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The Science Behind Medicinal Mushrooms and Their Healing Powers - The Ultimate Guide.

Updated: Jul 8, 2023

Discover the fascinating world of the most beneficial medicinal mushrooms and their incredible healing properties. This article explores the science behind powerful fungi such as Lion's Mane, Reishi, Cordyceps and more.

Scientists checking purity of medicinal mushrooms  Lion's Mane UK, Reishi, Chaga, Turkey Tail

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Introduction to medicinal mushrooms and their history of use.


Medicinal mushrooms have been used for centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for their healing properties. However, in recent years, the study of medicinal mushrooms has gained significant interest from the scientific community and for a good reason.

Research has shown that these mushrooms contain bioactive compounds that have potential therapeutic effects on various health conditions. This blog post will discuss the scientific evidence behind medicinal mushrooms and their healing powers.


Throughout history, many cultures worldwide have used medicinal mushrooms for therapeutic purposes. Mushrooms are especially popular in Traditional Chinese Medicine; the use of Reishi, Lions Mane, Turkey Tail, and Cordyceps dates back thousands of years.

China is the leading supplier and producer of those amazing medicinal mushrooms, and 85% of all medicinal mushrooms come from there.


In 1991, a well-preserved body of an ancient man was discovered by scientists under ice on the border between Italy and Austria. The man, later named "Otzi," is believed to have lived around 3300 BC.

Among his few possessions, two species of mushrooms were found. One was the Tinder Fungus (Fomes fomentarius), a mushroom traditionally used to start fires. The other mushroom in his pouch was a Birch Polypore (Piptoprus betulinus), a powerful medicinal mushroom known for its anti-parasitic, anti-inflammatory, and antibiotic properties.

Otzi likely used this functional mushroom to rid himself of whipworm. This discovery proves that 5000 years ago, people were already aware of and using medicinal mushrooms.


The Bioactive Compounds in Medicinal Mushrooms


One of the main reasons wedicinal mushrooms have gained so much attention is dheir bioactive compounds. These compounds include Beta-Glucans, polysaccharides, triterpenoids, and ergosterol. All those compounds have been shown to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and immunomodulatory properties.

Beta-Glucans, for example, are complex carbohydrates found in mushrooms' cell walls. They have been shown to enhance the immune system by stimulating the production of immune cells such as macrophages and natural killer cells. Polysaccharides are another group of complex carbohydrates found in mushrooms, and they have been shown to have anti-tumour and anti-inflammatory properties.


Types of Medicinal Mushrooms


Reishi Mushroom (Ganoderma Lucidum)

Picture of Reishi (Ganoderma Lucidum) medicinal mushroom

The Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma Lucidum), known as the "Mushroom of Immortality", offers several potential benefits, including improved sleep, reduced sleep stress, and enhanced immunity.

Reishi contains polysaccharides that can help strengthen the immune system and over 400 bioactive compounds, such as triterpenoids, peptides, and phenols. These constituents have shown promising potential in treating various health issues, such as sleep disorders, stress, eating disorders, respiratory problems, and allergies.

Research suggests that the Reishi extract offers a diverse range of healing properties that can promote a healthy immune system, body & mind.

For over 2000 years, TCM has called this a mushroom of spirituality and longevity. Reishi grows on fallen logs, stumps, and the base of trees, with a reddish-brown colour and kidney shape. While there are over 2000 species of Ganoderma (Reishi), the most well-researched type for medicinal purposes is Ganoderma Lucidum, which translates to light or brilliant Reishi.

Chaga Mushroom (Inonotus obliquus)

Chaga Mushroom on a tray served as tea
Dried Chaga Mushroom

Chaga is a mushroom which grows on birch trees, mainly in Eastern European and Scandinavian countries. It has been used in traditional Russian and Scandinavian medicine for its immune-boosting properties. Inonotus Obliquus, also known as Chaga Mushroom, has several potential benefits, including reducing inflammation, antiviral, protecting the skin, and serving as a potential anti-cancer agent.

Chaga is abundant in vitamins, minerals, and nutrients such as vitamin D, magnesium, and potassium. Furthermore, Chaga contains melanin, which is antioxidative, anti-inflammatory, anti-ageing, and beneficial for immunity and skin protection.

The betulin and betulinic acid found in birch offer several beneficial compounds, including melanin, which finds its way into the Chaga mushroom. Its first medicinal application dates back to 16th century Russia, where it was used to improve stomach health.


Cordyceps Mushroom (Cordyceps Sinensis)

Cordyceps mushroom on plate

Cordyceps is a parasitic mushroom that grows on insects in the Himalayan region. It has been used in TCM for its energy-boosting properties and is often taken by athletes to improve endurance and performance. Cordyceps has also been found to have anti-inflammatory properties and may be beneficial in treating asthma and other respiratory conditions. Additionally, cordyceps has been found to have anti-cancer properties and may bhelp preventand ttreatcertain types of cancer.


A double-blind placebo study of 30 older adults (ages 50 to 75) found that taking a synthetic form of cordyceps (CS4) for six weeks resulted in a 7% increase in VO2 max, a measurement of fitness ability. Similarly, a recent study on young adults found an 11% increase in VO2 max after taking cordyceps militaris compared to a placebo.


Lion's Mane Mushroom (Hericium Erinaceus)

Lion's Mane mushroom on white background

The Lion's Mane is a mushroom which grows in North America, Europe, and Asia.

It offers several potential benefits, and research suggests it may support brain function, improve cognition, combat depressive disorders, reduce anxiety, and even facilitate neurogenesis.


Studies suggest that the Lion's Mane mushroom can improve cognitive function and enhance memory by promoting the generation of nerve growth factors (NGFs) and brain-derived neurotrophic factors (BDNFs). These proteins are crucial in neurons' development and upkeep and significantly influence learning, memory, and overall brain wellness.

In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, adults with age-related memory issues who took Lion's Mane achieved better cognition scores than those who were given a placebo. However, after four weeks of stopping the Lion's Mane supplement, their cognitive abilities decreased again.


The most extensively researched compound in Lion's Mane is beta-glucans, which benefit the immune system and brain and reduce inflammation. It also reportedly combats stress, reduces fatigue, and potentially treats depression & anxiety.

These studies indicate that the Lion's Mane extract can positively impact brain function and mood and may help combat neurodegenerative disorders.


Turkey Tail Mushroom (Trametes Versicolor)

Colourful Turkey Tail Mushroom

Turkey Tail (Trametes Versicolor) is a mushroom that grows on dead trees in forests worldwide.

It may improve immunity and gut health and is a rich source of antioxidants.


A clinical study discovered over 35 phenolic compounds, which are shown to reduce inflammation and boost immunity. In addition, the Turkey Tail mushroom contains immune-enhancing polysaccharides, such as Krestin (PSK) and Polysaccharide Peptide (PSP). These protein-bound polysaccharides are supported by science to boost immunity, and PSK protects our bodies against toxins and bacteria by activating specialised white blood cells.


Side effects

In general, mushrooms are considered safe for consumption and are unlikely to cause harm if used as directed.

However, some people may experience adverse or even allergic reactions to medicinal mushrooms.

As with any health product or substance, it is advisable to start with small amounts to ensure that you are not one of the rare individuals who may react negatively to mushroom extracts.


Choosing the medicinal mushrooms

There are two primary forms in which they are available: extracts and powders. When maximising the health benefits of medicinal mushrooms, choose high-quality extracts over powders. By doing so, you can ensure that you are getting the most potent and effective form of the mushroom and can reap the maximum health benefits from this powerful natural remedy.


Medicinal mushroom extracts are made by boiling the mushrooms in water or alcohol to extract the active compounds. The liquid is then concentrated to create a potent extract high in the mushroom's beneficial compounds. This process results in a highly bioavailable form of the mushroom, meaning the body can easily absorb and use the active compounds.


Mushroom powders, on the other hand, are made by grinding the mushrooms into a fine powder and are less potent than extracts. It is because the active compounds in mushrooms are often locked away in the cell walls, which can be difficult for the body to break down and absorb.


In addition to being less potent, mushroom powders may contain fillers or additives, which can dilute the concentration of active compounds and reduce the product's effectiveness. This is particularly important to consider when purchasing mushroom products from unknown sources, as some powders may be contaminated with harmful substances or may not contain the advertised ingredients.

Look for standardised products that contain specific levels of active compounds (Beta-Glucans) made using organic mushrooms to avoid contamination with pesticides or other harmful substances.


How to incorporate medicinal mushrooms into my daily routine?

There are many ways to incorporate medicinal mushrooms into your diet and enjoy their health benefits.


  1. Add mushroom extracts to your morning coffee or tea. It can be easily mixed into your favourite hot beverage.

  2. Use mushroom powders as a seasoning in your cooking. Mushroom powders can be added to soups, stews, and sauces to add depth of flavour and boost the nutritional content of your meals.

  3. Make mushroom-infused broths or stocks. Simply simmer mushrooms in water or bone broth for several hours to create a nutrient-dense base for soups and other dishes.

  4. Experiment with different varieties of mushrooms in your cooking. Some popular culinary mushrooms include shiitake, portobello, and oyster mushrooms, all offering unique flavours and nutritional profiles.

  5. Try incorporating mushroom powders into smoothies or juices. This is a great way to mask the taste of the mushrooms and enjoy their health benefits deliciously and conveniently.

FAQs

  1. Do mushroom extracts taste like traditional mushrooms? In short, no, extracts have more of a herbal flavour.

  2. Can medicinal mushrooms cure cancer? While medicinal mushrooms have been shown to have anti-cancer properties, they should not be used as a replacement for traditional cancer treatments. Always speak to your healthcare provider before taking any new supplement or medicine.

  3. Are there any side effects of taking medicinal mushrooms? While medicinal mushrooms are generally considered safe, some may interact with medications or have side effects.

  4. Can children take medicinal mushrooms? It's important to talk to your child's healthcare provider before giving them any new supplement or treatment.

  5. How long does it take to see the effects of medicinal mushrooms? The results of medicinal mushrooms may vary depending on the type and individual. Following dosage guidelines and talking to your healthcare provider if you have any concerns is important.


 

Disclaimer:

The following blog article is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The information contained herein should not be used as a guide for self-diagnosis or self-treatment or as a basis for any medical decision.

While the information provided in this article has been carefully researched and is believed to be accurate when writing, it is not guaranteed to be complete, correct, or up-to-date. The author and publisher of this article shall not be held liable for any errors, omissions, or inaccuracies in the information provided herein or for any consequences that may arise from using this information.

Individuals should always consult with a qualified healthcare professional before making any decisions about their health or the health of others. Any reliance on the information provided in this article is solely at the reader's own risk.



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