by Dr. Will Cole
While you might like mushrooms on your pizza, in your pasta, or as part of a stir-fry, did you know that mushrooms have potent medicinal properties as well as some pretty powerful anti-aging effects? Mushrooms have been used for thousands of years in many cultures as good medicine, and research is now starting to prove what people have known for years: Mushrooms are a legitimate superfood.
In my functional medicine clinic, I encourage my patients to consume mushrooms regularly, and to try different varieties. There are thousands of different types of mushrooms, ranging from delicious to poisonous to psychedelic, but I focus on the ones that are considered adaptogenic. These varieties support and bring balance to different areas of the body that are out of whack. They contribute sulfur to aid in methylation—your body’s regulator of detox and inflammation pathways—and can even make you look and feel younger.
So next time you hit the grocery store, step away from your usual Portobello or button mushrooms, and give some next-level varieties a try to seriously elevate your health:
Current research is proving chaga’s ability to help heal various ailments, but one of it’s star qualities is its phenolic content, which makes chaga a free radical fighter. This helps to reduce cell oxidation and for more glowing skin.
Chaga also has antiviral properties that can fight the flu and has been shown to boost and rebalance the immune system. Chaga can even take down cancer cells – lung, brain, and liver cancer cells have all been found to decrease with intake of chaga.
For natural beauty support, look no further than cordyceps. This mushroom acts like a fountain of youth by increasing the antioxidants glutathione peroxidase and superoxide dismutase while decreasing the aging activity of lipid peroxidation and pro-inflammatory monoamine oxidase. Cordyceps can also rebalance hormones and restore energy in those struggling with adrenal fatigue.
3. Lion’s mane
The absolute best mushroom for brain support, Lion’s mane has potent neuroprotective properties, so it’s the perfect choice for clearing brain fog and enhancing cognitive function. The power comes from the nerve growth factors found in Lion’s mane, which protect and regenerate brain tissue. One study found that those who took a lion’s mane supplement for 16 weeks showed significantly higher cognitive function compared to those who didn’t.
Also known as Royal Sun Agaricus, this mushroom is a next-level cancer fighter, thanks to a specific protein called blazein that has been shown in studies to kill cancer cells. One study showed that in just three days of use, this mushroom began to kill lung cancer cells, and in just two days, stomach cancer cells began to die.
Multiple studies have shown that maitake can slow the growth of cancer cells and suppress tumor growth through its immune-boosting abilities. Maitake can also improve glucose tolerance and blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.
Load up on oyster mushrooms if you are struggling with systemic inflammation. They have been found to soothe inflammation and aid in healing inflammation-related health problems such as cancer and heart disease.
With 50 percent of Americans being either prediabetic or diabetic, it’s hard to deny that blood sugar dysregulation is a serious problem. When they are ongoing, blood sugar problems can throw hormones out of balance and contribute to fatigue, weight loss resistance, chronic inflammation, and so much more. One great way to manage the epidemic of blood sugar issues is a plant-based ketogenic diet. Add in nutrient-dense reishi mushrooms and high blood sugar won’t stand a chance.
Multiple studies have proved reishi’s ability to lower blood sugar in those diagnosed with diabetes by working upstream to down-regulate alpha-glucosidase, the enzyme responsible for turning starch into sugar in the body. Reishi can also help improve symptoms associated with diabetes, such as kidney problems and poor wound healing.
Popular in Chinese cuisine, this mushroom is packed with B vitamins and works to support optimal brain health and healthy adrenal function. Shiitake is yet another cancer fighter and has been shown to shrink tumors. This mushroom also has powerful antimicrobial properties and cholesterol-lowering abilities. It’s one hard-working (and delicious) mushroom.
9. Turkey tail
Perhaps one of my personal favorites from this list, and also one of the most well-researched of medicinal mushrooms, turkey tail is my go-to choice for patients dealing with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) and candida yeast overgrowth. It’s also another cancer fighter and immune system booster – one study showed that the polysaccharide known as PSP in turkey tail greatly improved immune health in 97 percent of cancer patients.
Since some mushrooms really are poisonous, some may be wary of trying mushrooms they haven’t heard of before, but the beauty of adaptogens is that they are generally safe for everyone. Since every person’s health case is different, what works for one person may not be the most relevant for another, but every mushroom mentioned in this article is safe for all. Specific dosages can vary, but I generally recommend that my patients have some type of adaptogenic mushroom at least three times a week. Start with a lower amount and give your body time to adjust before gradually increasing your dosage or frequency.
How do I eat them and where do I find them?
Personally, I prefer to incorporate whole mushrooms into my regular meals, sautéed as a side dish, or on top of my salads. When buying whole mushrooms, it is essential to look for organically grown varieties. Because mushrooms are extremely porous, they easily absorb pesticides and other chemicals. Depending on the stores in your area, it may be more difficult to find organic versions of adaptogenic mushrooms, since they are such a specialty item. If you can’t find some of these mushrooms, you can buy them in dried form online or, to save on cost, buy an organic kit online and grow your own! Not only will you be getting nutritious food medicines, but you’ll have a fun new hobby!
If you’re not a fan of the taste or texture of mushrooms, you can also get these in powdered form, extracts, or in supplement form. Just like the whole food versions, make sure these are organic. Some of my favorite brands include OM and Four Sigmatic. When you are in a hurry, powders are a great way to get in your 3x/weekly servings of adaptogenic mushrooms. Add them to any beverage, smoothies, soups, or sprinkled on top of your favorite meals. I think they make a tasty addition to coffee, and can elevate your latte to adaptogenic status! Here is a recipe to try:
Age-Reversing Mushroom Latte
- 1 cup organic hot coffee
- ½ teaspoon each powdered chaga and cordyceps
- 2 tablespoons raw cacao powder
- 1 tablespoon raw organic honey or other desired sweetener; add more or less to taste
- Desired amount of almond or coconut milk
- Add hot coffee into a large coffee mug.
- Add in mushroom powder, cacao powder, and desired sweetener to coffee and stir to combine.
- Pour in milk and froth with a milk frother.
- Sip and savor!
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