. The answer is yes. Shiitake mushrooms are particularly high on my list. They contain lentinan, a compound that has demonstrated anti-tumor activity in clinical trials and also protects against bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Studies have also demonstrated that button, portabella, crimini, and others are rich in nutrients including vitamin D, selenium, and B vitamins.
If exposed to ultraviolet light, mushrooms produce vitamin D—just like we do when outside in the sun. This can happen even after they’re harvested and dried. You can leave fresh or dried mushrooms in the sun for up to two days to boost vitamin D content.
How to Use Medicinal Mushrooms in Diet
My best recommendation is to incorporate mushroom supplements into a comprehensive health plan, and culinary mushrooms into a balanced, whole-food diet. The research emerging on these amazing fungi is quite compelling, and their ability to balance the immune system alone makes them a key strategy in any long-term wellness program. With all of their remarkable benefits, medicinal mushrooms clearly should be a cornerstone in any effort to support lasting health.
FUNGI PERFECTI Host Defense Cordyceps delivers a full range of constituents from organic, sustainably harvested mushrooms.
JARROW FORMULAS Mushroom Optimizer blends seven mushroom species, including cordyceps and coriolus.
MUSHROOM WISDOM Super Reishi is grown free of pesticides and extracted in a process that preserves beneficial constituents.