Medicinal mushrooms are really quite magical! – Dr Wendy Davis ND

Medicinal mushrooms are really quite magical!

Medicinal mushrooms are one of the most popular supplements on the market, whether being taken as a powder, capsule or beverage, and with good reason. 

They can boost our defense against viruses and other pathogens, protect us against cancer, support healthy brain function, and improve our response to stress. 

Mushrooms have a long history of medicnal use. They were used at least 3000-7000 years ago in China and one of the oldest human mummies ever found (4000 year old Otzi, the Iceman) had the Piptoporus betulinus mushroom in his medical kit, a mushroom still used today as a natural antibiotic and anti parastic

Mushrooms are amazing for a number of reasons:

  • Mushrooms are a rich source of vitamins and minerals. In fact, some mushrooms have as high as 12 percent total mineral content! They are particularly rich in zinc, copper, iron, phosphorus, and potassium.
  • Mushrooms are one of the highest dietary sources of beta-glucans, a special type of soluble fiber that is being intensively studied for its benefits on the immune, cardiovascular, endocrine, and neurological systems.
  • Mushrooms have shown exciting potential for supporting our brain health as we age, and may play a role in protecting against neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, which are increasing in prevalence each year.
  • Mushrooms can increase our resistance to viral (and bacterial and fungal) infections, which is obviously highly relevant in the post-Covid era we live in.

Mushrooms contain Beta-glucans

Beta-glucans are a type of soluble fiber which dissolves easily in water and forms a mucilaginous (i.e. gel-like substance) in the gut. Soluble fiber can help promote bowel regularity and healthy lipid and blood sugar levels.

Beta-glucans are often referred to as “biological response modifiers” because they activate and regulate the immune system.

They can increase our resistance to viral, bacterial, and fungal infections; inhibit tumor growth and reduce the replication of cancer cells; modulate and regulate the immune system; and even improve our sleep and our response to stress, thanks to the connection between the immune, endocrine, and nervous systems. 

Beta-glucans also feed the beneficial bacteria in our gut and improve the composition of our microbiome. 

Turkey Tail and Reishi have the highest concentration of beta-glucans of all edible mushrooms.

The top 8 edible mushrooms

Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)

It has several immune-supportive and anti-microbial properties; it supports normal glucose metabolism and liver health; it reduces inflammation and protects against oxidative damage; it inhibits tumor growth; improves cognitive function; it relieves symptoms of anxiety, depression, and insomnia; and it benefits the lungs and respiratory tract.

The triterpenes and polysaccharides in Reishi mushrooms have been shown to protect against the destructive proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease and reduce the inflammation in brain cells that drives Parkinson’s disease. 

As noted above, Reishi has one of the highest concentrations of beta-glucans of all edible mushrooms. This explains, at least in part, why it is the subject of many clinical studies investigating its ability to activate the immune response against cancer cells in the body.

Chaga (Inonotus obliquus)

Chaga has a long history of use in traditional and folk medicine, especially by the Khanty people of Siberia. It contains over 200 biologically active molecules, including betulinic acid, which has anti-cancer, antiviral, antibacterial, and antiparasitic effects. What makes betulinic acid especially useful in cancer applications is that, while it is toxic to cancer cells, it does not appear to harm normal, healthy cells. 

Studies also show that Chaga may help promote healthy metabolic function. It regulates blood sugar and insulin levels, and it helps prevent oxidative stress.

Like Reishi and Lion’s Mane, Chaga also has powerful brain-supporting effects: it protects against age-related memory loss and blocks the damaging effects of free radicals in the brain.

Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus)

Lion’s Main is best known for its ability to support the nervous system and the brain: it helps to repair nerves, reduces inflammation in brain cells, inhibits structural deterioration in the brain, and improves memory and cognitive function. It has also shown promise for its ability to support a healthy mood and reduce the symptoms of depression.

Cordyceps (Cordyceps militaris)

Cordyceps has been revered in Traditional Chinese Medicine for over a thousand years. It is most widely known as a tonic for sexual potency, energy, vitality, and athletic performance. Today, studies suggest that cordyceps indeed improves exercise performance and reduces fatigue. It also balances and regulates immune function and supports sexual health and reproduction. And cordyceps protect against memory loss, prevents brain cell damage and reduces inflammation in the brain. It also stimulates the production of brain cells. 

Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor)

Turkey Tail has been intensively known for its immune-stimulating and anti-cancer properties. It has been used in more than 40 clinical trials with almost 20,000 patients with stomach, colorectal, esophageal, and breast cancers. These trials suggest that Turkey Tail may help improve survival rates, reduce symptoms of nausea, fatigue, and low appetite, reduce the chances of cancer recurrence, and protect healthy cells from the toxic effects of chemotherapy. Turkey Tail also helps to prevent viral infections and reduces inflammation. 

Shiitake (Lentinula edodes)

Shiitake supports both cardiovascular and metabolic health (by lowering cholesterol and regulating blood sugar); it helps to prevent viral and bacterial infections; and, it is being used by some oncologists during cancer treatment programs to reduce the side effects of chemotherapy and possibly extend survival times.

Maitake (Grifola frondosa)

Maitake is best known for its ability to regulate blood sugar, modulate the immune system, and reduce tumor growth. It is also a rich source of some essential nutrients, including protein, vitamin D, and B-vitamins, as well as beta-glucans.

Tramella (Tremella fuciformis)

Tramella is a rich source of vitamin D, triterpenoids, beta-glucans, polysaccharides, and protein. Tremella is often used in skincare products because it holds hundreds of times its weight in water, and helps with skin hydration. It has strong anti-inflammatory effects, protects the brain and helps to regenerate brain cells, promotes a healthy gut, regulates stress, and may protect against cancer. 

How to get the benefits of edible mushrooms

There are three main ways to ingest edible mushrooms and benefit from their healing properties.

Eat mushrooms

Lion’s Mane, Shiitake, and Maitake, are not only revered for their edible value—they’re also delicious! 

It’s important to note that you must eat mushrooms cooked in order to access the active compounds in their cell walls, like beta-glucans. The beta-glucans in mushrooms are tightly bound to another compound called chitin (a tough protein/sugar polymer that comprises the outer shell of crustaceans like lobster), and only about 20 percent of beta-glucans are soluble without significant heating. So, if you want to get the edible benefits of mushrooms, don’t eat them raw! Saute them, add them to soups or stews, or bake them with other ingredients.

I recommend that everyone incorporate at least some mushrooms into their diet. 

Make your own mushroom medicine

Chaga and Reishi can be drunk in a decoction (i.e. tea), a powdered extract, or a tincture. 

In a slow cooker, I add 1oz dried chaga mushrooms to 1.5L water and simply cook them for 5-6 hours.  When done I strain the mushrooms out, keep in the fridge for 2-3 weeks and drink 1/2c daily

Take a mushroom supplement (Myco10 - CytoMatrix)

If you want to get the full benefits of edible mushrooms but don’t have the time or interest to make your own medicine, taking a mushroom supplement is the best option.

I like the powdered Myco10 from CytoMatrix or if capsules are your thing, Mushroom complex from NFH is fantastic as well.