Medicinal mushrooms have been used in Eastern medicine for thousands of years. Texts about Chinese medicine dating back to 100 BCE discuss various mushrooms and fungi that were used to treat cancer, respiratory ailments, and many other conditions. You’ll find them in Ancient Greek and Roman writings, and in Egyptian hieroglyphics. They were (and remain) a highly celebrated traditional medicine in many different cultures.
But it seems like the rest of the world is finally catching up! And for good reason. Mushrooms contain a wide array of powerful healing compounds that you can benefit from.
The benefits of Medicinal Mushrooms
These aren’t your garden variety white button mushrooms. Medicinal mushrooms are types of fungi that contain compounds known to benefit health.
The list of health benefits medicinal mushrooms provide is long, but each mushroom is unique and provides its own distinct health advantages.
Check out these fantastic fungi!
Also known as the mushroom of immortality, one of the best things about reishi mushrooms is their ability to support the immune system. They actually positively affect the genes in white blood cells, which are critical parts of your immune system, and may alter inflammation pathways in white blood cells.
They also have potent anti-tumor properties, and research shows that reishi can help slow tumor growth and suppress the protein synthesis various cancers need to thrive in the body.
Reishi mushrooms are so valuable because of something called triterpenes. These chemical compounds have also been linked with:
Shiitake mushrooms are the most popular mushrooms in the world. They’re very popular in Asian cooking, and have a meaty and versatile flavor. But it isn’t just their taste that makes them great!
Shiitake mushrooms are particularly good for the heart. Research shows they lower LDL, and they contain compounds that inhibit the absorption and production of cholesterol in the liver. They’re also full of phytonutrients, which aid in preventing plaque buildup, and loaded with B-vitamins, which help to control blood sugar levels and reduce inflammation in the body.
“Maitake” means dancing mushroom in Japanese. The mushroom is said to have gotten its name after people danced with happiness upon finding such an incredible natural source of healing in the wild.
Maitake mushrooms are rich in antioxidants, which are compounds that help inhibit or reduce damage caused by oxidative stress. That oxidative stress can cause all types of illness in the body, including cancer. They also contain valuable vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. But those nutrients are not it’s main claim to fame. Maitake is perhaps the best mushroom for fighting cancer.
A 2013 study found that maitake could be useful in preventing and treating breast cancer. Researchers suggest that this mushroom can fight the growth and reproduction of cancerous cells. Maitake mushroom has been shown to suppress tumor growth and increase the number of cells fighting against the tumor.
Turkey tail mushrooms, like most medicinal mushrooms, are packed with antioxidants, which we know are useful for fighting cancer. But turkey tail mushrooms have an added cancer-combatting compound… PSK.
Polysaccharide-K (PSK) is compound stimulates the immune system and promote immune response by both activating and inhibiting specific types of immune cells and by suppressing inflammation.
In fact, PSK is so effective that it’s an approved anticancer prescription drug in Japan.
When it comes to cancer specifically, turkey tail has been shown to:
- improve the survival rate of people with certain cancers
- fight leukemia cells
- improve the immune system of people receiving chemotherapy.
And we see more and more research every day!
Chaga, which is commonly referred to as a mushroom, is actually a sclerotium or woody canker that grows in on birch trees. They’ve been used for centuries in Siberia and other parts of Asia to boost immunity and improve overall health.
One of the many reasons is its potent antioxidant properties, making chaga excellent for fighting free radicals and inflammation.
But there are other reasons it’s becoming super popular.
Research suggest that chaga extract can positively impact immunity by reducing long-term inflammation and fighting harmful bacteria and viruses. Studies also show that it may prevent or slow the growth of cancer. Then there’s the research showing it has the potential to lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the “bad” cholesterol, in the body, therefore protecting against heart disease. And of course several studies link chaga to lower blood sugar levels, so it may help manage diabetes.
How to Add Medicinal Mushrooms to Your Daily Routine
Now, you won’t find most of these guys at your local grocery store – although you might find shiitake and maitake, both of which are great to cook with.
Instead, you’ll most likely choose a mushroom supplement in powder or liquid form. And these make it easy to get your daily dose without having to prep the actual mushrooms!
One of the easiest ways to get your mushroom fix is simply add a spoonful to whatever you’re already eating. This could be your morning smoothie, a cup of coffee, or, if you find something like chaga chunks, brewed into a lovely medicinal mushroom tea.
Each mushroom on this list has different directions, and often the amount varies, so check the product you buy for instructions on how much to use. But as far as how to use them, the sky’s the limit! Here’s to better health!