Medicinal mushrooms are one of the most diverse groups of natural medicines and do everything from boost immune activity to fighting anxiety and reducing brain fog. They may even be able to improve athletic performance.
Medicinal mushrooms are a type of life called a fungus. They have some of the most effective natural defenses of any life form. These same defensive properties may be the reason they have so many beneficial effects when consumed by humans.
Medicinal mushrooms contain a number of molecules that are key in fighting cancer cells and aiding the immune system. Most mushrooms have high levels of beta-glucans, which serve to boost the body’s immune response. Moreover, many mushrooms also have lectins, a type of molecule that can help the body identify cancer cells (1).
Although consumed for thousands of years for their medicinal properties, medicinal mushrooms are increasingly drawing interest from researchers. With such a broad range of mushrooms, there’s a wide variety of therapeutic effects and benefits that come from consuming medicinal mushrooms.
1Medicinal mushrooms are packed with antioxidants to fight free radicals. One of the main benefits of consuming mushrooms is their high level of antioxidant activity. Medicinal mushrooms are packed with antioxidants- molecules that help protect the body from dangerous free radicals that can cause damage to cells.
A type of medicinal mushrooms called Chaga are known for their antioxidant effects. A 2010 study showed that Chaga could have a beneficial anti-aging effect by preventing systemic stress, as well as help prevent a number of different types of cancer (2).
Another medicinal mushroom called Reishi is known for exhibiting similar antioxidant effects. It scavenges free radicals from the body, preventing them from damaging cells (3).
Another mushroom called Cordyceps- commonly used to boost energy levels- also shows high levels of antioxidant activity. A 2012 study showed that the polysaccharides in Cordyceps were shown to improve immune function in mice (4).
2Medicinal mushrooms can supercharge the immune system. Medicinal mushrooms are a natural and safe way of increasing the activity of the body’s immune system.
A 2014 study published in the Journal of Nutrition showed that mushrooms may also be able to prime immune cells before pathogens enter the body – meaning the body is able to prepare for infections and more effectively respond (5).
Medicinal mushrooms may also be able to increase the activity of immune cells called macrophages. These cells are one of the immune system’s most important defenses, and they act by digesting foreign invaders, such as pathogens and cancer cells.
In mice, a type of medicinal mushroom called Chaga led to significant increases in the levels of macrophages.
3Medicinal mushrooms have anti-cancer properties. Medicinal mushrooms also have been shown to have cancer-fighting properties, boosting the immune system’s ability to identify and remove cancer cells from the body.
Researchers found that late-stage cancer patients given a type of medicinal mushroom called Reishi had a significantly improved immune response after 12 weeks of treatment (6).
A type of mushrooms called Shiitake have also been shown to have anti-cancer properties. A molecule from Shiitakes called lentinan may boost the functioning of the immune system in patients with cancer, improving survival times and their quality of life (7).
Another mushroom called Turkey Tail is a popular natural way of fighting cancer. A 1994 study demonstrated that it contains a molecule called PSK, which is known for its ability to fight cancer cells by boosting the body’s immune response (8).
4Medicinal mushrooms help to manage blood sugar levels in the body. A type of mushroom called Cordyceps was shown to balance blood sugar in mice. In diabetic mice, Cordyceps led to significant reductions in blood sugar levels. These drops in blood sugar levels were also seen in normal mice, meaning Cordyceps could still be effective in people who do not have diabetes (9).
Diabetes can also put a strain on the kidneys, leading to renal failure. Cordyceps appears to have a beneficial effect on the kidneys in people with diabetes. It does this by reducing blood glucose levels.
Mice that were given a high dose of Cordyceps mushroom concentrate had significantly lower blood glucose levels, as well as fewer markers of renal failure (10).
5Medicinal mushrooms can help reduce brain fog. Medicinal mushrooms have also been shown to have potent effects on a wide range of areas related to cognition.
Lion’s mane is one of the most commonly used medicinal mushrooms for reducing brain fog. It has been shown to increase levels of nerve growth factor. It may also lead to the increased production of myelin, which is the protective layer that surrounds nerves.
Lion’s mane may also improve some areas of cognition in humans. Lion’s mane was administered to Japanese patients between the ages of 50 and 80 who showed mild cognitive impairment related to age. Lion’s mane led to small but significant improvements in cognitive performance in these patients (11).
Lion’s Mane has also been shown to improve short term memory. This type of memory- the ability to remember information for short periods of time, such as where you left your keys- tends to decrease with age (12).
The neuroprotective effects of Lion’s Mane may act to prevent the loss of short term memory that is seen with aging (13).
This could be due to the mushroom’s ability to boost levels of nerve growth factor in the brain, as well as increasing myelin levels.
6Medicinal mushrooms can help combat anxiety and related disorders. Medicinal mushrooms have long been used for their ability to induce a state of calm. Reishi is one of the most commonly used medicinal mushrooms for reducing anxiety.
A 2012 study showed that Reishi accomplishes this via a compound called triterpene. Triterpene appears to have mood-boosting effects and can also help treat depression and improve sleep (14).
7Medicinal mushrooms can naturally boost energy. Cordyceps is the most popular medicinal mushroom for improving energy levels. A 2014 study showed that Cordyceps does this by improving the body’s use of oxygen; leading to improved systemic blood flow. This results in a feeling of general well being and improved energy levels (15).
Because of its effectiveness in boosting blood flow, Cordyceps is also a great way to boost athletic performance naturally. More blood flow to the muscles can lead to improved endurance and increased strength. Studies show that Cordyceps may also help the body recover more quickly after intense exercise (16).
8Medicinal mushrooms lower cholesterol and improve artery health. Shiitake mushrooms, in addition to their cancer-fighting properties, also are good for the heart. They do this by reducing cholesterol levels in the body. Shiitake has compounds that change how cholesterol is absorbed in the liver, which can balance cholesterol levels (17).
9Medicinal mushrooms improve circulation. Shiitake mushrooms are also a natural way to improve circulation. Shiitake mushrooms contain phytonutrients, molecules that are useful in preventing plaque formation in arteries. With fewer plaques, the body can more easily circulate blood throughout the body (18).
Shiitake’s positive effects on plaque formation also help reduce blood pressure (19).
Cordyceps has also been shown to have a role in boosting the function of the cardiovascular system. It leads to the dilation of the aorta, which causes increased blood flow throughout the body (20).
10Medicinal mushrooms may enhance memory and cognition. Medicinal mushrooms have long been used for their cognition-boosting properties. One area where they may be effective is in improving memory.
A 2011 study using Lion’s Mane found that the mushroom led to an improvement in learning in mice (21).
The mechanism by which Lion’s Mane boosts memory is not known. It may have to do with Lion’s Mane’s ability to increase nerve growth factor levels in the brain. It may also be related to the mushroom’s role in improving myelin formation in nerve cells, which may help protect the cells.
11Medicinal mushrooms may boost concentration. In addition to their effects on memory and cognition, many medicinal mushrooms may also have a beneficial effect on concentration levels, especially in people with mild cognitive impairment related to normal aging.
A 2009 double-blind placebo-controlled trial with Lion’s Mane showed to be beneficial for middle-aged and elderly people, boosting their concentration levels. The scores then dropped after the participants stopped taking Lion’s Mane (22).
Reishi is another mushroom that appears to increase focus. It may not do so directly, but instead boosts mood, which leads to improved concentration. However, this still makes Reishi another option for those who want to boost concentration naturally (23).
Reishi mushrooms may increase the risk of bleeding in people with specific types of bleeding disorders. However, in healthy people, there is little risk of increased bleeding from consumption of Reishi mushrooms.
Certain mushrooms can lead to allergic reactions. Some people who are given Lion’s Mane experience issues with breathing, as well as skin rashes (24). If you notice an allergic reaction after taking a medicinal mushroom, discontinue use and contact your doctor.
There is some evidence that indicates Cordyceps could lead to an increased risk of bleeding following surgery (25).
Consumption of Reishi for a prolonged period has been shown to lead to an increased risk of a range of side effects. However, these side effects tend to be minor, such as digestive distress and mild stomach pain. They also tend to go away after you stop taking the mushroom (26).
Although medicinal mushrooms are generally safe, there is always the potential that they could interact with other medications. If you plan on taking medicinal mushrooms to treat a serious health condition such as cancer or heart disease, always consult with your doctor.
In studies looking at the effects of Lion’s Mane on cognitive function, patients were given 750 mg of Lion’s Mane per day (27).
This dose is fairly high, so it’s recommended to start lower to avoid any gastrointestinal side effects. Once the body has adjusted to the mushroom, increase the dose.
Cordyceps is often used as a natural boost for exercise. The dose is not exact, but many companies recommend around 200 mg.
Shiitake mushroom extracts are often used as a supplemental treatment in cancer. A standard dose was around 8 g per day, given over the course of 6 months (28).
For most medicinal mushrooms, there won’t be one dose that will be right for everyone. Experiment with different doses, always starting low and working towards higher doses.
How should I take medicinal mushrooms? There are a variety of ways that you can consume medicinal mushrooms. Many people choose to take them as powder, as this makes it easier to control dose, and it tends to be more affordable.
However, some people choose to eat whole mushrooms. The method that is best may vary between mushrooms, and some mushrooms, such as Reishi, may cause more side effects when consumed as raw mushrooms.
What is the best medicinal mushroom? Shiitake is one of the most popular and best-studied mushrooms in the world today. These mushrooms contain a polysaccharide known as Lentinan, which Cancer Detection and Prevention Journal has described as “a unique class of immunopotentiator” that helps to improve the quality of life and extend survival.
How can you tell if a mushroom is edible? Avoid mushrooms with white gills, a skirt or ring on the stem and a bulbous or sack like base called a volva. You may be missing out on some good edible fungi, but it means you will be avoiding the deadly members of the Amanita family. Avoid mushrooms with red on the cap or stem.
Are medicinal mushrooms safe? Yes, medicinal mushrooms are safe, provided that you consume them at the recommended doses. There are few side effects associated with mushrooms, and most are fairly minor, such as upset stomach and digestive problems.
There are some cases where people have more serious reactions when consuming medicinal mushrooms. This is usually due to an allergic reaction. If you notice any difficulty breathing or have skin rashes, stop taking the mushrooms and consult your doctor.
Can I use medicinal mushrooms in food? Many medicinal mushrooms have long been consumed as food. That means that many of them can be cooked and eaten as you would other mushrooms. However, do note that the flavor of many of these mushrooms can be quite strong.
Are fresh mushrooms better? Most recent studies with medicinal mushrooms use powdered forms of the mushrooms. This allows researchers to more easily control the dose and ensure that every patient is getting the same amount of mushrooms. That means that there is little research that shows whether fresh mushrooms are better than powdered versions.
There could potentially be some added benefits from consuming whole mushrooms. However, these benefits may be offset by the variation in the dose that you get by consuming fresh mushrooms.
Are medicinal mushrooms legal? Unlike their psychedelic cousins, medicinal mushrooms are completely legal in the United States. That means you can buy as many as you want, without any legal worries.
Where can I buy medicinal mushrooms? There are a number of reputable vendors that sell medicinal mushrooms online, both in dried and powdered form. Just make sure that you research the vendor before you buy, as there are some companies that sell lower quality powders that are cut with additives.
Can medicinal mushrooms cure cancer? Many different types of medicinal mushrooms have been shown to have anti-cancer effects. They can boost your body’s immune system and help it fight cancer cells.
However, that does not mean that medicinal mushrooms should be used as a first-line treatment for cancer. There is no evidence to suggest that mushrooms can cure any form of cancer. However, if used in combinations with other treatments, they may boost the effectiveness of your immune system.
Can I swap one medicinal mushroom for another? No. It’s important to remember that there’s a wide variety of medicinal mushrooms, each with unique properties. Lion’s Mane is often used for its positive effects on cognition, whereas Shiitake is more commonly used for its immune-boosting effects.
How many types of mushroom are there? Currently, there are over 10,000 known types of mushrooms. That may seem like a large number, but mycologists suspect that this is only a fraction of what’s out there! We can put these various species in one of 4 categories: saprotrophic, mycorrhizal, parasitic, and endophytic.
What is the most expensive mushroom? The rare European white truffle is the world’s most expensive mushroom, with a price tag that can exceed 2,200 euros per pound.
Medicinal mushrooms are a broad class of natural fungi that can be used to treat a wide variety of medicinal conditions. They are used to fight cancer, increase antioxidant activity, boost cognition, and control blood sugar levels, in addition to multiple other uses.
Moreover, medicinal mushrooms are widely available and affordable. They can be found online from a number of reputable vendors. Because of the astonishing variety of different medicinal mushrooms, they can also be combined to complement one another.
Medicinal mushrooms are also of benefit to people of all different ages. Many young people use mushrooms such as cordyceps to boost athletic performance, whereas elderly people use it to improve energy levels. Mushrooms such as Lion’s Mane are used to boost cognitive performance in people of all ages.