Wholefoods market recently announced that functional mushrooms aka the superfood mushrooms– Reishi, Chaga, Cordyceps, Lion’s Mane etc. will be one of the top health trends of 2018.
For a long time, mushrooms have been hidden in the Western shadows, but now their entry into the spotlight has finally arrived!
These ancient mushrooms have long been considered the “original superfoods.” In many great Eastern traditions, mushrooms have been revered for centuries as incredibly nutritious foods used to support optimal health and longevity.
So far, these functional mushrooms are showing up all over the place, starring in bottled drinks, smoothies, soups, coffee, tea, and even in the cosmetic and beauty care industry. The bitter and earthy tones of these mushrooms pair extremely well with other popular food and beverages such as chocolate and coffee.
It's now become commonplace to find mushroom spiked foods and drinks in your favourite restaurants and cafes.
The rising popularity of functional mushrooms offers us unbelievable new levels of abundant health that we never believed possible.
Teelixir ran a recent poll and discovered the top 6 most favourable health benefits of superfood mushrooms (in no particular order) as chosen by you!
Unfortunately, many of us do not care for our immune system until we get sick. We choose not to develop a strong immune system and instead, when we fall inconveniently ill, we reach for the quick fix pills– the immune-stimulants, fast-acting pain relievers, and antibiotics that serve only to cover up the symptoms without addressing the root causes. But this approach is easier in the short term because after all, we’re too busy to be sick in our modern society!
The topic of immunity may not be as “sexy” as increasing energy, boosting brain power, nourishing skin, or supporting gut health, but truth be told, if we want to thrive in those “hot topic” areas, we need to take the immune system more seriously because there is a direct connection between all of them.
Strengthening the immune system is key to sustaining our long-term health, energy, and vibrancy. Perhaps the most famous benefit of superfood mushrooms is their ability to radically improve the health of the immune system.
There are many compounds and nutrients in mushrooms that benefit human health but the polysaccharides (essential long-chain sugars) and triterpenes are the most well studied. Human-based studies have shown that these compounds can stimulate and strongly enhance our immune system.
In nature, mushrooms have to fight off the same pathogens, bacteria and viruses that humans do. Mushrooms have developed a strong defence system in nature against invading bacterias which have shown to be very effective for humans. What’s more fascinating is that there are specific immune-cell receptor sites in the body that are designed to only receive the unique polysaccharide compounds contained in fungi.
This evidence alongside other pieces is why some scientists believe that human beings may have developed (or co-evolved) alongside mushrooms. After all, human beings and mushrooms share around 85% of the same ribosomal RNA and almost 50% of the same DNA!
That means you’re half a mushroom dude.
There are many different kinds of polysaccharides in mushrooms, the most common and well-studied being the beta-glucans.
These complex natural sugars are among some of the most potent and natural immune forces ever discovered. They essentially lock on to specific receptor sites in the immune system, activate their healing power, and thereby increase the immune response.
Your immune system is made up of many types of cells including the lymphocytes, macrophages, T-cells, natural killer cells (NK), neutrophils, and cytokines. These immune supporting cells are found throughout the body and span the boundaries of all your vital systems, protecting and warding off any kind of invading pathogens, viruses and bacteria. This protective clearing of harmful invasions helps your body operate at its full potential allowing you to perform at your best.
Our mushroom allies work to increase T-cell, NK cell, macrophage, and neutrophil activity.
It’s also known that different mushroom species target different areas of your body’s immune system. Therefore, it may be beneficial to consume a variety of different mushrooms to elicit a more intelligent and broad-based immune response.
That's why we created our 15 in one mushroom blend– Immune Defence.
All functional mushrooms are beneficial for the immune system in their own way, however, extensive scientific research is beginning to prove that Maitake mushroom (Grifola frondaosa) may be the most effective immune-boosting mushroom of all.
Maitake is one of nature’s richest sources of polysaccharides, containing unique fractions, including D-fraction and MD-fraction. Maitake has shown to stimulate macrophage, NK cell, T-Cell, and interleukin-1 activity. It’s also demonstrated powerful anti-HIV activity in in-vitro studies in the U.S, and Japan.
Mushrooms are so important for the supporting immune system that we wrote a whole blog post on the topic– 5 Powerful Immune Boosting Mushrooms to Prevent Sickness. Read more.
BONUS TIP: Take vitamin C alongside your mushrooms. Vitamin C lowers the molecular weight of the beta-glucans (polysaccharide) in mushrooms which allows them to enter the cells easily and more efficiently.
It’s well documented that chronic stress wreaks havoc on the body– rapid aging of the skin, brain loss, reduced immunity, hormone imbalances, weight gain, mood disorders and more.
We all deal with stress every day, and our bodies strive to adapt, keep balanced and stay healthy.
The body manages stress using a complex system known as the HPA axis. The HPA (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal) axis is the important glandular components of the body’s stress response.
Under a stressful situation, a man pointing a gun at you, for example, the emotional centre of the brain, the amygdala, triggers the hypothalamus to send alarm signals to the pituitary gland, which then sends hormonal messages to the adrenal gland to release stress hormones (catecholamines)– adrenaline, cortisol, and many others –and once that occurs, in the blink of an eye, the body is primed for fight or flight and equipped to deal with the impending stressor(s).
This intelligent feedback loop (HPA axis) is a terrific survival mechanism in any stressful event. However, with all the stressors in our modern society– whether it’s a traumatic event or dealing with multiple stressors during the day to day grind, the problem today is that this feedback loop is always turned on!
If we’re always under chronic stress and producing stress hormones (cortisol and more) all the time, the adrenals begin to lose their ability to signal to the brain, the hypothalamus, that the stressor is over and its time to recuperate.
We lose proper function of the HPA axis when our body is under continuous chronic stress. We need to bring the HPA axis back into balance and the "adaptogens", like Reishi, Chaga, and Cordyceps, can help us do that.
Many of the functional mushrooms are also considered "adaptogenic herbs.”
Adaptogens are a hot topic right now because they are so damn important in our society today. Plus, they work, and produce great results!
Adaptogens are remarkable substances that have been used for centuries to help the human body adapt to stress, support normal metabolic processes, and restore homeostasis.
In nature, adaptogens grow in extreme and challenging environments where they develop unique phytonutrients, adaptogenic properties, that allow them to adapt to heat and cold, high altitudes, and other harsh conditions in order to survive.
When we consume adaptogens, we receive similar benefits.
Adaptogens have shown to increase the body’s resistance to physical, biological, emotional, and environmental stressors and promote normal physiologic function. They are safe to use and do not overstimulate the body, rather, adaptogenic herbs have shown to balance the body’s energies, support hormones, modulate the immune system, and facilitate the body’s natural healing process to maintain optimal health.
Engaging in healthy stress reduction practices is very important to maintain balance. Just like we use yoga, meditation, massage, deep breathing etc. to restore balance, we can use functional mushrooms (adaptogens) as tools to combat and eliminate our daily stresses and stay grounded too.
In fact, mushrooms can even enhance our stress management practices.
Over the centuries, monks and spiritual sages have used Reishi and Lion’s Mane mushroom as part of their regimen for deepening their meditative practices. Reishi and Lion’s Mane mushroom offer profound stress relieving and calming effects.
Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum) is perhaps the best adaptogen of all, it's known as the “ultimate anti-stress herb.”
Reishi has a long history of use in ancient China by Taoists for cultivating spiritual energy, reducing stress, and calming the mind.
Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus) is a powerful mushroom for calming the nervous system, boosting cognition and relieving stress. It’s ability to promote the production of Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) has shown positive effects in calming the mind, elevating mood, improving memory, concentration and focus.
There is significant scientific research to prove Lion’s Mane’s ability to strengthen the nervous system and normalise the effects of stress.
Also, Maitake mushroom can help increase adaptability and resist stress. Individuals battling chronic fatigue syndrome may also experience relief from stress and fatigue by incorporating Maitake into their diet.
It is well known that chronic stress negatively impacts brain function, impairs memory, cognitive processing, reasoning and judgment skills. Stress can also induce mood disorders, depression, and accelerate neurodegenerative conditions and diseases. Chronic stress creates chronic inflammatory states in the brain which can be observed in studies of various pro-inflammatory markers.
Research shows that taking Cordyceps mushroom (Cordyceps sinensis) can reduce inflammatory markers in the hippocampus of the brain as a result of chronic induced stress.
Being adaptogenic in nature, all superfood mushrooms work on increasing energy levels in the body. Cordyceps mushroom, in particular, has profound energizing properties that have been prized in the East for thousands of years.
Cordyceps was first made popular in the West in 1993 after the Chinese National Athletics Championships. The women’s track and field team dominated the games and broke numerous world records. It was later discovered that they were consuming a special herbal combination where Cordyceps mushroom was the main ingredient.
As a result, Cordyceps is celebrated as a superb athlete’s tonic.
Cordyceps is a great rejuvenating tonic that restores the deep energy that we expend through an excessive exertion of life’s activities, stressful circumstances and aging. It is used to enhance athletic performance, build physical power and endurance by increasing the efficiency of energy metabolism. Research has shown that Cordyceps increases energy output, oxygen utilisation, and resistance to fatigue. It can increase cellular energy, ATP (adenosine triphosphate) by 20-30%.
Cordyceps is a major Lung tonic that has the ability to strengthen respiratory power, increase oxygen utilisation, build muscle, and increase endurance and stamina. Consistent use helps to strengthen the skeletal structure, the lower back, the knees, and the ankles.
Cordyceps mushroom is also known to be excellent in speeding up recovery time from fatigue, energy loss, and physical injury.
In addition to Cordyceps being a potent endurance and stamina boosting mushroom, thousands of online testimonials have revealed that regular consumption of Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) has proven to increase energy levels and improve endurance as well. Chaga’s adaptogenic powers provide sustained levels of energy without over-stimulating the body. It also increases our primordial life-force energy, what the Taoists call Jing.
BONUS TIP: In Chinese medical theory, people suffering from lack of energy and fatigue is often classified as a Yin deficiency. Yin represents the material and fluid substance of the body. Yin nourishes many of the complex physiological processes in the body– the blood, hormones, and the lubrication of muscles, tissues, joints and more.
The Yin aspect is very important from the Chinese perspective, without Yin, energy cannot be received or contained in the body.
An overstimulation of the sympathetic nervous system or excessive Yang activity can cause burnout, exhaustion of the body’s systems and fast aging. In a low energy state, we often reach for more energising herbs (Yang tonics) thinking that if we’re tired we must need to boost our energy levels rather than supplement or replenish our draining Yin levels.
The best tonic for a Yin deficiency is not a mushroom or any herbal supplement, it’s arguably the most underrated "nutrient" in our society, sleep!
Sleep is the critical time when the body rests, recovers, and renews itself. Lack of sleep and sleep deprivation causes a whole host of physiological disruptions in the body, far worse than the annoyance and inconvenience of energy loss.
If you’re suffering from low energy and fatigue, before you reach for the pill bottle or natural medicine cure, try catching up on your sleep first. You’ll be amazed at how quickly your energy levels restore after a few extra hours of shut-eye.
We’d all like to experience more focus, better memory and concentration in our lives.
With the rising level of stimuli in our society (think about excessive overstimulation and decision fatigue), the polluted environment, and the toxic laden foods we consume, it’s no surprise that our healthy brains are rapidly declining.
Lion’s Mane mushroom is a powerful tonic food for brain health.
Lions Mane has been described as the “smart mushroom” and is known as one of the best natural “nootropics” in the smart drug community. Scientific studies have proven Lion’s Mane to boost brain function, enhance memory, recall, and improve concentration. Research has also shown that by consuming Lion’s Mane regularly, it can offer profound neurological benefits and cognitive enhancements. It may even encourage neuroregeneration in the brain, which may assist with improving neurological conditions such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease.
One of the most significant effects of Lion’s Mane is its ability to stimulate Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) in the brain.
NGF is a small protein-like molecule that is responsible for the growth, development, maintenance, and survival of nerve cells. Without NGF, nerve cells, or neurons, would die and cause massive cognitive and motor problems.
NGF also promotes the growth, maintenance, and survival of the axons (part of the nerve cell that transmits information via electrical impulses to other neurons, muscles, and glands) by helping repair the myelin sheath, the coating around the axons.
However, there is a major issue when we consider the blood-brain barrier.
The blood-brain barrier is a filtering mechanism of the capillaries that carry blood to the brain and spinal cord tissues. This barrier provides a defence system against disease forming pathogens and toxins that may be present in our blood and prevents those nasties from entering the brain cells. There are not many compounds small enough to penetrate the blood-brain barrier.
Lion’s Mane has an ingenious way of bypassing the blood-brain barrier and stimulating the synthesis of NGF.
Lion’s Mane contains two unique diterpene compounds, erinacines and hericenones, named after the Latin name of the mushroom (Hericium erinaceus). These two constituents show strong anti-bacterial activity and help stimulate the production of NGF. Hericenones are the compounds that stimulate the production of NGF production in the brain while the erinacines are small enough to penetrate the blood-brain barrier. Together these compounds stimulate the production of NGF from within the brain. Pretty amazing stuff!
Lion’s Mane's remarkable ability to promote the production of Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) within the brain helps boosts cognition by reducing inflammation, stimulating neural development, and enhancing all-around brain health.
NGF is also the primary protein nutrient responsible for enhancing and repairing neurological disorders.
As we mentioned above in the ‘Mushrooms reduce stress' benefits, research shows that Cordyceps mushroom offers powerful benefits for maintaining healthy brain function. It helps increase blood flow to the brain and can reduce inflammatory markers in the hippocampus of the brain as a result of chronic induced stress.
Cordyceps also helps elevate brain-derived neurotrophic growth factor and 5-HTP, which demonstrates its mood and memory enhancing potential.
Gut health is one of the hottest topics in health and wellness right now. Maybe it’s because the delicate ecosystems within our bodies (intestinal flora) are being destroyed by the toxic environment we live in, and the polluted water and contaminated foods we consume.
We’re forced to live in a world with both friendly and unfriendly microorganisms present in our bodies, but if we’re healthy, the friendly bacteria will outnumber the bad guys and our guts will be happy and healthy.
Historically, mushrooms have been used to support digestion and gut health.
Chaga mushroom has a rich history in Siberia where it was traditionally used to support the digestive system. Chaga contains high amounts of polysaccharides, immune-modulating compounds, anti-microbial triterpenes, and melano-glucan complexes that help support and address both inflammatory and infectious digestive disorders.
Chaga’s anti-inflammatory effects can help relieve inflammation in the stomach or intestines and can stimulate the liver to produce digestive bile, thereby improving the break down of food. Chaga is a top source of digestive enzymes and other constituents beneficial for digestion, including manganese and thiamin.
Lion’s Mane mushroom is another valuable mushroom for helping to maintain digestive health. It’s high in beta-glucan polysaccharides, complex long-chain sugars that help improve stomach mucosa functions, an important part of the digestive system.
Lion’s Mane’s strong anti-microbial and immunological activity has shown to have positive effects in supporting gastric and duodenal ulcers, chronic gastritis, and stomach and oesophagus cancer treatment.
Superfood mushrooms such as Reishi and Turkey Tail, act as prebiotics in the gut to help establish good flora in the body. Research studies have shown that mushroom polysaccharides, the long-chain essential sugars in mushroom cell-walls, have a prebiotic effect on the gut microbiome. Prebiotics are substances that feed the probiotics which in turn help stimulate and grow the beneficial bacteria in the gut. This is very important to support healthy gut flora.
Contrary to what many people may believe, the best way to fight fungus is with fungus! Isn’t it ironic?
Mushrooms contain anti-fungal substances like polyenes and other compounds that specifically inhibit or kill fungi that cause fungal infections, and help relieve the discomfort associated with fungal conditions. This is how fungi protect themselves in nature from other fungal species.
Candida is a normal resident of the human body. It’s not generally a problem, but too much candida can lead to a whole host of bodily disturbances.
The immune cells– the neutrophils, T-cells, and other microbes generally keep the candida population under control, but when they are out of balance, problems begin to arise.
Mushrooms not only enhance the immune system, they increase the good bacteria, suppress the bad bacteria, and help support yeast and fungal overgrowth conditions like candida.
If you’re dealing with candida issues, don’t be afraid to incorporate the superfood mushrooms into your diet, they can help! The species listed below are best.
However, its ideal to avoid other supermarket varieties of the culinary mushrooms such as portobello and crimini as these may aggravate or increase candida overgrowth.
For centuries, superfood mushrooms have been highly valued as sources of natural bioactive compounds to maintain and support beautiful skin.
Poor skin health is a sure sign that something is out of balance in the body.
When all the body's systems and organs are working and functioning efficiently together, the body thrives and rewards us with beautiful radiant skin, glowing complexion, lustrous hair, and bright shining eyes.
Tremella mushroom (Tremella fuciformis) is one of the best superfoods for nourishing skin health. Known as the “beauty mushroom”, this jelly fungus resembles a loofah shower sponge which is appropriate given its incredible beauty enhancing properties.
Tremella has the ability to rejuvenate and moisturise the skin naturally. Tremella contains unique polysaccharide compounds that show remarkable water retaining properties. Its water holding capacity is nearly five hundred times its own weight.
Tremella also stimulates the production of superoxide dismutase (SOD), one of the most important antioxidant enzymes in the body. SOD helps to protect and regenerate the skin.
For a deeper discussion about Tremella, learn more about the 'Ancient Beauty Secrets of Tremella mushroom' here.
Chaga mushroom contains various active constituents that help maintain and protect the health of the skin in a number of ways. Chaga is high in antioxidants, may improve circulation, reduce inflammation, and fight infection, which also benefits the health of the skin.
Research has shown that Chaga has great benefits in improving psoriasis. A Russian study on 50 psoriasis patients reported a 76% cure rate while an additional 16% reported a great improvement in symptoms over time.
Chaga mushroom also contains the highest source of melanin of any food known. Melanin is the same pigment found in human skin, and it is difficult for the body to produce internally, as it requires several specific nutrients to activate melanogenesis (the formation of melanin).
Chaga can increase the body’s supply of melanin more quickly, enabling better skin protection from UV radiation from sunlight, what is commonly responsible for sunburns.
Reishi mushroom is also known to help ease skin problems.
Reishi contains anti-histaminic, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, and anti-allergenic properties which have shown through various studies to help cure and relieve many external skin issues, such as wounds, sunburns, rashes, psoriasis, and insect bites.
Reishi promotes improved blood circulation which helps upgrade the elasticity and tone of the skin, leaving you looking better and feeling younger.
There are so many more extraordinary health benefits that superfood mushrooms can provide us.
Superfood mushrooms can also help improve sleep, balance hormones, increase mood and happiness, support the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, and more.
What are your favourite mushrooms for health and wellbeing?
Comment below and let us know.