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The Magical Powers Of Medicinal Mushrooms
Mushrooms. No, not Magic Mushrooms (although I’ll get to that in a bit). But the magic of mushrooms! For eons, mushrooms have been called “the elixir of life” and “foods of the Gods” because they are so chock-and-block full of health-boosting nutrients.
These shroomie superstars have been around for centuries and a staple of Eastern diets and medicine, with the earliest recorded use dating back to 450 BC. We have recently seen functional and holistic medicine and nutrition going mainstream, so there has been a resurgence of interest in mushrooms. There are roughly 1.5 million different types of shrooms in the world and just over 300 of them have medicinal and health purposes (and are even included in pharmaceutical drugs). The focus here is on what are known as Medicinal Mushrooms (MM), where the various powders and capsules seem to have taken the health and fitness world by storm!
Why are Mushrooms so Magnificent?
Here are a few fun facts about these fabulous fungi:
- Mushrooms are not vegetables. In fact, they’re not even plants. Mushrooms actually belong to their own kingdom of fungi (like the plant kingdom or the animal kingdom).
- Mushrooms are thought to be the most researched whole foods in the world. Cancer research in particular is proving very promising.
- Here’s the kicker: mushrooms share 30-50% of DNA with humans, depending on which shroom! So, we are actually very close to mushrooms! They even breathe in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide, just like humans.
- Mushrooms don’t make food through sunlight like plants or by eating their food like animals. Instead, to obtain nutrition, mushrooms have thread-like structures called mycelia that grow into or around a food source (think logs or trees) and then release digestive enzymes to break down their food externally so that the mycelia can absorb the nutrients. A mushroom is actually the fruit of the mycelia.
- Fungi existed before terrestrial plants or animals and have billions of years of practice in adapting to any environmental threats. They are ecological decomposers and, in this process, absorb nutrition from the plants they live off of: they share their resiliency and adaptation and the bio-compounds which they have absorbed from the matter on which they grow.
- Mushrooms are a rich source of vitamin D, protein, fiber and a number of vitamins (B2, niacin, folate and traces of vitamins B1, B12, C, D and E), potassium, phosphorus and selenium. Also, the protein content of mushrooms is generally much higher than that of vegetables, which makes them a good option for vegetarians in particular, particularly as the quality of the protein is also good because it provides all of the essential amino acids (i.e. must get them from food) needed by humans.
- Mushrooms are antifungal, antibacterial, antiviral and tumour attenuating. In fact, medicinal mushrooms (MM) have more than 130 medicinal functions!
- Medicinal mushrooms are never meant to be eaten raw because they have an outside layer called a Titin layer, which our digestive systems cannot penetrate. So best to always cook your medicinal shroomies or take them in a powdered form because they have no bioavailability in raw form. Finally, they are best taken on an empty stomach. A pro tip is to take them with vitamin C, which enhances absorption.
The Seven Shrooms
Now that we know all about the wonders of these fungi, let’s turn to the seven most popular medicinal shrooms!
Reishi Mushroom: The Mushroom of Immortality
Primary benefits: Immune support and sleep promotion
One of the most studied medicinal mushrooms, reishi mushrooms (from the Japanese word for Queen) are a powerhouse when it comes to immunity as they contain a high level of polysaccharides. However, reishi mushrooms have been a favoured fungus for over 2,000 years (Taoist monks used it to promote calmness to enhance their meditative practices) due to its versatility in benefits: it has potent calming properties (simply explained as bringing things back into balance), aids in weight loss, promotes sleep, alleviates anxiety and depression, promotes healing, sharpens cognitive focus and boasts impressive studies pointing to its ability to fiercely fight cancer cells. Reishi mushrooms are known as an adaptogen because whether you are stressed out, busy at work or been overdoing it on the training, reishi mushroom is great to restore calm, without sedating you.
Reishi mushrooms have a good proportion of the compound triterpene, which is what gives it its magical powers. Due to its bitter taste, its recommended to take reishi mushrooms with coffee or dark chocolate. Quite possibly my favourite shroom!
Shop Here: Reishi Mushroom 30% Extract
Lions’ Mane: The Mushroom for the Mind
Primary benefits: Brain health and neuron regeneration
Quite literally brain food, Lion’s Mane is the cutest little shroom you’ll ever come across. Google a picture to see how it got its name, but it also well-known as the Lobster of the Woods! Lions’ Mane is unique in that it can support nerve growth factor (NGF) production in the brain, enhancing our cognitive abilities. In fact, Lions’ Mane is so unique that almost no food has the same nervous system and memory supporting properties.
Lions’ Mane can cross the blood brain barrier (i.e. directly access your brain cells) and has rightfully earned its place as one of the most popular nootropics on the market today.
Lions’ Mane also contains polysaccharides (beta-glucans specifically) and the benefits of Lions’ Mane to support immune health, healthy cell growth and improvements in REM sleep have made this a rather mainstream mushroom for mental clarity, memory and brain health.
Shop Here: NeuroActive Lion's Mane 30% Extract
Chaga Mushroom: The Mushroom that’s not a Mushroom
Primary benefits: Anti-ageing, digestion and liver health
The compounds found in chaga mushroom are excellent for fighting free radicals and inflammation, both of which are responsible for premature ageing. Chaga mushrooms are known as the King of Mushrooms (it’s a Russian word) and they’re a dark black “mushroom” that can combat oxidative stress and may prevent or slow the growth of cancer. Also, if you feel like you’re about to get sick, load up on chaga!
Chaga mushrooms are actually a highly prized sclerotium or woody canker (basically a mass of mycelia so not technically a mushroom but kinda resembles a mushroom) that grows on birch trees and was first used medicinally in Russia in the 16th century. Due to its high antioxidant content, it is also beneficial for immunity, brain health and liver health.
Shop Here: NeuroActive Chaga Mushroom 30% Extract
Cordyceps Mushroom: The Caterpillar Fungus
Primary benefits: Energy boosting, endurance, athletic performance
The cordyceps mushroom is an energy-boosting fungus because it can increase ATP production (it contains ATP precursors adenosine and cordycepin), which energises our cells. Studies have shown 9-15% increases in VO2 max, which basically measures our ability to utilise oxygen, which clearly has a massive impact on athletic endurance. If you’re already quite fit, the VO2 max improvement will obviously not be as significant given that fewer gains are possible, but it’s an incredibly useful shroom for people of all fitness levels!
Traditional Chinese Medicine has also relied on cordyceps mushrooms for centuries in treating lung-related issues like asthma and seasonal allergies as well as calming the immune system.
Shop Here: NeuroActive Cordyceps Mushroom 30% Extract
Turkey Tail Mushroom: The Mushroom of Multiple Colours
Primary benefits: Immune system booster
This medicinal shroom has rings of varying shades of brown and grows on dead logs all over the world. It’s actually quite pretty! It has significant research behind it, and is used in a number of pharmaceutical drugs, particularly in China and Japan for its ability to strengthen the immune system when given with standard cancer treatments.
Turkey tail contains one of the highest amounts of beta-glucans of all the shrooms and is therefore very effective in keeping our immune systems healthy when used over an extended period of time.
Shop Here: NeuroActive PEAKO2®
Shiitake Mushroom: The Fragrant Mushroom
Primary benefit: Heart health
This is a shroom which you might find in a grocery store. If you do, put it in your trolley! It’s a lovely addition to stir-fry’s or soups and contains phytonutrients that aid in the prevention of arterial plaque build-up, which helps us maintain a healthy blood pressure and circulation. Benefits have also been shown for immunity and liver function and the vitamin B content helps control blood sugar levels and keep inflammation in check.
Shiitake is quite possibly the most popular mushroom in the world for its meaty flavour, and in Chinese, the name means the “fragrant mushroom”. During the Chinese Ming Dynasty, it was even dubbed “the elixir of life”!
Shop Here: NeuroActive PEAKO2®
Maitake Mushroom: The Dancing Mushroom
Primary benefit: boosting immunity, regulating blood sugar and blood pressure and aiding weight loss
Another superstar shroom for supporting the immune system, this mushroom has also been called the Hen of the Woods or the Dancing Mushroom. It grows abundantly in North America and Japan and is also really lovely to cook with if you can find it due to its earthy flavour.
No piece on mushrooms would be quite complete without touching on actual magic mushrooms. While these are not medicinal mushrooms, there is an interesting trend developing that might change that.
A name we’re seeing more and more lately is psilocybin, the active molecule in so-called magic mushrooms. In fact, there are about 200 psilocybin producing mushrooms around the work.
Psilocybin is known as a psychedelic and was easily available in the 1950’s and 60’s as a legitimate therapeutic treatment. However, they became a symbol of radical social change in the 70’s and politicians reacted by classifying them as illegal, which they still are in most parts of the world. However, over the past few years, interest in the ability of psilocybin to address deep depression (especially related to cancer), PTSD and addiction (tobacco, drugs, alcohol) has re-emerged, with numerous court cases popping up to fight for legitimacy, similarly to what we saw for marijuana.
Scientific literature is overwhelming, and psilocybin is thought to work by mimicking serotonin, resulting in a feel-good chemical that floods your brain. Psilocybin is not addictive and there’s no lethal does. In fact, voters in Oregon passed a ballot in November 2020 which made “magic mushrooms” legal for mental health treatments in supervised settings from February 2021.
Definitely research and developments to keep an eye on in the future!
PRIMESELF Shroom Elixir Powder
Shroom Elixir, a powerhouse blend of adaptogenic and nootropic mushrooms to provide an all-around boost in performance and wellbeing to both the mind & body. A powerful adaptogenic blen of 4 Mushrooms combined in one. Also available in Capsule form.
Medicinal mushrooms have exploded in popularity, and rightly so. They stack beautifully together which is why mushroom blends work so well and are a popular addition to coffee, with some companies like Four Sigmatic even making mushroom-coffee mixes, which are amazing because the quality is top-notch.
Trust ancestral wisdom and include these in your daily routine. Your brain, immune system and overall health will thank you for it!
- Health Benefits of Reishi Mushroom
- Adaptogens 101: An Introduction Guide
- The Power of Lion's Mane: The Brain Boosting Mushroom
- To Supplement or Not to Supplement
- The Best Nootropics for Brain Health
- Thea is the founder of Neolaia – Biohacking SA and passionate about all things biohacking, functional medicine, holistic and ancestral wellness. She enjoys the occasional triathlon, is fanatic about yoga and the gym and loves n=1 biohacking experiments more than anything else! Learning about the latest in scientific research for health and wellness and applying this knowledge is what makes her happiest!
This information does not serve as medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is for informational purposes only and does not provide a comprehensive explanation of the different compounds. Always consult your doctor first when making any changes to medication or supplementation.