Fungi have unique properties that enhance your body’s ability to fight off disease. If you haven’t considered supplementing mushrooms for immunity, now is the time. Let’s break down the research behind powerful medicinal mushrooms.
What Are Medicinal Mushrooms?
Medicinal mushrooms are a type of macroscopic fungi. While all mushrooms are fungi, not all fungi are mushrooms. There are three major groups of fungi. The macroscopic fungi are fungi with large fruiting bodies, referred to as mushrooms or toadstools. They are commonly used in the form of powder or extracts with the purpose of healing, treating, and preventing diseases. You can even add mushroom supplements to your coffee or smoothie for a quick fix.
Medicinal mushrooms have been around for thousands of years. They have been used in traditional medicine to fight infectious diseases and protect against cancer. With a long history of use, medicinal mushrooms have been most prominent in Chinese, Egyptian, and Roman cultures.
There are more than one hundred medicinal mushrooms used in Eastern medicine. Each type of mushroom is special and provides different health benefits. Types of medicinal mushrooms include:
- Turkey Tail
- Lion’s Mane
Nowadays, modern research shows that medicinal mushrooms are a rich source of nutrients and compounds. They have the potential to provide several health benefits, including boosting the immune system. Other benefits of medicinal mushrooms include:
- Rich in antioxidants
- Excellent source of nutrients
- Anti-bacterial and anti-fungal
- Support brain function and health
- Boost energy
How do Mushrooms Boost Your Immune System?
So, how exactly do mushrooms support your immune system?
We’re all looking for that extra boost to keep us protected from cold and flu. But finding the right natural alternative to give your immune system the upper hand is tough. A strong and robust immune system is essential throughout the year, regardless of the season. When you’re thinking about fighting off colds and flu, your mind probably doesn’t think about mushrooms.
Mushrooms are complex with a unique mixture of bioactive compounds. Medicinal mushrooms appear to support the immune system by helping the body’s response. It works with your body’s natural defense system.
Research shows that mushrooms may support a healthy immune response by acting as immune system modulators. This means that mushrooms help regulate the immune system so that you have a balanced immune response. Medicinal or functional mushrooms owe much of their immune-supporting properties to beta-glucans. Beta-glucan is a type of dietary found in yeast, fungi, and some plants.
Certain mushrooms are known to affect cytokines. Cytokines are messengers produced by immune cells; they can be both good and bad. For example, some cytokines can activate the immune system to fight off invading pathogens. However, they can be harmful when cytokines cause inflammation in the body. Research shows that mushrooms can help suppress inflammation caused by cytokines and allow T cells and antioxidants to work much more effectively.
Top 6 Medicinal Mushrooms for Immunity and Health
Chaga mushrooms tend to grow on birch trees in colder climates. Chaga mushrooms are also known as black mass and clinker polypore. Rich in antioxidants, they help fight free radicals and inflammation. The mushroom has a dark black color and helps to combat oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is a big culprit of skin aging and cell and DNA damage. It may also play a role in the development of several conditions.
Research shows that Chaga mushrooms encourage the production of beneficial cytokines in the body. This helps activate white blood cells and support your immune system when fighting off infection, bacteria, or harmful viruses. Other benefits may include lower cholesterol and blood sugar.
2. Lion’s Mane
One of the best mushrooms for immunity is lion’s mane. It has a feathery appearance that resembles a pom-pom. Like most medicinal mushrooms, it’s an antioxidant powerhouse and rich in a ton of nutrients. This makes it ideal for supporting the immune system.
Lion’s mane’s unique properties make it an excellent option for boosting cognitive function. Most medicinal mushrooms are antioxidant-rich and anti-viral. However, each one is special, and lion’s mane is no different.
Lion’s mane encourages the production of nerve growth factor (NFG) and myelin. Myelin is a type of insulation around nerve fibers. Both myelin and NFG are crucial to brain function and health. Lion’s mane is a popular option if you're looking for some brain-boosting effects. Preliminary research shows that the mushroom can improve cognition and concentration as well as relieve anxiety.
3. Turkey Tail
The turkey tail mushroom takes its name from its appearance and striking colors. It grows on tree trunks and fallen trees all over the world. One of the most important properties of this medicinal mushroom is its immune-enhancing effects. For starters, it’s packed with antioxidants that help to reduce inflammation and support the immune system.
Interestingly, turkey tail contains a specific compound known as polysaccharide-K (PSK). This compound activates the immune system. PSK is actually so effective that it is an approved anti-cancer drug in Japan. It’s used alongside a standard cancer treatment to strengthen the immune system.
Reishi mushrooms are one of the favored fungi in the world of medicinal mushrooms. Reishi mushrooms can help keep your immune system ticking over and may fight against cancer cells. While research is still in its infancy, evidence suggests that reishi mushrooms have a positive effect on white blood cells. White blood cells are a vital part of the immune system response.
What makes reishi mushrooms different is their calming properties. It’s thought that the calming effects come from the compound triterpene. Mood-boosting benefits seem to include easing depression and anxiety as well as improving sleep and concentration.
While not technically mushrooms, cordyceps is a type of parasitic fungus that grows on the larvae of insects. They are a popular choice for those looking for extra energy or a post-workout boost. Supplements containing cordyceps are increasingly popular due to their potential benefits.
Research into cordyceps is still emerging, and the majority of research is from animal studies. However, the evidence so far is very promising. It’s thought that cordyceps balance the immune system and may positively affect both the immune system and the gut.
Cordyceps are somewhat different from other mushrooms as they help improve the way your body uses oxygen. This means your body and muscles receive oxygen more effectively, especially during exercise. Cordyceps may increase the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) during exercise. When you work out, your muscles use ATP as a source of energy to power each movement. This may be especially useful for athletes and people who regularly work out.
Both a culinary and medicinal mushroom, maitake mushrooms have immune-enhancing effects. Maitake has a strong earthy flavor, so make sure you like the taste before adding it to a large meal. Alternatively, you can take maitake mushrooms in a supplement complex.
Compared to other mushrooms, maitake appears to have unique effects in preventing and treating cancer and other health issues. Overall, it has a positive impact on the immune system. Rich in beta-glucans, potassium, antioxidants, and vitamin C, this mushroom is a nutrient powerhouse.
How to Boost Your Mushroom Intake
If you’re thinking about consuming more mushrooms for their health benefits, you’ve probably heard of medicinal mushroom powders and extracts. Mushroom powders are great for adding to your morning coffee, smoothie, and other recipes. Whereas, mushroom capsules are a no-fuss alternative. Some mushrooms are great for tossing in a stir-fry such as white button, portobello, or the popular porcini mushroom. However, other mushrooms have more powerful properties but a less flavorsome taste.
Instead of buying fresh mushrooms, you can use a mushroom complex supplement. Mushroom supplements tend to include a mix of mushrooms so that you can benefit from each type’s unique properties. Mushroom supplements make it easy to increase your intake of beta-glucans, nutrients, and antioxidants. All of which are essential for a healthy and proper-functioning immune system.