Before the existence of the chemical fuelled drugs that we take now for many ailments that fustigate our bodies - and minds - , before the invention of modern medicine, there was the natural world. That’s how the humankind cured many illnesses and moved forward.
One of the biggest agents of the natural medicine was, and still is, mushrooms!
When you think mushrooms you probably don’t think “superfood”, you probably think pizza toping or ramen soup. Well, think again as the properties of this spongy adaptogen will blow your mind.
What exactly is an adaptogen? The clue in in the name, adaptogens help the body adapt. Adapt to what? The answer is stress! The biggest pandemic of modern times. We aren’t speaking about the stress of a report that needs submitted by Friday 3pm or the traffic jam on the way home, the stress we’re talking about is the stress that many ailments can put on your immune system and organism. Our bodies exhibit something known as “homoeostasis,” which translates into our internal balance or equilibrium. This is your natural state, where our body temperature is normal, stress hormones are low, and we are generally in good health. However, it’s easy for disease to disrupt your body’s homoeostasis. Adaptogens – i.e. mushrooms – contain properties that encourage the body to adapt and respond to stresses and trauma more successfully.
Mushrooms are immensely nutrient-dense, packed with protein, iron, B-vitamins and key nutrients like glycoproteins and polysaccharides. They also come with a collection of health benefits like antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, boost metabolism, improve lipid levels, anti-cancer – the list goes on.
Mushrooms were here way before there were plants and animals. They inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide just like we do. Studies show that up to 40% of the diet of ancient primates consisted of fungi.
Mushrooms were used in Eastern medicine for millennia, usually dried or made into a powder, they were never really meant to be consumed raw or whole. Nevertheless, you can consume them as you like, you will still get all the incredible benefits.
Now, we must be careful not to assume that all mushrooms are the same and all come with all the benefits listed above. All mushrooms are different and every mushroom comes with its own characteristics, although some are common to all fungi. Below is a list of mushrooms that you can add to your nutritional plan to improve your immune system, overall health, recovery time and even performance.
You are probably already using Shiitake on your diet regularly or at least had it a few times in the past. Recent research shows that it can aid in heart health and help decrease blood pressure. Shiitake also can help reduce cholesterol because of the presence of compounds called sterols and beta-glucan, according to a Japanese study. It is also packed with ergosterol, a plant sterol compound that makes up a fundamental part of the cell membrane. Sun exposure converts ergosterol into vitamin D, and a 100g serving of fresh mushrooms will provide 2,000 IU. As well as B-vitamins, selenium, zinc and copper.
Gripping new studies show that Lion’s mane exhibits tremendous potential as an agent to support healthy brain cell (neuron) function. This cascade like growing mushroom is rare in the fact that it fosters the production of the bioprotein nerve growth factor (NFG) and myelin (an insulation around nerve fibers), making it a potent brain and nerve support. Both NFG and myelin are absolutely crucial to brain health. An imbalance in them can contribute to neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis. That makes lion’s mane some serious brain food! Lions Mane has also been shown to improve cognition in a small human study, increase concentration and alleviate anxiety and irritability.
As the name suggests, it is often multi-coloured, with contrasting concentric bands, variously appearing in shades of white, grey, brown, black, blue or even red. Turkey tail has been brewed as a traditional tea for centuries in China, and has become one of the most researched mushrooms in the world. It’s shown so much promise as an adjunctive support for protecting cancer patients from the immuno-suppressing effects chemotherapy that major trials to further investigate these benefits have been launched. It contain mycelium that is also a prebiotic food source for the gut microbiome, and has been shown to be beneficial as an antiviral against the human papilloma virus (HPV).
Also known as “king of the mushrooms”, Reishi has been used in Chinese medicine for centuries to improve resilience and boost immunity. Its characteristics also help to lower cholesterol levels, reduce blood and plasma viscosity and enhances blood oxygenation. It has a potent action against sarcoma, stimulates macrophages and increases levels of tumour-necrosis factor (TNF-α) and interleukins. Overall a true powerhouse growing on oaks and plum trees.
Known as the “dancing mushroom” in Japanese, maitake may help prevent the side effects associated with diabetes by normalizing the immune system. They are particularly high in beta-glucans, polysaccharides that have been shown to boost immunity via increased T cells, B cells, macrophages, and natural killer (NK) cells. That means they’re a great tool for increasing your innate “first-line of defence” immune system, as well as supporting your adaptive “seek and destroy” immune system.
As you see, the array of benefits hat the humble mushroom boosts is immense. The list above is just an small example of what you can unpack with the introduction of mushrooms to your diet and supplementation. Studies are being constantly made to discover other characteristics of this ancient secret ingredient, however you don’t need to wait until modern medicine catches up, you can start discovering the mushroom magic on your next visit to the local market.