Existing as neither plant nor animal, mushrooms are mysterious creatures. Luckily, some of that mystery has been uncovered by modern research, and we now understand some of the once unbelievable benefits related to medicinal mushrooms.
Given that many mushrooms are packed with nutritious vitamins and minerals, as well as bioactive beta-glucans, t's really no surprise to learn that many of these superfood mushrooms have been used in Ayurvedic and Chinese herbal medicine for thousands of years.
Luckily, these mushrooms aren't just ancient history. Many of these medicinal mushrooms are widely available today in therapeutic forms that make them super simple to use. We’ve narrowed it down to these top 7 superfood mushrooms based on therapeutic value, available research, an accessibility:
Cordyceps is known for balancing energy and promoting endurance and vitality. This ancient mushroom contains a compound called cordycepin, a bioactive metabolite known for its potential therapeutic benefits, like potential anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory, antioxidant, anti-aging, anticancer, antiviral effects, and more.
Some sources also suggest that cordyceps can help to improve oxygen flow and blood flow throughout the body, which may make it a grata supporting agent for physical activities and exercise.
Human trials are still limited, but one animal trial suggests that cordyceps can help reduce stress markers while increasing the ability to handle stress-related activities. Another similar study confirmed these results, staying that cordyceps may be useful for combating stress-related fatigue.
A 2014 human trial examined the use of cordyceps in combination with another herbal remedy said to have adaptogenic effects–rhodiola crenulata. This study also confirmed stress-relieving effects and an improvement in fatigue levels after only 2 weeks of dosing. Another study combined cordyceps with reishi mushroom and found the pair to help reduce the effects of physical stress on athletes caused by overtraining.
Cordyceps is good for more than just athletes, though, and many people find that its an excellent way to start the day with plenty of mental and physical energy and endurance.
Chaga is one of the most well known superfood mushrooms in the world thanks to it’s mega antioxidant boost and calming benefits. Many people have heard of chaga tea or may even be familiar with the concept of taking chaga capsules, but its important to reiterate why chaga is so magical–
For starters, its chock full of antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, and bioactive compounds like beta glucans, amino acids, potassium, zinc, calciumbiotin, vitamin D, more. According to some evidence, this combination of super nutrients can help to lower oxidative stress, regulate inflammation, and support a healthy stress response. Thanks to this cocktail of antioxidants, chaga is also used as an antiaging supplement.
Some research also highlights other potential benefits related to chaga. For instance, a 2005 study found that Chaga may stimulate the production of beneficial cytokines, a protein that regulates immune function. In turn, this could stimulate the white blood cell response to improve the body’s ability to fight off harmful viruses and bacteria. Multiple animal studies have also investigated Chaga’s impact on blood sugar, and all have confirmed that Chaga supplementation may help to lower blood sugar. Antoher study even confirmed that Chaga may help reduce bad cholesterol, total cholesterol, and triglycerides in mice to help improve overall heart health.
The best part is that chaga makes a delicious, earthy cup of tea and can be served hot, cold, sweetened, spiced, or just taken as a capsule by mouth. Learn more by reading “Chaga Benefits” and “When’s the Best Time to Take Chaga?”
Hericium erinaceus, commonly known as lion’s mane, is another superfood mushroom thought to offer adaptogenic effects, or stress-regulating benefits. One study found that Lion’s Mane may help reverse stress-related changes impacting crucial neurotransmitters, like dopamine and serotonin. It may also help reduce certain inflammatory markers known to increase when experiencing stress.
Another study suggests that Lion’s Mane may prevent the downregulation of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) when experiencing a stressful event, which may help decrease the chances of experiencing stress-related depression.
One study even found that Lion’s Mane extract may encourage the growth of new nerve cells and may stimulate faster healing within in the nervous system, which may help to reduce the impact of stress-related damage to the brain.
Maitake is another well known functional mushroom known for its potential adaptogenic effects and immune-regulating benefits. Like other functional mushrooms, maitake contains an array of beta glucans, vitamins, and minerals, like copper, potassium and vitamins B and C.
Some evidence suggests that maitake may have significant brain-boosting and antidepressant effects thanks to it’s interactions with AMPA receptors, or neuroreceptors that help to regulate emotions. It’s also known to have a fair amount of beta-glucans, which may also offer a significant antidepressant effects.
One trial found that when maitake was combined with ashwagandha, it could significantly decrease the cortisol production (or the stress response) in animal models. More research is needed to verify maitake’s adaptogenic potential.
Tremella mushroom’s use as a therapeutic compound also dates back decades, and modern research helps us understand why the mushroom has long been appreciated for it’s potential immune-boosting and anti-aging effects.
A 2017 study reports that Tremella reduced the incidence of human skin fibroids caused by hydrogen peroxide. Fibroblasts are the cells that help create collagen and build tissues to heal wounds. The researchers believe that these phenomenal skin-protectant effects come from Tremella’s high antioxidant content, which can help to ward off free radicals that damage tissues.
According to a 2000 study, Tremella’s anti-inflammatory effects are another one of its potential benefits. The 2017 study mentioned previously verifies this point, where Tremella was found to reduce the development and spread of inflammation in the body.
One 2007 study also found that Tremella tea helped to promote the growth of nerve cells, a benefit that may give the mushroom neuroprotective effects.
Reishi is known to have a beneficial impact on the adrenal systems, or the hormone system responsible for the secretion of cortisol, known as the stress hormone. In addition to the research cited above where reishi was found to be successful for preventing stress-induced damage in athletes caused by oversharing (when paired with cordyceps), there are a few limited studies to help us understand the potential adaptogenic benefits of reishi mushrooms.
A 2020 animal study found that supplementing with reishi may help reduce inflammation in the brain caused by decreased oxygen exposure. The study also implied that reishi may help to protect against certain instances of nerve and memory damage.
Another animal study found that reishi could help prevent stress-induced anxiety. One other study found that reishi could help reduce exercise-induced damage to muscles, again indicating that it may help lower the body’s stress response to certain stimuli.
In powder form, Reishi can be added to soups, cereals, oats, smoothies, and more. Or, grab reishi capsules for a more convenient daily dose.
Despite not being as well known as other functional mushrooms, Turkey Tail is one of the most well researched mushroom superfoods that we know of, and there are currently FDA trials ongoing to determine its potential use for managing cancer and other severe illnesses. It contains a wide array of powerful beta glucans, antioxidants, and other nutrients that help support overall well-being.
Evidence suggests that turkey tail has traditionally been used to help manage lung conditions, immune system disorders, and cancer. In fact, Polysaccharide-K (PSK) or krestin, which is found in turkey tail mushrooms, is an approved product used for cancer treatment in Japan. It's most well known for helping to improve the symptoms related to traditional cancer treatments.
You may be asking–what makes these 7 mushrooms superfoods? Aside from the therapeutic properties listed above, mushrooms (including the ones on this list and over 400 different species of mushrooms) are nutritionally super-charged to a tune that the body dances to.
What we mean is that mushrooms essential nutrients that are hard to find in many other foods, like the B niacin and riboflavin, vitamin D, and potassium. Many mushrooms also contain copper and iron, as well as a trio of powerful antioxidants–glutathione, ergothioneine, and selenium.
You can think of most mushrooms as a super-vitamin for your body’s cells and nervous system. The bioactive compounds (usually beta glucans) help to regulate certain bodily functions, which is why so many mushrooms have immune regulating properties. This is why almost all mushrooms can be considered “superfood mushrooms” that make for a healthy part of your regular diet or a useful addition to your wellness regimen.
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