Over 2500 years ago, the father of modern medicine Hippocrates stated; “All disease begins in the gut.” – and it feels as though this statement is more relevant today than ever before.
Fortunately for us, we have the incredible gut-supportive powers of the superfood medicinal mushrooms to support our best digestive health– Turkey Tail, Reishi, Lion's Mane, Chaga, and more.
As the hottest topics in wellness, gut health and the microbiome trail blaze the world of health and research. The gastrointestinal (GI) ecosystem is a focal point for preventing, treating and diagnosing numerous diseases and conditions.
With our gut bacteria in abundance – 10x more than our own human cells, thousands of species with millions of genes inside their DNA, are able to influence our own biology to an extent that scientists still do not fully understand.
As such, this gut bacteria relationship is too interesting to not accept as the epicentre of our wellbeing.
“Natural forces within us are the true healers of disease” ~ Hippocrates
Table of Contents
The Gut Microbiome, what is it?
The gut microbiome is made up of the epithelial cells that line our GI tract.
These chemical messengers, digestive enzymes and bacteria colonies create a barrier from the outside world and us, and when everything we ingest passes through, it is determined whether the molecules are friend or foe.
Supporting our gut-barrier function ensures we don’t experience “leaky gut” or intestinal permeability – where gaps form inside our mucosal lining, between the cells tight junctions, where molecules, pathogens, toxins and bacteria are able to “leak” through this gap, instigating an inflammatory and immune response.
It’s integral that we also recognise, our gut lining is only one cell thick.
So nourishing and strengthening our gut is even more important, because we’ve only got a wall of singular cells protecting and nourishing us.
Additionally, with the “gut-brain-axis” or vagus nerve linking the communication between our gut to our brain and central nervous system, the state of our gut determines the state of our brains and cognitive function.
Anxiety, depression, ADD/ADHD, Alzheimer’s, PMS, mood disorders, cravings, brain fog, diabetes, obesity, allergies, hay fever, asthma, IBS, IBD, adrenal fatigue, CFS, autoimmune, arthritis, and so much more, are all directly linked to this intestinal permeability.
Undoubtedly, prioritising our gut health and this symbiotic ecosystem is a no-brainer.
Mushrooms for Gut Health
Strengthening our gut lining and microbial diversity is therefore crucial to living in abundance, and luckily for us, medicinal mushrooms have the ability to help us do this.
The prebiotic effects of mushrooms contribute to their protective and immunomodulating components, as an astonishing 75% of the immune system is housed in our gut! (3)
The polysaccharide β-glucan components that exist within all mushrooms are unable to be digested and broken apart via our digestive enzymes, and thus, act as prebiotics to the bacteria that exist within our microbiome.
This in itself is super powerful as mushrooms not only encourage beneficial and friendly bacteria to flourish, and help the die-off of unwanted bacteria (such as Candida albicans) but also, in their ability to communicate with the bacteria in our gut.
Such a connection conveys in action the powerful and mystical mycelial network that exists throughout the world’s surface – this also exists within our bodies.
The relationship between the mushrooms and our bacteria, the state and strength of our microbiome, and in turn, the strength of our immune system (75% of our immune system is located in our gut, along with 80% of our neurotransmitters (NT), including 90% of serotonin our “feel good” NT) really does convey the beneficial role medicinal mushrooms play in improving our well-being and lives.
With mushroom polysaccharides acting as prebiotics, they feed the beneficial microbes in our gut, which in turn create nutrients, such as Vitamin K and SCFA (short chain fatty acids) that repair our enterocytes (intestinal wall cells) and fuel our cellular energy production.
Incorporating just ¼ teaspoon of mushroom extract into your daily routine almost seems too easy to reap such epic benefits, but that’s the power of these medicinal mushrooms.
However, it’s important to note that unfavourable bacteria families, such as Firmicutes, will also eat prebiotics.
It’s a savage world in the microbiome.
Not only is it important to consume prebiotics to feed the beneficial bacteria but also, through consuming a rich diet in polyphenols (plant compounds) and whole foods to ensure our ratio of bacteria is in favour of the Bacteriodetes family, over the Firmicutes.
How Superfood Mushrooms Support and Heal Gut Health
Turkey Tail Mushroom
Studies reported that Turkey Tail (TT) – via FOS (fructooligosaccharides) and PSP (polysaccharide peptide) increase Bifidobacterium spp. and Lactobacillus spp. – two key and extensively researched species of bacteria that inoculate our gut and support our immune system from birth.
TT was also shown to decrease unfriendly bacteria; Clostridium spp., Staphylococcus spp. and Enterococcus spp. (2)
An additional study showed that TT was able to stabilise and act as a prebiotic to modulate a healthy, diverse microbiome, after a course of biome-disrupting antibiotics. (5)
It’s important to note that antibiotics, yes, in certain situations are required, yet it’s also necessary to realise they’re heavily over-prescribed with no true benefit.
Antibiotics disrupt the normal gut microbiome, killing four years of healthy flora each cycle, weakening the microbiome, immune system and leaves the body more exposed to the overgrowth of non-beneficial bacteria, digestive issues (IBS/IBD) and illness. (5)
So, as a support, I’d definitely be incorporating TT into my regime if I’ve done a course of antibiotics, along with a high, multi-strain probiotic, to aid the repopulation of an effective, happy, healthy microbiome.
Reishi has shown in studies to influence the composition and ratio of bacteria (Firmicutes: Bacteriodetes) and reverse gut dysbiosis (imbalance) which can occur due to poor diet, stress, diseases, inflammation, poor immune system and parasites.
This is beneficial as Bacteriodetes are able to synthesis SCFA (short chain fatty acids) which repair our intestinal cells and fuel our intestinal cells to make cellular energy ATP.
Firmicutes do the opposite, it eats up our glucose, starves our own mitochondria of energy which cause us to feel fatigued, lethargic and sluggish, even though we’re consuming nutrients.
Reishi is also able to reduce endotoxin-creating bacteria – Proteobacteria – able to damage our cellular DNA. Damaged DNA is directly linked to the development of cancer.
Reishi was shown in studies to also maintain our intestinal cell integrity, meaning we’re able to have a strong, tight gut wall, reducing the likelihood the associated dis-ease states experienced with leaky gut. (1)
Studies also suggest that Reishi contains anti-ulcer properties (along with many other awesome health-promoting properties), so it can be a great tool for individuals experiencing UC/Crohn’s disease and IBD, as well as stomach ulcers as a result of H.pylori infections (Helicobacter pylori is a species of bacteria). (11, 12)
Candida albicans – a common bacterium species that causes thrush, brain fog, lethargy and fatigue can be overpowered by Reishi.
It’s also able to help disrupt biofilms– little houses that bacteria build so antibiotics can’t kill them– so sneaky! (6)
It’s important to recognise that store-bought culinary mushrooms, such as white button and portobello etc. are not only dampening in regards to TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) but can also contribute to candida overgrowth due to the presence of fungal and mould contaminants.
So if you’re thinking you might have an overgrowth of candida and dysbiosis, swap out those culinary mushrooms for the medicinal ones, as they help fight candida.
Additionally, stress negatively impacts our gut, so Reishi, the ultimate anti-stress herb, is extra awesome in this regard.
When the gut microbiome is faced with stressors – whether environmental, physical, emotional, psychological or biological – changes to the microbiome occur, leading to a dysbiotic state.
Dysbiosis is when a microbial imbalance occurs, and leads to increased “leakiness”.
This dysbiosis creates an inflammatory response, with inflammatory markers released into the bloodstream that circulate in our bodies. The elevated inflammatory markers then increase the permeability of the BBB (blood-brain-barrier), influencing our brain’s health. (8)
Lion's Mane mushroom
Lion’s Mane has an interesting effect on the microbiome.
As we know, we have the vagus nerve – the gut-brain-axis, in which the gut predominantly speaks to the brain and influences our cognitive function and behaviour.
An individual who is experiencing degrees of leaky gut is probably experiencing degrees of “leaky brain” as well.
In which, like in our gut, the brain also has a barrier – the blood-brain barrier (BBB), which acts as a crossing guard – certain things, can cross, certain things can’t. This barrier is kept very tightly regulated.
As mentioned above, dysbiosis leads to increased inflammation and leaky brain – enabling molecules, pathogens and toxins that are floating around, to be able to pass through - causing mental imbalances, such as anxiety, depression, brain fog, mental fatigue and neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.
Studies show Lion’s Mane is able to change the composition and activity of the GI tract and microbiota, which in turn, is beneficial to our health.
Another superfood mushroom that helps us achieve a happy, healthy microbiome is Chaga – the mother of antioxidants.
Being a potent antioxidant, Chaga helps to scavenge free radicals and harmful oxidized molecules that can damage our DNA and cause inflammation – which is linked to IBD (inflammatory bowel disease) / Crohn’s and UC (ulcerative colitis) – both of which are autoimmune conditions. (10, 4)
Chaga's immunomodulatory properties can help downregulate the inflammatory cascade that exists with leaky gut, making it a potent gut-friendly tonic.
Chaga also calms down the immune system to aid in reversing any excess, such as in the case of autoimmune conditions.
Shiitake is a potent immune system supporter, and with ~70% of our immune system located within our gut wall, the two are inseparable.
You can think of our gut and immune systems as siblings. Our gut is the big brother, and from birth, guides the immune system – he holds our immune systems hand and lets him know who’s a friend, who’s a foe, what to attack, and what to ignore.
Shiitake alters favourable bacteria balance and improves gut immunity. Its prebiotic component depresses external pathogens found within the GI tract, allowing the immune system to be more competent and resist external pathogens. (4,9)
Superfood Mushrooms Love Your Guts
With species of bacteria able to influence our food preferences, cravings, taste, determine the levels of inflammation, call upon our immune system, impact our mood – boost positively and negatively, regulate energy metabolism, help to detoxify xenobiotics - external chemicals that disrupt our homeostasis – or add to our bodies toxic load.
Taking care of and nourishing our gut is central to living our best lives.
The natural antibiotic properties of mushrooms and their ability to inhibit the growth of malevolent bacteria and yeasts make them a super beneficial additive in our daily lives.
Stacked with their immune boosting power and stress adapting properties earns them the position of a true superfood and gut loving herb.
Written by Eliza Hedley
Eliza is the millennial nutritionist– a health, mindset and abundance enthusiast obsessed with helping millennial's experience living at a higher level.
Her relaxed new age approach and understanding of nutrition and wellness sees her empowering and coaching individuals to understand that their health is the ultimate asset.
Upon experiencing first hand the power and place of tonic herbalism and medicinal mushrooms in everyday life, Eliza’s become an adaptogen fangirl and feels their utilisation in today’s world is essential for abundance and wellbeing.
References and Studies
Jayachandran, M, Xiao, J, Baojun, X 2017, ‘A Critical Review on Health Promoting Benefits of Edible Mushrooms through Gut Microbiota’, Int J Mol Sci., vol. 18, no. 9, pp. 1934, DOI:10.3390/ijms18091934
Yu, ZT, Liu, B, Mukherjee, P & Newburg, D 2013, ‘Trametes versicolor Extract Modifies Human Fecal Microbiota Composition In vitro’, Plant Foods Hum Nutr, vol. 68, pp. 107-112, DOI 10.1007/s11130-013-0342-4
Wu, J et al. 2016, ‘Recent Advances and Challenges in Studies of Control of Cancer Stem Cells and the Gut Microbiome by the Trametes-Derived Polysaccharopeptide PSP (Review)’, Int J Med Mushrooms, vol. 18, no. 8, pp. 651-660, DOI: DOI: 10.1615/IntJMedMushrooms.v18.i8.10
Mishra, SK et al. 2012, ‘Orally administered aqueous extract of Inonotus obliquus ameliorates acute inflammation in dextran sulfate sodium (DSS)-induced colitis in mice’, Journal of Ethnopharmacology, vol. 143, no. 2, pp. 524-532, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jep.2012.07.008
Pallav, K et al. 2014, ‘Effects of polysaccharopeptide from Trametes Versicolor and amoxicillin on the gut microbiome of healthy volunteers’, Gut Microbes, vol. 5, no. 4, pp. 458-467, doi: 10.4161/gmic.29558.
Bhardwaj, A et al. 2017, ‘Lingzhi or Reishi Medicinal Mushroom, Ganoderma lucidum (Agaricomycetes), Inhibits Candida Biofilms: A Metabolomic Approach’, Int J Med Mushrooms, vol. 19, no. 8, pp. 685-696, doi: 10.1615/IntJMedMushrooms.2017021225.
Wong, JY et al. 2013 ‘Gastroprotective Effects of Lion's Mane Mushroom Hericium erinaceus (Bull.:Fr.) Pers. (Aphyllophoromycetideae) Extract against Ethanol-Induced Ulcer in Rats’, Evid Based Complement Alternat Med, vol. 2013, no. 2013, doi: 10.1155/2013/492976
Clapp, M, Aurora, N, Herrera, L, Bhatia, M, Wilen, E & Wakefield, @ 2017, ‘Gut microbiota’s effect on mental health: The gut-brain axis’, Clin. Pract, vol. 7, no. 4, pp. 987, doi: 10.4081/cp.2017.987
Dai, X et al. 2015, ‘Consuming Lentinula edodes (Shiitake) Mushrooms Daily Improves Human Immunity: A Randomized Dietary Intervention in Healthy Young Adults’, J Am Coll Nutr, vol. 34, no. 6, pp. 478-487, doi: 10.1080/07315724.2014.950391.
Najafzadeh, M, Reynolds, PD, Baumgartner, A, Jerwood, D & Anderson D 2007, ‘Chaga mushroom extract inhibits oxidative DNA damage in lymphocytes of patients with inflammatory bowel disease’, Biofactors, vol. 31, no. 3-4, pp. 191-200, retrieved 20th August 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18997282
Wachtl-Galor, S, Teun J, Buswell J.A & Benzie I, Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects, 2nd ed, chapter 9 Ganoderma lucidum (Lingzhi or Reishi), Taylor and Franics, retriveid 20th August 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92757/
Sanodiya, BS, Thakur GS, Baghel RK, Parasad GB & Bisen PS 2009, ‘Ganoderma lucidum: a potent pharmacological macrofungus’, Curr Pharm Biotecnol, vol. 10, no. 8, pp. 717-742, retrieved 20th August 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19939212