The use of medicinal mushrooms dates back thousands of years because of the varied and uniquely adaptive benefits for health. Now, in recent times with functional medicine and holistic nutrition going mainstream, we’re seeing a resurgence of interest in these marvellous superfoods.
Most medicinal mushrooms are never meant to be eaten whole, they are to be taken as powders, tinctures, supplements or drunk as teas.
Medicinal Mushrooms’ Health Benefits:
Mushrooms are nutritional powerhouses with a myriad of health benefits including the following:
Keep in mind that each mushroom is unique and provides its own distinct health advantages.
But before we jump in, let me help you to demystify the most common medicinal mushrooms which exist in the marketplace, so you can ultimately make well-informed decisions when choosing the best products for your health.
So here goes …
Reishi: Take the edge off with reishi, which is also known as the mushroom of Immortality
Think of reishi as nature’s Xanax. Reishi can help with sleep, anxiety, depression and focus, thanks to a compound called triterpene. It may even help with weight loss and has been shown to fiercely fight cancer cells. Much of the polysaccharides in reishi mushroom are associated with immune functions, and if taken over time can significantly support the immune system.
It is also known to improve sleep, reduce stress and fatigue.
Try it: Use a spoonful of reishi powder to make a hot, healing cup of tea, or add it to your favourite chocolate desserts (Some gourmet superfoodists really, swear by this combo.)
Lion’s Mane Mushroom: The Mushroom for the Mind
Bad case of brain fog ? Lion’s mane can help with cognition, memory and concentration. It is packed with antioxidants and strengthens the immune system like most medicinal mushrooms.
Lion’s mane is rare, in the fact that it fosters the production of the bioprotein nerve growth factor (NFG) and myelin (an insulation around nerve fibers).
Both NFG and myelin are absolutely crucial to brain health. An imbalance in them can contribute to neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis.
That makes lion’s mane incredible brain food! This miraculous mushroom has also been shown to improve cognition, increase concentration, and alleviate anxiety and irritability.
Chaga: Get your antioxidant dose with free radical-fighting chaga
Chaga can help with aging, inflammation and lowering LDL. Chaga is rich in antioxidants, and supports immune function, liver health, brain health and increases longevity.
First medicinal uses seem to have come out of Russia around the 16th century when used as a tea to treat stomach ailments.
After 1966, Chaga gained more exposure after its healing powers were written about it in the great classic book written by Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s, Cancer Ward.
Chaga mushrooms are an antioxidant powerhouse, making them excellent contenders for fighting free radicals and inflammation.
This dark black mushroom combats oxidative stress (which is linked to skin aging), may prevent or slow the growth of cancer, and has been found to lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the “bad” cholesterol.
Shiitake Mushroom: Good for the Heart.
If you’re already cooking with shiitake in your kitchen, keep it up. These mushrooms are particularly good for the heart. Shiitakes have been shown to lower LDL in mice, and they contain compounds that inhibit the absorption and production of cholesterol in the liver, prevent plaque build-up, maintain healthy blood pressure and circulation.
Turkey Tail: Help fight cancer with turkey tail
Most medicinal mushrooms have anticancer properties due to their high amounts of antioxidants. But turkey tail takes it one step further.
Turkey tail contains a compound called polysaccharide-K (PSK) that stimulates the immune system. PSK is so effective that it’s an approved anticancer prescription drug in Japan.
Turkey tail has been shown to improve the survival rate of people with certain cancers, fights leukemia cells, and improves the immune system of people receiving chemotherapy.
Cordyceps: Need a pick-me-up?
In a nutshell, cordyceps improves lung capacity and increases energy.
Cordyceps increases your energy because of its ability to increase ATP production through pre-cursor compounds like adenosine and cordycepin. ATP is the compound that gives our cells energy. This is why Cordyceps is recommended when it comes to physical performance. In transitional care management , cordyceps is also used for lung-related issues like asthma or even seasonal allergies.
This mushroom can be especially helpful for athletes or those who regularly work out as it has been shown to not only improve exercise and athletic performance, but also speed up post-workout muscle recovery.
If you are feeling low on energy or need a pre-workout boost, then this mushroom is for you. I shall also add that it comes with an added advantage of boosting your libido.
Warning: Always talk to your doctor beforehand to confirm if adding medicinal mushrooms to your diet is safe, especially if you’re using certain medications or are pregnant.
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Barbara is a qualified nutritionist offering Health, Nutrition & Lifestyle Counseling. She gives Healthy weight loss advice and promotes the Mediterranean diet. She is the author of the Med Life Diet - creating healthy lifestyle habits and attitudes for life !