Discover top mushroom species and their health benefits. Learn about their potential immune-boosting and cognitive-enhancing properties to improve well-being
Mushrooms have been consumed for their powerful health benefits throughout history. The ancient Greeks considered mushrooms the “Food of Gods,” and used them to strengthen warriors before battle. Chinese culture has considered mushrooms an “elixir of life” for centuries.
Today, we still value the health benefits of these fungi because they are low in calories, carbohydrates, fat, and sodium yet rich in health-enhancing nutrients.
Although there is a lot of overlap in vitamins and minerals between mushroom species (most are cholesterol-free and rich in selenium, copper, B vitamins, and antioxidants), certain types of mushrooms have specific benefits that you can use to target your health goals:
Inonotus obliquus, commonly called chaga, is a fungus that resembled burnt charcoal and grows on birch and other trees. Chaga is considered an adaptogen, meaning it is a natural substance that helps improve (adapt) the body’s stress response for enhanced adrenal health.
Chaga is known as “The King of Mushrooms” because of its incredible health benefits, namely combatting systemic inflammation with its potent antioxidants. This, in turn, supports immune, digestive, and skin health. However, the benefits don’t stop there. Research shows that chaga may even have cancer-fighting properties. One study found that supplementing with chaga resulted in a 60% reduction in tumor size in mice.
Cordyceps militaris, or cordyceps for short, is another incredibly effective adaptogen that not only supports a healthy stress response but improved mood, energy, and stamina. In fact, cordyceps has been shown to be so powerful in improving mood and energy, it is frequently used in traditional Chinese medicine to support one’s Qi.
Recent studies have also linked cordyceps to anti-aging properties such as reduced fatigue, enhanced physical strength, improved memory, and boosted sex drive.
Hericium erinaceus is most commonly known as Lion’s Mane but goes by a variety of different names including Pom Pom Mushrooms, Monkey Head Mushroom, and Brain Mushroom.
As its nickname Brain Mushroom suggests, Lion’s Mane has been shown to support memory and enhance cognitive abilities. This is because Lion’s Mane is effective at combating oxidative stress in the brain and supporting the production of nerve growth factors. In fact, Lion’s Mane has been found to be beneficial in minimizing and alleviating depression and anxiety that is due to systemic inflammation issues in animal studies. Researchers believe that this is likely because the decrease in inflammation improves the functioning of the hippocampus, reducing anxious and depressive behaviors while also improving memory capabilities.
Grifola frondosa is widely known as Maitake Mushroom. “Maitake” means “dancing mushroom” in Japanese and it is said that this mushroom received its name because people would dance with happiness upon finding it in the wild because of its incredible healing properties.
Although Maitake Mushroom has been used in Japan and other Asian cultures for thousands of years, it has really only gained popularity in the United States over the last twenty years.
Maitake boasts a wide variety of benefits but is most notable for its ability to balance blood sugar and lower cholesterol. Studies on mice with type II diabetes found that maitake extract improved glucose levels and is likely to have similar benefits in humans.
Moreover, Maitake Mushroom is great for boosting vitamin D levels, which is associated with a variety of immune-boosting qualities and may help protect against a cold, flu, or virus.
Maitake is another mushroom that is linked to anti-cancer properties. A 2013 study considered Maitake Mushroom can be beneficial in preventing and treating breast cancer as animal studies have shown this mushroom can fight against the growth and reproduction of cancerous cells.
Lentinula edodes, or Shiitake Mushrooms, originated in East Asia and have grown to become one of the most cultivated varieties of mushrooms around the world.
Shiitake Mushrooms are rich in vitamin D, B vitamins, magnesium, selenium, and other potent vitamins and minerals. Because they are so nutrient-dense, Shiitake Mushrooms are linked to enhancing energy levels, promoting heart health, lowering cholesterol, improving immune function, supporting liver function, and namely, aiding in weight loss.
This is because Shiitake Mushrooms are packed with hypolipidemic, which are known for fat-reducing properties. Plus, because they promote energy levels, Shiitake Mushrooms can support help give you the boost you need to enjoy some exercise or daily movement, further supporting weight loss and metabolic health.
Shiitake Mushrooms are another type of mushroom that is linked to cancer-protecting properties. They contain a compound called, lentinan, which has been shown to inhibit the growth of leukemia (cancer) cells. In fact, in China and Japan, an injectable form of this compound is used in addition to chemotherapy to treat certain types of cancer.
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Tremella fuciformis, known as Tremella for short, is considered the ultimate anti-aging mushroom and is sometimes referred to as the “beauty mushroom.” One of the main reasons Tremella is so effective at promoting healthy skin is because it is incredibly hydrating. As a jelly fungus, Tremella can hold up to 500 times its weight in water. Moreover, it is loaded with vitamin D, which is essential for skin cell growth and repair, as well as antioxidants, which prevent signs of aging such as wrinkles due to oxidative stress. Such nutrients are also why Tremella is great at promoting immune health and combating systemic inflammation.
Studies published in 2018 showed Tremella was actually able to inhibit the development of chronic inflammation and could consequently be a potential treatment for inflammation-related diseases including heart disease, obesity, and tumors.
Trametes versicolor, or Turkey Tail, contains two types of polysaccharopeptides (compounds) known as Krestin (PSK) and Polysaccharide Peptide (PSP), which possess powerful immune-boosting properties. Research indicates that these compounds may be effective in fighting cancerous cells because both activate and inhibit specific immune cells and suppress inflammation.
More specifically, PSK stimulates dendritic cells that promote immunity to carcinogens and also regulate the immune response. PSK also activates white blood cells (macrophages), which are responsible for protecting the body against harmful bacteria. Such properties also help promote a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut.
In regards to PSP, studies have linked this compound to increased levels of a type of white blood cells called monocytes, that fight infection and boost immunity.
Therefore, because of these potent compounds and other beneficial vitamins in Turkey Tail such as vitamin D, antioxidants, and more, this mushroom is often recommended to those looking to combat cancerous cells.
Mushrooms have been acknowledged as a healing food for thousands of years. They are truly one of the original “superfoods.” Incorporating organic mushrooms into your diet can offer a variety of health benefits, helping you feel better and live longer.
Mushrooms are also available in supplement form, making them easy to incorporate into your daily routine. If you are interested in supplementing with mushroom extract, consider utilizing FullScript, a trusted online dispensing platform that ships pharmaceutical-grade supplements straight to your front door.
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Medically reviewed by Next Health Clinical Director, Jessica Brewer