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The medicinal value of the mushroom has been used all around the world since ancient times. And we’re not just talking about alternative and folk medicine here because millions of lives are saved every single year thanks to modern medicines made with compounds found in fungi.
Penicillin, Augmentin, Lentinan, Fucidin, and Ergotamine, are just a few examples of FDA-approved pharmaceutical drugs that contain fungal metabolites.
So, let’s take a look at why mushrooms are so good for you, as well as get to know seven of the most nutritious mushrooms and how they may benefit your health.
Top 7 medicinal mushrooms list:
- Cordyceps mushroom
- Chaga mushroom
- Lion’s mane mushroom
- Turkey tail mushroom
- Reishi mushroom
- Shiitake mushroom
- Maitake mushroom
How healthy are mushrooms?
Mushrooms are an often under-celebrated, low-calorie superfood that are packed with vitamins, fiber, protein, and antioxidants. They’re also a great source of selenium and are well-known for boosting your immune system, supporting healthy bones, and improving your heart health, among other things.
However, the chemical composition between different species of fungi does vary, meaning that different mushrooms can elicit slightly different health benefits.
Medicinal Mushrooms Benefits
In order to better understand the health benefits offered by mushrooms, we just need to take a quick look at some of the compounds they contain and access research that shows us how our bodies respond to them.
All mushrooms contain these compounds, but different species of mushrooms have higher concentrations of some compounds over others, which is why one mushroom may be recommended over another for a specific effect. Medicinal mushrooms are called as such because they contain particularly high concentrations of beneficial compounds.
Beta glucans are polysaccharides, which is a form of fiber that can potentially improve cholesterol levels and heart health, as well as boost immunity and inhibit tumor growth.
Scientists are also studying the beneficial role of beta-glucans in obesity and metabolic syndromes and have discovered that a vital food component in the modulation of metabolic dysregulation.
Lentinan is also a polysaccharide that is found in the fruiting body of shiitake mushrooms. It is widely prescribed for use, in Japan and China, for cancer treatment and prevention, as a cholesterol-lowering agent, for immunostimulation, and as an anti-infectious agent.
Are mushrooms good for weight loss?
Polysaccharides may also help reduce body weight and prevent weight gain. Both turkey tail and reishi mushrooms have particularly potent levels of polysaccharides.
A thorough research review on triterpenoids showed that they displayed antiviral, anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic, and anti-tumor properties.
The anti-inflammatory properties possessed by triterpenoids may also help to protect the liver.
Ergosterol is a precursor to vitamin D2 and currently gets most of the credit for the anti-cancer effects of medicinal mushrooms. Further to this, evidence also suggests that ergosterol possesses anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
Statins (like lovastatin) are commonly used in pharmaceutical drugs to help lower cholesterol. They work by blocking a substance in your liver that your liver needs in order to make it.
Lovastatin can be found in higher amounts in the mycelium of mushrooms (particularly cordyceps sinensis) and, in slightly lower amounts, in the fruiting bodies of oyster and button mushrooms, making them the best mushrooms to eat if you have high cholesterol.
Although this list could go on, we’ll give our final mention to ergothioneine which, as well as displaying potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, has been referred to as a longevity vitamin by some scientists. This is mainly due to its potential in preventing and mitigating the risk of chronic diseases of aging.
Top 7 Medicinal Mushrooms and Their Benefits
As mentioned earlier, all mushrooms contain the beneficial compounds listed above, which is why you’ll see many of the potential therapeutic effects on this list repeated time and time again. However, due to the different concentrations found in each variety, some are recommended over others for treating specific problems.
Mushrooms are also the only good, natural source of vitamin D (if you exclude foods that have been fortified with vitamin D), which is essential bone and heart health. However, like humans and animals, mushrooms need to be exposed to UV light in order to produce it and, unfortunately, many commercially grown mushrooms are grown in the dark.
Without any further ado, here is our list of the top seven medicinal mushrooms and a shortlist of their potential health benefits:
Number one choice for increased vitality and lung function
Cordyceps mushrooms are most often used to:
- Increase libido and energy
- Improve lung function
- Boost athletic performance
- Lower blood sugar
- Lower blood pressure
Number one choice for beauty, anti-aging, and weight loss
Chaga mushrooms can be used to:
- Decrease signs of premature aging
- Reduce oxidative stress, which can cause damage to cells, protein, and DNA
- Aid digestion
- Lower inflammation
- Decrease blood sugar levels
- Lower blood pressure
- Lower bad cholesterol levels
Number one choice for brain health
Lion’s mane mushrooms are most commonly used to
- Improve cognitive health (including your ability to think, learn, and remember)
- Boost mood and relieve symptoms of anxiety, and depression
- Decrease your risk of heart disease
- Reduce inflammation and oxidative stress
- Boost immunity
- Help manage diabetes
- Speed up recovery time from injuries and operations
Number one choice for boosting your immune function
Turkey tail mushroom supplements could potentially be used to:
- Boost immune function
- Aid digestion, as well as improve overall gut health
- Decrease inflammation
- Improve energy and athletic performance
- Decrease resistance to insulin
5. Reishi mushroom benefits
Number one choice for stress relief and sleep
Reishi mushrooms are most commonly used to:
- Improve mood and decrease symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression
- Boost immunity
- Help with weight loss
- Boost heart health
- Lower blood sugar levels and decrease insulin resistance
- Offer speedier recovery and healing
- Aid sleep
6. Shiitake mushroom benefits
Number one choice for improved cardiovascular health and healthy bones
Shiitake mushrooms may be used to:
- Improve circulation and heart health
- Fight infection and stimulate immunity
- Lower cholesterol
- Decrease inflammation
7. Maitake mushroom benefits
Number one choice for regulating blood pressure and improving overall metabolic health
Maitake mushroom supplements may be used to:
- Improve metabolic health
- Regulate blood pressure
- Lower risk of heart disease
- Combat stress
- Support immune system
- Improve cognitive function
Where to Buy Medicinal Mushrooms
Like most supplements, medicinal mushrooms can be purchased in powder format, within capsules or to make tea with. You can buy them from most good health food stores, drug stores, and some larger supermarkets. However, if you want the best choice and price, then you’re probably better off purchasing them online but be warned, one quick Google search will return thousands upon thousands of options.
So, read our handy medicinal mushroom buyer’s guide below to help you shop with confidence and select a high-quality, effective product.
Best Medicinal Mushrooms: Buying Guide
With so much choice available these days, how can you be sure that you’re buying the healthiest medicinal mushroom product? Keep reading to understand how medicinal mushroom supplements can differ from each other in terms of quality, safety, and effectiveness.
Clean, Organic Source
The best mushrooms for health will be premium quality, meaning you need to look for a clean and organic mushroom source. Mushrooms are literally sponges when it comes to soaking up anything and everything in their environment
For commercial purposes, mushrooms are often grown as quickly and cheaply as possible, sometimes using growing substrates that contain harmful toxins and chemicals that can compromise the quality of the end product.
Extract vs Powder
You’ll also have to choose between medicinal mushroom extract or powder.
If you want to take a medical mushroom supplement to access one or two compounds in particular, then a mushroom extract may be the better choice as they are often considerably more potent than powder.
Mushroom extracts also may tend to be more expensive, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are better than those containing mushroom powder because mushroom powders undergo a lot less processing. Nutrients, like prebiotic fiber, are left intact in full-spectrum mushroom powders and many people believe that whole plant supplements like this are far superior, offering more effective results due to natural compound synergy.
Fruiting bodies vs Mycelium
Another choice you’ll be faced with is whether you want a supplement that contains the fruiting bodies of mushrooms, the mycelium, or both. The fruiting body is the mushroom itself (cap and stem) that grows on the surface, but the larger part of the mushroom, the mycelium, is a filamentous web that exists underground in the material that the mushroom was growing from.
Fruiting bodies are often considered to be more effective as they contain a wider array of nutritional components and, sometimes, higher levels of triterpenes, but it would be foolish to ignore the healing properties of the mycelium.
Compounds such as lovastatin (which can help to lower cholesterol) and GABA (which has mood-boosting and anti-anxiety properties) are actually found in higher concentrations within the mycelium of fungi.
Also, lion’s mane is known to support nerve health and brain function due to the compounds hericenones and erinacines. However, these compounds are found in the fruiting body and mycelium respectively, suggesting that lion’s mane supplements could potentially benefit brain and nerve function better if they contained both.
Depending on what you want to achieve from your medicinal mushrooms, complimentary ingredients can be added to offer even more effective results.
For example, echinacea or garlic could be added to help improve immune support, or cannabinoids CBD and CBG could be infused into the mix for enhanced mood-boosting effects.
Watch Out for Fillers
You should also watch out for fillers that may have been added to the product to bulk out the weight offered. Starch is often used as a filler in supplements and, since mushrooms are naturally low in starch, the amount contained within a product can sometimes give you a good indication of whether fillers have been added.
Reliable, honest companies will be transparent about their ingredients and the highest quality supplements will contain no more than around 5% starch. If the starch isn’t listed, then we would recommend avoiding it altogether, as, in reality, it could contain up to 70% fillers.