Mushrooms are finally getting recognition for the nutritional superstars they are (and have been for thousands of years). With summer just a few short weeks away, most of us are thinking about vacations, getting in shape, or purchasing new clothes for the season.
But what about your health? Many times we relegate worrying about our immune system to the colder months when it’s more likely to catch a cold or flu from a coworker.
That’s a mistake. Just because the weather is balmy doesn’t mean you aren’t vulnerable to a runny nose or an errant sneeze. Our immune system is the foundation for our health, so keeping our immune health strong and balanced should be priority number one all year long.
Before we get too far in, let’s address the elephant in the room.
Are you talking about “magic mushrooms”?
We are not. Our apologies if you came in search of something different.
We are talking about the legal kind of healing mushrooms, but stay with us. Depending on your lifestyle, medicinal mushrooms may be just what you need this summer to boost your energy levels and your immune health.
Medicinal mushrooms are edible fungi that are consumed for their beneficial health properties. Fungi include yeasts, molds, and mushrooms. There are over 20,000 species of mushrooms around the world, but only about 10% are safe for consumption.
Medicinal mushrooms are a natural way to fight off infection, aid your body in neutralizing cancer cells, and improve your sleep quality. Medicinal mushrooms’ greatest superpower is the ability to help regulate the immune system.
Although only recently gaining in popularity, mushrooms have been utilized as immune enhancers throughout much of history in Chinese, Egyptian, Greek, Mexican, and Roman cultures.
Medicinal mushrooms are an excellent source of fiber, protein, potassium, selenium, and a host of vitamins. The threads of filaments inside the mushroom (known as the mycelium) are part of the medicinal mushroom that contains valuable compounds associated with health benefits.
Medicinal mushrooms are a powerful addition to a healthy diet, especially if you believe that food is medicine. They differ from regular culinary mushrooms, however, in that they may taste more bitter and be difficult to digest.
While many medicinal mushrooms are not particularly popular for their culinary usage, we can find them as active ingredients in protein shakes, special teas, coffee replacements, and supplements. They can also be taken as extracts, which have a higher concentration of active beneficial ingredients.
Read on to learn more about the health benefits of medicinal mushrooms, the best mushrooms for immune support, who should take them, and the best way to consume medicinal mushrooms.
There are approximately 2,000 edible mushroom species that can be consumed safely, and at least 270 of them are known to have various therapeutic properties1.
From positively influencing gut microbiota to providing anti-allergic effects to improving cancer-related symptoms, medicinal mushrooms can do it all. Perhaps the greatest benefit of medicinal mushrooms is their immunomodulating effects, which means they can help keep your immune system in balance.
A lot of research has been conducted to determine the health effects of medicinal mushrooms. In addition to being a rich source of nutrients and bioactive compounds, over 100 possible therapeutic properties have been linked to various species of mushrooms.
Below are the top eight mushrooms that science has shown to have properties that support immune health. Take a look and see if any of these powerful fungi can help you have a healthy summer.
Cordyceps (Ophiocordyceps sinensis) aren’t technically a mushroom. Instead, they’re a rare caterpillar fungus that is known to stimulate energy and your libido. As an adaptogenic mushroom, cordyceps can help regulate stress and modulate the immune system.
The bioactive components in cordyceps include cordycepin, cordycepic acid, and polysaccharides. The polysaccharide content is useful in supporting gut health. Cordyceps also help your body use oxygen more efficiently, enhancing blood flow and improving lung function.
Known as the “energy mushroom,” cordyceps are used to support vitality, endurance, and stamina2. Athletes and other active people often take them to improve their athletic performance and speed up post-workout muscle recovery.
Reishi mushrooms (Ganoderma lingzhi) are sometimes called the “mushroom of immortality” because of their many health benefits. Antioxidants found in reishi help promote healthy cell function, while simultaneously working to protect your skin against photoaging, otherwise known as sun damage.
These mushrooms contain powerful bioactive compounds like beta-glucan polysaccharides and triterpenes. These compounds can help promote your body’s defense against bacteria and viruses, including cancer. They also work great as prebiotics and positively impact the gut microbiome.
Reishi mushrooms have been used for centuries in Chinese and Japanese culture to reduce anxiety, promote better sleep, and regulate microbiota composition. Today, reishi is also used to reduce allergy symptoms3. Anyone who suffers from seasonal allergies may want to include this “king of mushrooms” in their diet.
Shiitake mushrooms (Lentinula edodes) have traditionally been used to treat the common cold and other similar conditions. They contain high levels of vitamin B, minerals, and other macronutrients that support immune health. Today, shiitake is used medicinally for liver support and cholesterol control4.
Research has shown that shiitakes contain compounds that inhibit the absorption and production of cholesterol in the liver, lowering LDL (low-density lipoprotein). When your LDL is high, your chances of having a heart attack or stroke increase significantly.
Additional studies have found that shiitake mushrooms can improve circulation and lower blood pressure, while others show they may have cancer effects. These mushrooms are also known to keep your skin and heart healthy.
Lion’s Mane mushrooms (Hericium erinaceus) are a medicinal powerhouse known for their brain-boosting benefits. The natural mental clarity provided by lion’s mane is due to its ability to foster the production of the bioprotein nerve growth factor (NFG) and myelin, which are crucial to brain health5.
Neurological diseases like multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s can result from an imbalance in NFG and myelin. Lion’s mane has also been shown to improve cognition, concentration, and memory.
Studies have shown that lion’s mane may help regulate the immune system and promote gut microbiota growth. Additionally, lion’s mane may treat mild symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Chaga mushrooms (Inonotus obliquus) are an antioxidant powerhouse, helping you fight free radicals and boost your immune system. Studies have shown that chaga mushrooms may prevent cell damage caused by free radicals or oxidants6.
Some compounds found in chaga, including antioxidant polyphenols, betulin, and betulinic acid, are associated with anti-cancer effects and may slow the growth of cancer.
Chaga mushrooms act as an antiviral, alleviate digestive disorders, and help combat oxidative stress, which is linked to skin aging. Studies conducted on mice have found chaga to help lower LDL (aka the “bad” cholesterol).
Full of powerful amino acids, B vitamins, and minerals, chaga mushrooms support a healthy response to inflammation. Some illnesses are linked to inflammation or chronic inflammation. Chaga mushrooms boost immune health by helping cells communicate with one another more efficiently.
Maitake mushrooms (Grifola frondosa) are a powerful medicinal superfood that benefits almost anyone. Maitake is an adaptogenic mushroom that contains a high concentration of beta-d-glucans bioactive compounds. Adaptogens assist your body to fight against any mental or physical difficulties.
Adaptogens help your body handle stress better, which can negatively impact your overall health. Well-known for their medicinal properties, maitake mushrooms have been studied and shown to provide support to the immune system during chemotherapy.
Rich in vitamin D, maitake mushrooms help everything from bone health to cancer support to diabetes management. The polysaccharides in maitake mushrooms may help control blood sugar levels7, lower cholesterol, improve blood pressure, and help with weight management in diabetes patients.
Turkey Tail mushrooms (Coriolus versicolor) are known for their anti-cancer properties and high levels of antioxidants. Researchers have found that the antioxidants in turkey tail mushrooms stimulate immune cells to protect you from bacteria and certain diseases. They can also aid in toxin removal and promote antitumor activity8.
Studies of two notable polysaccharides (PSK and PSP) show that they may stimulate your immune system, and lower blood glucose and triglyceride levels. Polysaccharide-K (PSK) is so effective at stimulating the immune system that it’s been approved as an anticancer prescription drug in Japan.
Turkey tail stimulates the release of immune-supportive compounds, helping to manage inflammation and support gut health. It’s also known for improving the survival rate of people fighting certain cancers and boosting the immune system of people undergoing chemotherapy.
Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) are known for their impressive health-promoting compounds and properties. Packed with rich nutrients, oyster mushrooms are an excellent source of fiber, and protein, as well as vitamins and minerals.
Research has found that polysaccharides contained in oyster mushrooms may have anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects. They may also aid in fighting against tumor or virus-infected cells.
Other studies suggest oyster mushrooms may reduce risk factors for heart disease, such as cholesterol and high blood pressure9.Eating oyster mushrooms may also improve blood sugar levels in diabetics.
Oyster mushrooms may provide anti-tumor, anti-inflammatory, and gut health benefits, while simultaneously supporting your immune system.
No, medicinal mushrooms are not psychedelic. They are full of antioxidants, adaptogenic properties, and tons of other nutrients your body needs.
These natural components have anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and anti-hypertensive activity. Medicinal mushrooms have long been used in Eastern medicine to balance mood and hormones, reduce fatigue, as well as calm anxiety.
Psilocybin mushrooms, sometimes called “magic mushrooms,” are psychedelics and can cause hallucinogenic effects (aka get you high). Although psilocybin mushrooms have been used in various healing and spiritual rituals for thousands of years (and are currently undergoing medical trials in some countries), we are not recommending you supplement with magic mushrooms in this article.
It’s important to remember that certain wild mushrooms contain toxins that are poisonous to humans and pets. So if you’re planning on going foraging – consult with a mycologist or qualified mushroom forager to help you identify which mushrooms are safe for consumption.
The medicinal mushrooms identified in this article are generally safe for consumption, but some people should check with their doctor before trying them to avoid contraindications or other potential issues.
If any of the following applies to you, check with your doctor or knowledgeable health practitioner to find the right mushroom for you:
- Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding
- Anyone with thrombocytopenia (a clotting disorder)
- Anyone with an autoimmune disease
- Anyone on medications (particularly blood pressure)
Depending on your specific illness or diagnosis, medicinal mushrooms may not be right for your condition. It’s always a good idea to consult with your doctor to determine the best treatment plan for you.
Choosing just one medicinal mushroom as the most powerful for boosting immunity is difficult since they each provide amazing benefits to your immune system. And since consuming multiple mushrooms together may create an entourage effect (making the whole more effective than the one), opting to take a mushroom blend becomes the logical choice.
As medicinal mushrooms gain attention in the wellness world, more and more natural supplement companies are producing “immunity blends.” These blends include many of the mushrooms mentioned in this article.
Natural supplements may be sold in a variety of forms including, extract powders, tinctures, or capsules, like Mushroom Defense from Leading Edge Health.
Supplementing with mushrooms in the summer may seem counterproductive to some, but not for those of us who experience the haze of seasonal allergies. Medicinal mushrooms can support your body as it naturally works through its allergic response, while helping reduce the symptoms.
Mushroom Defense can be taken anytime throughout the year to provide numerous health advantages, like a strengthened immune system. Although you’ll get the most benefit when you supplement with mushrooms consistently over a longer period.
Mushroom Defense contains seven of the eight powerful mushrooms we discussed earlier, plus three additional ingredients (Royal Sun Agaricus, White Button mushroom extract, and Black Fungus extract) that work together to give your immune system the support it needs.
Whether you’re a small business owner who can’t take a day off, a busy mom with no sick days left, or just someone who seems to get sick easily, Mushroom Defense can help enhance immunity, boost mental clarity, and improve your overall well-being.
Next, read our, “10 Spring Health Tips To Get a Head Start On Your Summer Body.”