Fungi or mushrooms are an important part of the ecosystem, if not some of the most magical. Although every living thing has its valued specialty, mushrooms' alchemical ways are some of the most interesting. In nature, fungi have fascinating capabilities when it comes to detoxifying the environment, decomposing dead matter and turning it to new life and so much more.
In the human organism, mushrooms provide many detoxification qualities, enhance the body's natural defenses and promote well-being.
The use of mushrooms medicinally traces back as far as ancient Egypt and have been commonly used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for the last 5,000 years. Today, scientists are discovering the chemical constituents and actions behind their health effects.
Although they contain numerous substances, and some still being discovered, it is primarily the beta glucans, triterpenes, and polysaccharides that provide the majority of their benefits. These compounds and others are responsible for inhibiting inflammation, modulating the immune system, protecting the cells from free radicals and even inhibiting the production of stress substances like estrogen.
The Top Health Benefits of Mushrooms
There are more than 2,000 species of edible mushrooms exist on the planet, and hundreds of healthy benefits provided by their consumption. However, there are a few primary mechanisms that give mushrooms all of their therapeutic effects in regards to disease treatment and longevity enhancement.
This article will discuss these benefits in action using some of the common medicinal mushrooms as examples, including:
- Chaga (Inonotus obliquus)
- Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)
- Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor, Coriolus versicolor)
- Shiitake (Lentinula edodes)
- Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus)
- Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis)
- Agaricus mushroom
Increasing Antioxidant Activity: Countless research has confirmed that excess free radical activity or reactive oxygen species can damage the structural integrity of your cells. And guess what? Your body is just a collection of cells, so chronic cell damage = body damage.
In this way, excessive cellular damage is at the root of every health problem you can think of, including aging. This is why inhibiting free radicals can be massively beneficial to your health in just about every way you might think of.
Although fruits, vegetables and other nutrients like CoQ10, vitamin C and others are more popularly known for their anti-oxidant effects, most medicinal mushrooms are just as effective or more at neutralizing free radical damage. For example, Reishi mushroom extract is known to reduce free radical activity and may have a beneficial effect on the nervous system because of it. 1
Perhaps the most potent antioxidant medicinal mushroom is Chaga. According to a medical report from the International Journal of Biological Macromolecules, the polysaccharides in Chaga are known to have strong antioxidant activity for scavenging free radicals. 2
Additionally, a different report found that the polysaccharides present in Cordyceps are capable of improving the antioxidant activity in immunosuppressed mice and significantly increases total antioxidant capacity. 3 Meaning that, Cordyceps not only neutralizes free radicals, but also supports your body's natural ability to do so as well.
Immunomodulating: Perhaps the most impressive and prevalent effect of medicinal mushrooms is their immune enhancing ones. The immune system is one of the foundational systems of the body, ensuring a clean and resilient body, free of pathogens, cellular debris and disease. Although the immune system is generally resilient and capable, there are instances it can be come compromised; fortunately, medicinal mushrooms can help.
Most every medicinal mushroom listed early has some small or large potential to enhance the many components of the immune system.
For example, Chaga extract can significantly increase the product of macrophages, a type of immune cell that digests cellular debris, foreign substances, cells, and microbes, etc. 4
Another study found that Chaga extract taken daily for 24 days can. increase the numbers of protective white blood cells in the bone marrow of mice with compromised immune systems. 5
Looking to Reishi, another powerful immunomodulator, it has been shown to boost the production of many immune faculties, including the production of natural killer cells, which can detect and destroy cancer and viral cells. 6
Additional, it has been found that out of 34 people with advanced stages of cancer, when treated with Reishi extract for 12 weeks had substantial improvements in immune function. 7
Next, we have shiitake mushroom, one of the most popularly consumed and well-studies mushrooms in the world. Shiitake contain a polysaccharide known as Lentinan, which belongs to a unique class as an "immunopotentiator” improving the quality of life and extend survival in people with cancer. 8
In a 2014 study, 52 healthy young adults who consumed 5-10 grams of dried Shiitake mushrooms daily for four weeks had substantial increases in the number and effectiveness of both T-helper and natural killer cells. 9
Lowering Estrogen: Another incredible benefit of mushrooms is their anti-estrogen effects. Although estrogen has been labled as a female hormone, it is indeed a stress substance that mimics the pathogeneis of aging in numerous ways. Estrogen rises under stress, and also stresses the cell by blocking oxygen consumption in the cell, lowering metabolic energy production and leading to hypoxia and inflammation.
Estrogen is also major factor in the development of breast and prostate cancer and plays a dominant role in tumor proliferation.
The phytochemicals in mushrooms can inhibit aromatase activity, which is the enymze that turns androgens to estrogen, and therefore suppress breast cancer cell proliferation. In fact, studies have found that extracts made from Agaricus mushroom had suppressed aromatase activity dose dependently and tumor cell proliferation.
These results suggest that diets high in mushrooms or supplementing with mushroom extracts may modulate the aromatase activity and serve has a novel therapy in cancer prevention, especially in menopausal and postmenopausal women by reducing the in production of estrogen. 10
Cognitive & Brain Health: One of nature's unique products is Lions Mane Mushrooms, which may be one of the only mushrooms proven to enhance mental and Brian faculties. In fact, the compounds in Lion’s Mane have been shown to activate a peptide or protein known as “nerve growth factor” or NGF. NGF is necessary for the growth, maintenance, and survival of the neurons in your brain responsible for various cognitive functions. 11
The active compounds in lions mane stimulate new growth of brain neurons - a process known as re-myelination. This process ensures that brain neurons stay youthful and healthy and capable of maintaining their functions.
In one study, men and women with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) were given Lion’s Mane for 16 weeks and showed significant increases in scores on a cognitive function scale. They found that if they stopped supplementing the mushroom, these effects stopped as well. 12
In other studies, short-term memory and visual recognition memory were improved by consuming Lion’s Mane. 13
Exercise Performance: In addition to enhancing the health and function of your body on a cellular level, some mushrooms like Cordyceps can improve physical performance. In study, cordyceps extracts have been shown to dilate the aorta, the artery in your body that supplies oxygenated blood to the circulatory system by up to 40%. In other words, cordyceps improves tissue oxygenation and blood flow thereby enhancing physical performance and endurance. 14
More impressive than that, cordyceps contains adenosine, which can stimulate the production of ATP — the basic unit of biological energy used for every physiological function by the body. This not only will improve athletic performance but every organ in your body used ATP to function, and would have a systematic effect on your health. 15
In fact, a Japanese study found that taking Cordyceps improves the performance of long-distance runners. Another study found that cordyceps extract taken daily for 12 weeks can greatly improve exercise performance and overall wellness. 16, 17
The Bottom Line
Mushrooms are potent health enhancing medicine with many well-documented benefits. Their capabilities to improving human health are not limited nor specialized, as they target health at core cellular functions, having a positive,cascade effect on the human physiology.
The best part is you do not need to be a trained mycologist to start utilizing their benefits. Because they are also edible and safe for consumption, even a potent mushroom extract is closer to food than actual "medicine". So, as long as you have true, mushroom supplement (their are counterfeits), then you can safely consume small doses, experimentally without concern.
That being said, you want to make sure you rmushroom supplements are 100% authentic. Some things to consider when buying a mushroom supplement that you will want to look out for:
1. It is organic
2. Made from the fruiting body
3. Not grown on oats, grains, etc but logs or in a way that mimics the natural environment.
4. Extracted with either alcohol or water, or dual-extracted.
These are key standards of all of VitaJing Herbs mushroom extracts, which you can view here.