Medicinal mushrooms are all the rage these days, with various supplements and fungi-filled healing tonics beginning to pop up in various health food stores and supplement shops.
It's not surprise we're starting to recognise their benefits, because traditionally, mushrooms have been consumed for centuries.
Greek warriors would often consume them as they perceived them as "food for the gods", and in the chinese culture, various mushrooms are highly valued, and thought to be somewhat of an "elixir of life".
Although a delicacy in many cuisines, scientific literature is now truly recognising the bioactive compounds found in mushrooms that could have some profound therapeutic benefits on human health.
Let's discuss some of the common medicinal mushrooms you should know about.
Reishi: The Longevity Tonic
Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) is often coined as the mushroom of immortality, which derives from many chinese translations including it's symbolisation of great success, divine power and longevity.
Reishi is a white-rot fungus which, although doesn't look particularly attractive and inviting to consume, actually contains some fairly potent health benefits that may actually extend life.
According to ancient chinese civilisations, Reishi was viewed as a herbal medicine that could achieve external youth. In fact, it has been used as chinese folk medicine for centuries, as is the most exalted traditional chinese medicine.
The lifespan extending and anti-aging effects of Reishi are believed to be due to it's potent anti-oxidant, immune modulating and anti-neurodegenerating properties (Wang et al., 2017).
Reishi also inhibits the formation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which are produced when we sear, fry or toast food (also known as the maillard reaction). AGEs accelerate the onset of age-related disease (Chaudhuri et al., 2018), and Reishi might be the answer in slowing this process down (or we can eat less fried foods, that'll work too).
Lion's Mane: The Brain-Boosting Powerhouse
Lion's mane (Hericium erinaceus) is aptly named for it's pom-pom-esque, mane-like presentation, and has been studied extensively for it's ability to improve cognitive health and regenerate damaged nerves.
Funnily enough, Lion's mane has a long history of use in Traditional Chinese Medicine for boosting the brain and supporting neurological health.
Lion's mane contains two specific fat-soluble compounds known as hericenones and erinacines, which have the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier and stimulate the production of nerve growth factor (NGF).
NGF is involved in the regulation of nerve growth, including the maintenance, proliferation and survival of neurons found in the central and peripheral nervous system (Sabaratnam et al., 2013).
When these two fascinating compounds go to work, we can repair neurological damage and boost our cognitive function.
Chaga: The King of Medicinal Mushrooms
Chaga (Inonotus obliqus) is an interesting medicinal mushroom, with extracts being used since the 12th century that favoured an array of beneficial effects on human health, including protective mechanisms against cancer.
Chaga is described as a parasitic polyporus mushroom, a fungus that infects hardwood trees, and it's species name obliqus derives from it's oblique looking pores.
Other various therapeutic effects of Chaga include some fairly potent anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-oxidant properties. Chaga has also shown to promote lipid metabolism, stimulate immune activity and even potentially assist in the management of type-2 diabetes (Géry et al., 2018).
The therapeutic activity of Chaga is believed to be due to various bioactive compounds found in the mushroom including betulin, betulinic acid, and inotodiol. Chaga is also rich in polysaccharides, which may perform some fairly significant immunomodulatory functions that attribute to it's anti-cancer effects.
Shiitake: The Elixir of Life
Our final medicinal mushroom to discuss is Shiitake (Lentinula edodes), which are dark brown-capped exotic mushrooms that have been consumed for centuries across East Asia.
Shiitake has a fairly long history like Reishi in traditional chinese medicine to extend lifespan and boost overall health, there is even studies showing some fairly potent anti-inflammatory and cancer protecting effects.
These effects are thought to be due to the various polysaccharides found in Shiitake, which may also exert some strong immune-boosting, anti-oxidant and anti-viral effects (Finimundy et al., 2014).
Interestingly, Shiitake may also be beneficial for heart hearth, reduce high blood pressure and assist in lowering cholesterol levels. This is thought to be attributed to compounds including eritadenine and various plant sterols, inhibit cholesterol producing enzymes and block absorption in the gut (Guillamón et al., 2010).
Reishi, Lion's mane, Chaga and Shiitake are all medicinal mushrooms with a long history in traditional culture to provide strong health benefits.
Even better, the scientific literature today is starting to confirm this, with studies showing some pretty profound biological effects across the broad.
These effects include a stronger immune system, improved cognitive function, and may even give us the ability to extend our lifespan through the power of mushrooms.
As always, if you're going to experiment with medicinal mushrooms, it's always best to do your research first, despite what we have outlined here.
About The Author: Stephen Brumwell
As a Nutritionist, Biohacking enthusiast, self-experimenter, research fanatic, and self-taught writer, Stephen immerses himself deep into the literature of human optimisation and holistic wellbeing. His goal is to help people better understand the science of human health, and how they can use it to perform better and live a life that is absolutely limitless.
- Chaudhuri, J., Bains, Y., Guha, S., Kahn, A., Hall, D., Bose, N., Gugliucci, A., & Kapahi, P. (2018). The role of advanced Glycation end products in aging and metabolic diseases: Bridging association and causality. Cell Metabolism, 28(3), 337-352. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cmet.2018.08.014
- Finimundy, T. C., Dillon, A. J., Henriques, J. A., & Ely, M. R. (2014). A review on general nutritional compounds and pharmacological properties of the <i>Lentinula edodes</i> Mushroom. Food and Nutrition Sciences, 05(12), 1095-1105. https://doi.org/10.4236/fns.2014.512119
- Guillamón, E., García-Lafuente, A., Lozano, M., D´Arrigo, M., Rostagno, M. A., Villares, A., & Martínez, J. A. (2010). Edible mushrooms: Role in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases. Fitoterapia, 81(7), 715-723. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fitote.2010.06.005
- Géry, A., Dubreule, C., André, V., Rioult, J., Bouchart, V., Heutte, N., Eldin de Pécoulas, P., Krivomaz, T., & Garon, D. (2018). Chaga (Inonotus obliquus), a future potential medicinal fungus in oncology? A chemical study and a comparison of the cytotoxicity against human lung adenocarcinoma cells (A549) and human bronchial epithelial cells (BEAS-2B). Integrative Cancer Therapies, 17(3), 832-843. https://doi.org/10.1177/1534735418757912
- Sabaratnam, V., Kah-Hui, W., Naidu, M., & David, P. R. (2013). Neuronal health – Can culinary and medicinal mushrooms help? Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, 3(1), 62-68. https://doi.org/10.4103/2225-4110.106549
- Wang, J., Cao, B., Zhao, H., & Feng, J. (2017). Emerging roles of Ganoderma Lucidum in anti-aging. Aging and disease, 8(6), 691. https://doi.org/10.14336/ad.2017.0410