The Most Popular Mushrooms - What are the Health Benefits?

Mushrooms have been used for centuries to prolong life and heal physical and mental wounds. Let's explore fungi's powerful benefits.

Most beneficial mushrooms

Fungi are fascinating. I have been fascinated by nature, particularly trees and fungi, since my early teens. It is safe to say I was not a very popular teenager.

My fascination started with forests. I loved to look at trees and was fascinated by fungi’s role within the network of plants. However, I have come to learn about something perhaps even more interesting - what fungi can do for us.

Like me, fungi are weird! They appear out of nowhere without the aid of roots or leaves, and they don’t even produce flowers or seeds. Amazingly, they are more closely related to humans than plants.

This may be why they are so powerful in supporting your immune system and enhancing your health and general well-being.

Modern scientists are finally conducting extensive research into fungi. They are learning what old civilizations have known for a long time - fungi are powerful tools for nature and us.

The Power of Fungi

First, I think an article on mushrooms would be incomplete without explaining their role in the forest. While this may not seem immediately related to what mushrooms can do for you, it highlights how powerful, wonderful, and peculiar they are – just in case you need convincing.

Fungi are made up of threads called mycelium. These tiny threads travel underground and connect the roots of different plants, even different species, allowing them to communicate with each other.

The “wood wide web” allows trees and plants to tell each other of incoming danger and even transfer essential nutrients to each other. Pretty amazing, right? Fungi are basically the living organism that is mother earth.

But moving forward, let's move on to what they can do for you.

Mushrooms are medicinal. They contain beta-glucans, which can aid the immune system and fight inflammation.

They are also thought to protect against hormone-related cancers such as breast cancer. This is because they contain the estrogen-producing enzyme aromatase.

Mushrooms also contain lectins that recognize cancer cells and prevent them from growing and dividing. (Not all lectins are beneficial, but those found in mushrooms are highly beneficial.)

Convinced yet?

Health Benefits of Mushrooms

We know about more than 2,000 species of edible mushrooms. I could happily tell you about all of them, but that might not be very productive.

Even button mushrooms that you might eat with your dinner are medicinal.

However, I will focus on the six most commonly used and perhaps most powerful mushrooms. They are:

  • Reishi (Ganoderma Lucidum)
  • Cordyceps (Cordyceps Sinensis)
  • Shiitake (Lentinula Edodes)
  • Lion’s Mane (Hericium Erinaceus)
  • Chaga (Inonotus obliquus)
  • Turkey Tail (Trametes Versicolor, Coriolus Versicolor)

Exercise Performance

Mushrooms enable you to live better and stronger.

Studies show that Cordyceps dilate the aorta by up to 40%. The aorta is your body's main artery, providing your entire circulatory system with oxygenated blood. This increases blood flow and proves endurance.

Cordyceps also contains adenosine, which produces Adenosine Triphosphate, a key energy source in your cells. This could be why it improves stamina.

Immune System

Mushrooms also help you to live longer.

Your immune system is always working. It fights off cancer cells, clears debris away, and supports your body's health. It is extremely complex and hard-working, but it starts to function less effectively over time.

Luckily, mushrooms can help. They increase the activity of many components of your immune system and even support immune cells in responding effectively to infections and attacks.

Macrophages are a type of white blood cell that digests and neutralizes things that are not healthy for the immune system, such as cancer cells, foreign substances, microbes, and cellular debris. Chaga increases macrophages, at least in mice.

Reishi, which has been nicknamed “the mushroom of mortality,” has also been shown to boot the immune system and enhance cells that detect and destroy cells infected with viruses or cancer cells.

Turkey Tail has also been found to stimulate the immune system and has been found to increase the chances of survival for people with certain cancers such as leukemia.

One of the most studied mushrooms is Shiitake, which contains Lentinan, a unique substance that enhances the immune system and improves the quality and duration of life.

In one 2014 study, participants who consumed ten grams of dried shitakes daily had a marked drop in inflammation and increased natural killer cells, strengthening the immune system.

Brain Health

Lions Mane has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for over 1,000 years. It is claimed to be good for the liver, lungs, heart, kidneys, and digestive system.

Lions Mane has been shown to activate “nerve growth factor,” a small protein that helps neurons in your brain to grow, re-grow, and survive. They also trigger re-myelination which keeps neurons healthy and aid them to conduct electrical signals efficiently.

Lions Mane aids visual recognition memory and short-term memory, which are often affected by age-related diseases. It has been shown to prevent the impairment of visual recognition and spatial short-term memory and delay cognitive dysfunction.

In a 2009 study, elderly people with cognitive impairments ingested Lions Mane for 16 weeks. They showed significant improvement. However, when they stopped consuming the mushroom, their improvements stopped.

Antioxidant Activity

Our bodies are constantly under attack from oxidative stress. Oxygen splits into single atoms with unpaired electrons. These atoms are called free radicals, and because electrons like to be in pairs, they will hunt for other electrons. This causes damage to proteins, cells, and DNA.

Free radicals are natural byproducts but can cause many diseases, including cancer, Parkinson's disease, and many others. Especially those related to age.

This is why inactivating or decreasing free radicals is hugely beneficial. Dietary antioxidants, such as vitamin A, vitamin C, selenium, and beta-carotene, can do this.

Many mushrooms contain ingredients that neutralize free radicals.

Reishi reduces free radical activity. In China, reishi is known as the spirit plant and is said to relax and strengthen both body and mind.

Another mushroom known for being an antioxidant is Chaga.

Perhaps most impressively, Cordyceps have been found to inactivate free radicals but also to enhance the activity of your body's natural antioxidant systems.

Blood Sugar Levels

Mushrooms also help to maintain safe blood sugar levels.

Studies show Cordyceps is the most effective mushroom for managing safe blood sugar levels. It lowers blood sugar, triglyceride, and cholesterol levels.

This means that Cordyceps is especially beneficial to people with diabetes. One common complication of diabetes is nephropathy, associated with renal disease. One study published in the National Library of Medicine showed that Cordyceps reduce blood glucose levels and lower creatinine.

How to Take Mushrooms

As with all foods, you should talk to your doctor before making significant changes. Many fungi may interfere with other medications, especially for blood pressure or cholesterol.

You should not consume wild mushrooms unless you are 100% certain of their identity. Many mushrooms are alike, and some can be dangerous.

Buy your mushrooms from good sources. Mushrooms can absorb contaminants such as heavy metals, so you need organically grown, high-quality products.

Many can be eaten by cooking them into what you usually eat, such as Shitake or Lions Mane.

Others, like Turkey Tail or Reishi, are bitter and tough, but you can get them in powder or boil them and use the liquid, which can then be made into tea or put in soup or smoothies. You can also get them as capsules.

You won't notice an effect at first, as mushrooms need to be taken over a longer period of time.

It is also recommended to take them with Vitamin C as this helps your body absorb polysaccharides, which are key to aiding your immune system.

My Final Thoughts?

Mushrooms are incredible. They aid forest life and have the power to enhance your life as well. They boost physical endurance, brain function, and the immune system. They also help maintain healthy blood sugar levels and are a fantastic source of antioxidants.

While mushrooms have been used in medicine throughout history, we are only just realizing their full potential. As more research is done, the true power of mushrooms will come to light. They can help prevent cancer and age-related diseases and improve overall well-being.

Even the mushrooms on your dinner plate are beneficial. However, to properly utilize the power of fungi, consider adding powders or supplements to your diet.