by Dr. Will Cole
Mushrooms are not just for the top of your pizza or for those seeking a psychedelic experience. Certain mushrooms have been used throughout history and across many cultures for their medicinal benefits. Research is finally catching up with folk medicine, as we learn exactly why medicinal mushrooms offer so many health benefits.
Join me on a stroll through the magical mushroom kingdom. These special fungi can do some amazing things for your energy, brain, hormones, and immune system. No pizza required.
An eastern European traditional folk medicine, chaga can help to address a variety of health problems such as stomach diseases and tumors. Research is now validating this folk remedy, underlining chaga’s many health benefits.
One study found chaga was able to reduce the pro-inflammatory nitric oxide and cyclooxygenase. This could be because chaga is jam-packed with antioxidant power, so it is a super-scavenger of harmful free radicals. Think berries on steroids!
Chaga has also been shown to fight off viruses. In one study, the water-based extract of chaga exhibited antiviral activity against common viral infections such as the flu. This superfood medicine was also shown to have immune balancing effects as well. If all that wasn’t enough, research has also shown chaga to be a cancer killer. Certain cancers of the liver, lung, and brain, were all decreased with chaga.
Watch out cancer, Shitake was also shown to have cancer-fighting properties. One Japanese study found that mice given shitake extract saw shrinking of their tumors. Shitake was also found to be beneficial in improving heart disease and lowering cholesterol.
Himematsutake, or Royal Sun Agaricus, is another super cancer fighter. One study looked at a special protein found in this Royal mushroom called blazein. Blazein actually has the ability to kill cancer cells – a study showed that after only two days of treatment for stomach cancer and only three days for treatment of lung cancer, cancer cells began to die.
4. Lion’s Mane
Lion’s Mane is king of neuroprotective mushrooms and I believe it should be a regular adaptogen for anyone struggling with brain fog or memory loss. Nerve Growth Factors (NGFs) found in this mushroom have the ability to regenerate and protect brain tissue. So far, about a dozen studies have been published on the neuroregenerative properties of lion’s mane. One small-scale study gave patients four 250 mg tablets containing 96 percent mushroom powder three times a day for 16 weeks. Those who took the lion’s mane powder showed significantly increased scores on the cognitive function scale compared with the placebo group.
Lion’s mane has also been shown to be beneficial for people struggling with anxiety and depression. Post-menopausal women who consumed lion’s mane baked into cookies showed less anxiety and depression and also had better concentration in just four weeks.
5. Turkey Tail
Turkey tail, named for its colorful stripes, is probably the most researched of the adaptogenic mushrooms. Many of the studies centered around the medicinal benefits of mushrooms have been small-scale studies, but so far, turkey tail has the most larger scale studies to prove its adaptogenic talents.
Turkey tail contains two powerful polysaccharides called PSP and PSK (aka Kreskin) which is at the center of a $5.4 million collaboration between Bastyr University and the University of Washington and funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Researchers found that a daily dose of turkey tail improved immune function in women with stage I to III breast cancer. PSP has also been shown to significantly enhance immune status in up to 97 percent of cancer patients studied.
Unlike most pharmaceutical drugs, turkey tail also showed no negative side effects in the study. Hooray for plant medicines! I also use turkey tail with some of my patients struggling with gut overgrowths, such as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) and candida overgrowth.
Cordyceps is the fountain of youth in the mushroom kingdom. One study out of China found that cordyceps extract was able to dramatically increase powerhouse antioxidants superoxide dismutase and glutathione peroxidase. This special fungus also decreased aging pro-inflammatory monoamine oxidase and lipid peroxidation activity.
A double-bind placebo-controlled trial also found that cordyceps acted like an adaptogen, or hormone balancer, helping people struggling with fatigue increase their levels of energy and endurance.
A staggering 50 percent of America is either prediabetic or diabetic, and that number will most likely grow if we continue to progress the way we have been. Studies have shown that the polysaccharides and triterpenes in reishi extracts decreased excessive fat storage seen in people struggling with weight gain, and also lowered blood sugars in diabetics.
Reishi is able to down-regulate alpha-glucosidase, the enzyme responsible for breaking down starches into sugars. This magic mushroom was also shown to help with kidney problems and wound healing in diabetics.
Adaptogen Mushroom Recipes
Although you could take adaptogenic mushrooms in supplement forms, there are more natural ways to reap their benefits.
These superfood mushrooms typically come in a few forms:
- dry powders
- whole food form
Go for the form that works best for you and your daily routine. Of course, talk with your doctor about your interest in supplementing with anything. Here are some tips:
1. Choose organic.
Any way you bring healing mushrooms into your life, make sure they are organic and harvested from a trusted source.
2. Grow your own if possible.
Mushrooms are easy to grow and there are many places to buy your own mushroom starter kit. This is a fun, affordable way to get these foods into your diet. They typically come in terrariums or logs which are inoculated with mushroom spores. When they grow into delicious fungi, you can then add them to salads and soups.
3. Try this healing anti-inflammatory mushroom elixir recipe.
- 1.5 cups plain full-fat organic coconut milk
- 2 pitted medjool dates (more if you want it sweeter!)
- 2 tablespoons raw cacao powder
- 1 tablespoon raw organic honey
- 1 teaspoon maca powder
- 1 teaspoon chia seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon each of organic powdered reishi, chaga, lion’s mane, cordyceps, turkey tail, shitake, and himematsutake
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
- Himalaya sea salt to taste
- Blend all ingredients in a blender.
- Serve cold or, if it’s chilly where you are, warm it up in a pot and enjoy!
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