What’s with the Medicinal Mushroom Hype?
Mushrooms are the fruiting body of fungus and they belong to neither the plant nor animal kingdom. Fungi species are cells that exist to digest wood and organic matter in return for energy! How cool is that?!
Medicinal mushrooms are gaining popularity for being potent health boosters. But is the hype warranted? The answers may surprise you.
There are about 2000 species of mushrooms that are edible, yet only 200 types are commonly collected for food and medicine.
Reishi, Chaga, Shiitake, Maitake, Cordyceps and Lion’s Mane are examples of commonly known medicinal mushrooms.
What do We know about Medicinal Mushrooms?
For thousands of years mushrooms have been recognized for their nutritional value and medicinal properties.
While they have long been used to help improve common ailments in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and herbal medicine, the most current research involves medicinal mushrooms and their role as effective immunomodulators. Extensive clinical trials have been done, many in China and Japan where they have been used for centuries. These studies have found numerous polysaccharides and polysaccharide-protein complexes in medicinal mushrooms that appear to enhance both the innate (short term) and adaptive (longer term) immune response.
Beta-Glucans & Immunity
An interesting and common type of polysaccharide known for its role in helping stabilize blood sugar is beta-glucans. Beta-glucan compounds have also been known to mount a defence against pathogens.
- They exist in whole food sources like oats, whole grains, and edible mushrooms like Reishi, Maitake, and Shiitake.
- Beta-glucans are known to have anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic, and even anti-osteoporotic activity.
- While mechanisms are not fully understood, beta-glucans are most commonly linked to immunomodulating effects resulting in better immune system response.
Mushrooms for Hormone Health
Besides supporting a healthy immune response, new evidence reveals that specific mushrooms may have other health applications.
- Some have shown the ability to inhibit the enzyme aromatase. Aromatase is known for its role in endogenous estrogen production. By doing this medicinal mushrooms are thought to provide a preventative approach against estrogen and hormone related health issues. Even the common white button mushroom has some aromatase inhibiting abilities. More reason to fill up on your favourite fungi at your next meal, especially if you’re aiming for healthier hormonal balance!
- Mushrooms also show promising action as antioxidants, and in supporting the cardiovascular system and detoxification pathways. Some research shows their potential in being key antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal agents.
Whether for cardiovascular, immune or hormonal support, research on medicinal mushrooms and the properties they possess seem consistent for improving human health.
Mushrooms and Nutrition
Mushrooms are frequently being enjoyed and treasured as functional foods that can help improve health and overall quality of life in the Western world.
- Medicinal and other culinary mushrooms contain a relatively large amount of carbohydrates and fibre. Although not a plant, these fungi have a comparatively high level of protein for a small food.
- They are also nutrient-packed with B vitamins, selenium, potassium, copper and vitamin D! Great reasons to make sure mushrooms hit your plant more often. Particularly since many of these nutrients are lacking in the typical North American diet.
Even though some medicinal mushrooms are great for culinary use, it seems that mushrooms desired for improving specific health conditions are best consumed in supplemental form. In this form, it is their medicinal extracts that are able to deliver the nutrient compounds responsible for all the health boosting benefits.
Mushrooms and lectins
Lectins are a carbohydrate-binding protein
- Studies suggest lectins may prevent cancer cells from growing and dividing. It’s proposed that they do this by binding to glycoconjugates (carbohydrates on the outside of tumor cells that are different than those found on healthy cells), and through their ability to regulate a healthy immune response.
Mushrooms for better performance?
If you are overly active, it may be informative to know this: mushrooms are helpful for athletes too!
- When a combination of Reishi and Cordycep mushrooms were given to a group of adult athletes (cyclists), it appeared to prevent them from experiencing overtraining syndrome.
The antioxidant and perhaps immune benefits of the mushrooms may be to thank.
From Shiitake to Maitake and fun-fungi in between
Here’s a closer look at some key benefits associated with fungi gaining popularity:
Shiitake mushroom, traditional to herbal medicine, is used to support the immune system.
Inonotus obliquus or what is commonly known as Chaga mushroom is a source of fungal polysaccharides with immunomodulating properties.
Cordyceps are a type of medicinal mushroom that is traditionally used in TCM to help tonify and replenish the lungs and kidneys and resolve phlegm. Like Lion’s Mane, Cordyceps are also known for their antioxidant properties.
Turkey Tail mushroom is gaining popularity amongst mycologist. It’s considered very well studied in both human and animal research. It seems that a component of Turkey Tail, identified as polysaccharide-K (PSK), may help stimulate immune system function.
And lastly Maitake, also known to help support the immune system.
- When aiming for adaptogenic benefits like balancing the nervous system, strengthening the immune system or improving hormonal function, nutritionists and health practitioners recommend using a blend of mushrooms over a single fungi.
- They also recommend choosing certified organic or wildcrafted mushrooms for safety and for the most healthful results.Most of the time powdered blends will have a neutral taste – good news if you don’t like the taste of culinary mushrooms!
CanPrev’s Myco10 mushroom complex, consists of seven unique medicinal mushrooms, three whole food antioxidants, and a functional prebiotic base. It is 100% plant-based, certified organic, natural and GMO-free. This organic blend contains mushroom extracts that are solvent-free and sustainably grown. This immunomodulating blend has a rich, and robust taste. A mushroom blend ideal for helping nourish the body, soothe sleep and adaptogenically balance mental, hormonal and physical stress!
With so many species of medicinal mushrooms still to be studied, it seems there is much more about ‘spore’ that has yet to be discovered.
We always recommend working with a natural health care practitioner or a Naturopathic Doctor when beginning a new supplement regimen.
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Medicinal mushrooms as an attractive new source of natural compounds for future cancer therapy. Oncotarget 2018 Jun 26;9(49):29259-29274.
Natural Products as Aromatase Inhibitors. Anticancer Agents Med Chem. 2008 Aug; 8(6):646-682.
Mushroom Lectins. Int J Mol Sci 2015 Apr;16(4):7802-7838.
CanPrev is an all-Canadian company that develops premium natural health products to healthcare professionals and select health food retailers.