The world of natural and herbal remedies has given rise to a new class of functional fungi called adaptogenic mushrooms, a variety of different mushrooms that may have bioactive compounds that help the body manage stress. You can find capsules, powders, mushroom tea, and unique adaptogenic mushroom blends designed to help you easily incorporate these healthful shrooms into your daily routine, but why should you want to?
Here’s what you need to know about different types of adaptogenic mushrooms, what they do, and the possible risks involved:
Adaptogens are a class of substances, usually herbs or other plant-based supplements, that may help to reduce to effects of stress on the body. Some experts believe that these substances are able to “adapt” to the body’s needs in order to help regulate the stress response, which can have a number of different effects on the body.
Adaptogenic mushrooms are not hallucinogenic and should not be confused with “magic mushrooms,” rather they usually have very little noticeable effect after a single dose. Instead, you need to take adaptogenic mushrooms daily in order to allow time for a systemic response to take place. Over time, they can help to regulate the body’s reaction to physical, biological, and chemical stress, and protect against stress-related damage, which can have a long-term, negative impact on health.
The stress response is complex and relies heavily on interactions within the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA axis) and the vagus nerve. The HPA axis is predominantly responsible for the body’s hormonal response, while the vagus nerve controls the neural responses.
Both the HPA axis and the vagus nerve are directly impacted by the gut, meaning the things we consume (like adaptogenic mushrooms) can impact both of these stress-regulating systems.
In other words, mushrooms with adaptogenic properties may help to calm the nervous system response and regulate the fluctuation of hormones (such as cortisol, the stress hormone) in way that helps the body maintain homeostasis. Everyone experiences stress triggers and has a stress reaction, so that means that adaptogenic mushrooms may be beneficial for nearly anyone that doesn’t have a mushroom allergy or other contraindications.
Not all mushrooms are adaptogens. In fact, not all mushrooms are safe to consume. Of the mushrooms we know to be edible, however, a handful of them have holistic properties that may be beneficial for treating a variety of ailments. A few of these mushrooms are also thought to have adaptogenic properties, which mean they may have general wellness benefits that range outside of specific health needs.
Some of the most popular adaptogenic mushrooms include:
Although there are quite a few mushrooms that have been labeled as adaptogens, far fewer of them have been researched in a significant capacity. Still, there is some research to help us understand the potential benefits of some adaptogenic mushrooms, including these four funguses:
Cordyceps is one type of mushroom that has been studied for it's potential adaptogenic effects. Human trials are 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.
Although these studies do shed some light on the potential stress-regulating effects of cordyceps, more evidence is needed to understand the full extent of it's adaptogenic nature.
Hericium erinaceus, commonly known as lion’s mane, is another mushroom thought to offer adaptogenic effects. 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.
Read “Lion’s Mane Benefits” to learn more.
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.
Read “Maitake Benefits” to learn more.
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.
The most important safety consideration is the quality of the mushroom supplement you choose. While you can find most of these mushrooms in fresh, dried, powdered, encapsulated, or tincture form, you still need to be wary of how each product is made. Look for a product that’s made from high-quality ingredients by a manufacturer that uses third-party testing to ensure the absence of potentially harmful compounds, like pesticides, heavy metals, or mold.
In general, most high-quality adaptogenic mushroom supplements (including the ones mentioned previously) are well tolerated by those who do not have a mushroom allergy. Most research involving maitake, cordyceps, lion’s mane, or reishi taken in supplement form reports very few, if any, side effects.
In some cases, mild side effects have been reported. Some of the side effects most commonly reported include:
More specifically, though, the possibility of side effects depends on the mushroom formula you choose. Here are some potential side effects to be aware of for each of the adaptogenic mushrooms we mentioned above:
Cordyceps is possibly safe for most people who do not have a mushroom allergy. Some possible side effects include upset stomach, constipation, or diarrhea.
You may want to avoid cordyceps if you:
Lion’s Mane was not found to produce any adverse effects in rodents, even when used in high doses. While no serious health effects have been identified, it’s important to remember that everyone’s experience with Lion’s Mane may be different. In rare cases, some people experience an allergy to Lion's Mane.
Some people may need to avoid Lion’s Mane. You may want to avoid Lion’s Mane if:
Maitake is generally well tolerated and is a regular part of diet and cuisine in many parts of the world. In fact, the edible mushroom is often considered a delicacy that’s forged during its harvest season and cooked fresh.
Still, some people should avoid supplementing with maitake, including people who:
Evidence has shown that Reishi may not be safe for those who have a bleeding disorder, are taking blood-pressure-lowering medication, or who are pregnant or breastfeeding. There have also been two reported cases of liver toxicity after taking reishi in larger doses.
You should also avoid reishi if you take the following medications:
Research on the benefits and efficacy of adaptogenic mushrooms is still limited, but anecdotal reports are increasingly positive. Many people have found that a functional mushroom blend helps to fill gaps in their energy levels, focus, immune function, stress levels, and more.
The adaptogenic mushroom formula for you depends on your specific needs, but many people find that a multi-functional mushroom blend provides the most benefits.
Not all medicinal mushrooms are considered adaptogenic. Some have specific benefits designed to treat one or a few specific ailments. Many functional mushrooms, however, are thought to have adaptogenic properties thanks to their beta-glucan and terpenoid content.
Yes, Lion’s Mane is frequently considered to be an adaptogenic mushroom with potential benefits for enhancing cognitive function.
As is true for many supplements, most adaptogenic mushrooms have not been tested for safety and efficacy when used for those who are pregnant or breast feeding. This doesn’t necessarily mean that adaptogenic mushrooms are unsafe for pregnant women, but you should talk to your practitioner before incorporating any new supplements into your wellness routine.
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