Does the sound of medicinal mushrooms sound off-putting, or gross to you?
Yes, we’re going to tell you to put mushrooms in your coffee, and it probably won’t end there, but we promise you that there are many great reasons.
Medicinal mushrooms have been used since the days of antiquity to treat a range of diseases, from diabetes and intestinal issues to fighting seasonal colds and cancers. And while their use has mostly been documented in Russia, China, and Japan—along with other Asian and Far Eastern cultures—we are now seeing a “Mushboom” in the West.
At Zoomer’s, we are confident that traditional treatments and folk remedies have their place in today’s world. Like you, though, we don’t take our personal health and wellness lightly, and look for scientific research and evidence when it comes to decisions that can impact our overall well-being.
Luckily, as medicinal mushrooms have made their way into the West, there has been a growing body of intensive research that is revealing the chemical nature and mechanisms of their medical benefits.
But, before we dive into our guide to these medicinal mushrooms and their benefits, we put together a (very) brief history of medicinal mushrooms to get you caught up on how it all started.
A (very) brief history of medicinal mushrooms.
Nature has long been our true source of medical inspiration. Through evolution, it has produced a vastly diverse universe of biologically active compounds that possess enormous therapeutic potential.
Natural products have already given us a number of compounds widely used in anticancer chemotherapy. At the same time, the pre-existing application of these products in traditional medicine and folk remedies has always been a clue pointing us in the direction of new compounds with therapeutic potential.
Cancer fungotherapy, a promising scientific field today, has on its own been a critical part of traditional medicine worldwide for thousands of years.
The concept of treatment through fungi officially made its first appearance in Traditional Chinese Medicine, dating back several thousands of years. And while the ancient Chinese repertoire of remedies included hundreds of herbs and fungi, the latter were considered to be more effective natural remedies for a range of tumor types.
And it wasn’t just China. For centuries, other countries in East and Southeast Asia placed a premium on the benefits of medicinal mushrooms. In Russia, fungal medicine products were ubiquitous, and were in fact the main sources of medicinal compounds until the 18th century.
What were they used for, you ask?
What’s interesting is that medicinal mushrooms found their place across an impressive range of medical benefits, from fighting cancer, treating diabetes and intestinal issues, and curing infections to relieving stress and giving that crave-worthy skin glow.
But… are medical mushrooms’ benefits even real?
Today’s market can be a bit overwhelming. Everyday, it feels like there’s a new brand popping up in our Instagram feeds promising the latest potions, elixirs, tonics, and natural remedies for every pain, ache, and complaint we have.
Even cafes have hopped onto the bandwagon, offering ultra-trendy mushroom lattes to an increasingly curious audience (move over, matcha).
So how can you hope to keep track of what’s worth your time?
That’s why we went full Hardy Boys on this. We’re constantly sifting through all the noise—investigating trends, compiling science-backed evidence, and starting conversations with doctors and nutritionists—to make sure you get information and advice that’s supported by data, without going through all the trouble.
At this point, you might also be asking yourself “are these medicinal mushrooms the same ones I’ve been seeing at the grocery stores?”
The short answer?
The longer answer is, while those delicious everyday mushrooms are loaded with antioxidants and compounds that help boost your immune system, and can even be used as meat substitutes, they aren’t the tasty fungi we’re talking about today.
Today, we’re diving into the world of the six most commonly used medicinal mushrooms, which pack a seriously powerful punch but don’t taste nearly as good. Luckily, there are many ways to consume them (like our Protect+heal. ground mushroom coffee), which we’ll get to later on in the article.
A word of caution before proceeding: While some mushrooms are healthful (think: hormone regulators, nootropics, immunity boosters), some can make you very sick. It’s important to do your research to understand what is safe to consume and what you’re seeking help for. Everyone’s needs are different, so when in doubt, call the doctor!
The 6 medicinal mushrooms we’re covering in this article are:
- Turkey Tail
- Lion’s Mane
The top 6 medicinal mushrooms: Recommended daily dose, benefits, and how to take them.
Note that these shrooms aren’t a cure-all. As mentioned earlier in the article, while there is a robust and growing body of research, mushroom studies are still new to Western medicine.
Until the research is irrefutable, we suggest thinking of them as immune system helpers or mini-vaccines against fatigue, anxiety, inflammation, and cancer.
Reishi - aka lingzhi, the ‘mushroom of immortality’
Recommended daily dose: 1000mg (1 gram) to 1500mg (1.5 grams)
Scientific name: Ganoderma lucidum
Superpower: Boosting immunity and balancing the body
Active compounds: Triterpenes and polysaccharides
Dates back to: 206 BC China, where the medicinal mushroom was used to promote gut and digestive health, boost the immune system, and protect against viruses, bacteria, and parasites
Reishi can help with:
- Maintaining an optimal immune system
- Fighting cancer cells
- Relieving anxiety, stress, and depression
- Improving focus
- Sleeping better
- Curing seasonal allergies
How and where to spot reishi mushrooms
Dating back to 206 BC, the reishi mushroom was first discovered for its medicinal use in the Han Dynasty. Its kidney shape, distinctive orange-red color, and shiny finish give it a distinct appearance. And since it has no poisonous look-alikes, they’re generally safe to forage.
This fungus has a worldwide distribution in both tropical and temperate geographical regions, and are abundant in the northern Eastern Hemlock forests.
In nature, reishi mushrooms typically grow at the base and stumps of deciduous trees, and they especially love maple trees. It is a pretty rare specimen, however, and only grows on 2 or 3 trees out of every 10,000. But because of its popularity, reishi cultivation has advanced and is now effectively cultivated on hardwood logs, sawdust, and woodchips.
Reishi mushrooms for preventing and treating cancer
Traditional Chinese Medicine has used reishi to treat immunological disorders, inflammation, and cancer for thousands of years.
And for good reason.
Although it (obviously) doesn’t grant its user immortality, reishi mushrooms do possess two very powerful therapeutic agents: triterpenes, anti-inflammatory compounds with incredible benefits, and polysaccharides, which stimulate the immune system. And because of these compounds, studies report that reishi was able to suppress specific types of cancer, especially breast cancer cell growth.
The craziest part?
Reishi mushrooms and the case for immortality
You may have heard reishi being referred to as the mushroom of immortality. But how did it get that name, and what does science have to say about it?
In addition to fighting cancer cells, the therapeutic agents in reishi also protect us from pathogens like viruses, bacteria, and parasites.
Here’s where the ‘immortality’ bit comes in.
Reishi helps with staying in a preventative state by improving your overall health and wellness. By reducing oxidative stress, which happens when proteins in our skin are damaged by environmental stressors (like pollutants and toxins), the triterpenes found in reishi can reverse wrinkles and other signs of aging.
And it doesn’t end there.
Reishi mushrooms for mood-boosting
In addition to protecting our cellular DNA and mitochondria from oxidative stress, the combined powers of the polysaccharides and triterpenes also keep us energized and alert while maintaining hormonal balance.
Reishi acts as a natural antidepressant and anxiolytic, meaning it can help with alleviating anxiety, depression, and insomnia. These disorders are normally caused by hormonal imbalances, either as a result of our diet, our personal experiences and traumas, our thought patterns, or all of the above.
By establishing hormonal balance, this medicinal mushroom promotes a general sense of well-being, simultaneously allowing your body to relax and recover during the night, the way it was designed to.
How to take Reishi mushrooms
While reishi mushrooms are edible, the whole form of the medicinal mushroom contains an indigestible fiber with an unpleasant texture. So, while you won’t find them in the produce section, you’ll be able to find reishi powders and extracts in the herbal supplements aisle.
Reishi also comes in other forms, like capsules, supplements, and tinctures. If you’re a coffee-lover that’s looking to integrate this medicinal mushroom with their morning routine, our Protect+heal. ground mushroom coffee was specifically formulated to provide the combined benefits of reishi, chaga, and turkey tail mushrooms to protect and heal you from external, internal, and mental stressors.
Whichever form you go for, please make sure it uses the red and purple varieties, which are slightly more expensive but well worth the added cost.
Some of our customers report that they’ve treated severe seasonal allergies, colds and flus, and even some types of nerve damage within days. When it comes to anxiety and stress, it may take around 2 weeks or more to feel relief.
When shouldn’t I take reishi mushrooms?
We’ve yet to discover any side effects associated with these medicinal mushrooms, but we would highly recommend looking for certified organic or pure brands.
If you’re still nervous, and you’re seeing a holistic nutritionist or integrative doctor, let them know you’re interested in trying reishi and what you’re trying to treat with it. They will likely be able to recommend the right brand and dosage for you.
Alternatively, shoot us an email at email@example.com. We would love to help!
Turkey tail - for fighting cancer and boosting immunity
Recommended daily dose: 3000mg (3 grams) to 9000mg (9 grams)
Scientific name: Coriolus versicolor or Trametes versicolor
Superpower: Protects cancer patients
Active compounds: Polysaccharide-K (PSK) and polysaccharopeptide (PSP)
Dates back to: 15th century China, where it was used to treat various ailments and support immune functions
Turkey tail can help with:
- Treating cancer and cancer prevention
- Fighting infections, the common cold, and flu
- Supporting immune response
- Aiding digestion
How and where to spot shiitake mushrooms
Dating back to the 1400s, the turkey tail mushroom was first discovered for its medicinal use in the Ming Dynasty. Since the 1960s, researchers in Japan have performed extensive research on how this super-abundant colorful mushroom helps the immune system.
Turkey tail is one of the most abundant mushrooms on the planet, and can be found growing on dead trees, logs, branches, and stumps in temperate forests all over the world.
This medicinal mushroom is dubbed turkey tail because the colorful rings, which come in brown, orange, maroon, blue, and green, look similar to a turkey’s plumage. Known as yun zhi in China and Kawaritake in Japan, turkey tail’s cloud-like formations symbolize longevity, health, and spiritual attunement in many Asian cultures.
Turkey tail mushrooms for preventing cancer cell growth
The unique beta-glucans PSK and polysaccharopeptide (PSP) found in turkey tail are widely used in Japan to help repair and regenerate immune cells destroyed by chemotherapy, while promoting immune functions to fight further disease and infection. These two beta-glucans are effective due to their ability to regenerate white blood cells and stimulate the activity and creation of T-cells and natural killer cells.
In fact, Japan has approved both PSK and PSP as cancer treatments, where it’s used in conjunction with surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.
In 2012, the FDA approved a $5.4 million research project between Bastyr, the University of Washington, and other institutions funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH). Because chemotherapy suppresses the immune system, the study explored whether patients taking the turkey tail extract were able to maintain healthier immune response.
The researchers studied how turkey tail extract helps patients with advanced cancer, allowing them to take it in combination with conventional chemotherapy. The study is particularly interested in the role of polysaccharides in strengthening the immune system and as an anticancer substance.
Results surrounding turkey tail extract’s potential to fight breast cancer were presented at a 2014 oncological conference in Japan, where polysaccharide-K (PSK) is an approved cancer treatment product. The results showed that the treatment led to an increase in both natural killer cells and other cancer-fighting cells in the patients’ immune systems.
Turkey tail mushrooms for gastric cancer
Studies in Japan show that, on average, patients who had gastric cancer surgery that received chemotherapy and PSK lived longer than those who received chemotherapy alone.
Further studies on patients who underwent successful surgery for gastric cancer found that those who received chemotherapy and PSK were less likely to have recurrent cancer and lived longer than those who did not.
Turkey tail mushrooms for breast cancer
As mentioned above, an ongoing NIH-sponsored clinical trial on patients with breast cancer saw an increase in natural killer cells and other cancer-fighting cells in the immune system.
Turkey tail mushrooms for colorectal cancer
One clinical trial on patients with stage II or stage III rectal cancer found that PSK increased the number of cancer-killing cells and had anticancer effects in tissue that received radiation therapy.
Another review combined results from studies on 1,094 patients with colorectal cancer and found that patients who received PSK were less likely to have recurrent cancer and lived longer than those who did not.
Turkey tail mushrooms for lung cancer
Five clinical trials exploring PSK as adjuvant therapy (treatment that is given in addition to the primary treatment) on patients with lung cancer found that patients treated with PSK and radiation therapy with or without chemotherapy lived longer.
Six randomized clinical trials in patients with lung cancer showed that patients that received PSK in addition to their chemotherapy improved in one or more ways, including immune function, body weight, well-being, tumor-related symptoms, and survival rates.
How to take turkey tail mushrooms
While it is edible, people rarely eat it because of its chewiness and texture. The most popular ways to take turkey tail are by capsule or tea.
Our customers love to start their days with our Protect+heal. ground mushroom coffee, a rich and flavorful blend of our organic and locally-sourced medium-dark roast coffee infused with pure turkey tail, chaga, and reishi. It is’s as practical as it is preventative (and delicious).
When shouldn’t I take turkey tail mushrooms?
Although there aren’t many notable side effects, some people have reported diarrhea and dark stools. If this happens to you, talk to your doctor and discontinue use if further side effects occur.
Cordyceps - for the ultimate pick-me-up
Recommended daily dose: 1000mg (1 gram) to 3000mg (3 grams)
Scientific name: Ophiocordyceps sinensis and Ophiocordyceps militaris
Superpower: Boosts energy
Active compounds: Cordycepin, polysaccharides, sterol, and polypeptides.
Dates back to: 7th-century China, where the medicinal mushroom was used to restore kidney damage, boost the immune system, and treat sexual dysfunction
Cordyceps can help with:
- Enhancing performance, athletically and sexually
- Increasing energy and reducing fatigue
- Alleviating asthma and bronchitis and boosting respiratory function
- Cardiac dysfunction
- Muscle recovery
How and where to spot cordyceps mushrooms
The first recorded use of cordyceps dates back to 620 AD Tang Dynasty. Thanks to this mushroom’s unusual lifecycle, it was widely known as Chinese caterpillar fungus, and described as a mythical creature that transformed from worm to herb between winter and summer.
A parasitic fungus, cordyceps grows by infecting its insect host, the Himalayan Bat Moth, at the larval stage. There, it germinates within its host’s digestive tract, feeding on non-vital organs for nutrients and eventually taking over the host’s hibernating body. In the spring, the mushroom’s fruiting body emerges from its host’s mummified head and disperses spores that infect other larva, repeating the life cycle all over again.
This phenomenon made cordyceps rare and expensive, and synthetic cultivation techniques have developed to meet the demands for mass production. Synthetic cordyceps sinensis, marketed as Cs-4, is the most common synthetically cultivated species. Its structurally similar cousin, cordyceps militaris, may produce higher quantities of the active therapeutic compounds, potentially making it more effective.
Although it has a world-wide distribution, most of the approximately 400 species are found in Nepal, China, Japan, Bhutan, Korea, Vietnam, and Thailand. They are especially abundant in humid temperate and tropical forests.
Cordyceps’ energy enhancing and athletic performance effects
Cordyceps global notoriety as an athletic performance enhancer started in 1993. At the time, China’s Olympic women’s running team broke 3 world records, their performance attributed to their nutrition regimen. Their “secret” sauce? Cordyceps.
While there aren’t many studies that compare the performance of athletes that are taking cordyceps against those that are not, there have been a few with statistically significant results.
Results from a 2016 study on humans revealed significant improvements in maximal oxygen consumption and time to exhaustion after only 3 weeks of acute supplementation, with potential for greater benefits with chronic supplementation. The control group that consumed the placebo maltodextrin shows no significant improvements.
A 2011 study on rats described cordyceps as an exercise mimetic, or compounds that can produce the benefits of aerobic exercise by increasing blood flow, maximizing our body’s ability to absorb oxygen, and acting as an antioxidant.
A 2014 study on humans performing high altitude training found that red blood cell production and maximum oxygen consumption increased with the use of cordyceps.
Better oxygen use and blood flow can improve our ability to clear lactate from our systems—which may allow athletes to endure high intensity exercise for longer—while antioxidants reduce oxidative stress—which can delay fatigue and improve our ability to adapt.
Because of its ability to increase energy and reduce fatigue, cordyceps is a popular and effective supplement with the aging population seeking to counteract fatigue associated with aging. At the same time, its anti-inflammatory properties help with blood flow, overall heart health, and lowering cholesterol.
Cordyceps for libido and sexual dysfunction
The cordyceps mushroom has been used for treating fertility and sexual dysfunction for as long as it has been around. Luckily, recent clinical studies suggest that it not only improves libido, but also increases sperm count, survival rate, and quality.
Sperm production decreases are directly tied to testosterone concentration in blood, which makes it critical for male reproduction.
The results from a 2017 study on both immature and mature mice demonstrated that testosterone production increased significantly after the administration of orally dosed cordyceps, compared to the placebo group, which saw no improvements at all.
The two other groups in the study, which were only exposed to the polysaccharides extracted from cordyceps, also saw improved testosterone production.
In a 2019 study separating rats into 3 main groups—young with no treatment, aged with no treatment, and aged with cordyceps treatment—the latter group demonstrated improved sperm function, average straight line velocity, and progressive motility (movement).
If you’re looking to enhance your sexual health, maybe it’s time you ditch those conventional medicines and their unpleasant side effects for a natural alternative.
How to take cordyceps mushrooms
The most common ways to consume cordyceps are through powders, capsules, and tinctures. Some people like to have them eat them whole.
They can be taken with or without food, at any time of day.
When shouldn’t I take cordyceps mushrooms?
Like chaga, cordyceps may interact with anticoagulants, so consult your doctor in that if that is the case. And if you have diabetes, it has the potential to severely lower blood sugar levels, so we wouldn’t recommend this one for you.
Chaga - for getting your antioxidant and immunity fix
Recommended daily dose: 1000mg (1 gram) to 3000mg (3 grams)
Scientific name: Inonotus obliquus
Superpower: Knocks out the common cold
Active compounds: Antioxidants, polysaccharides, beta-glucans, triterpenes, sterols
Dates back to: 17th-century Russia, where the medicinal mushroom was used to treat everything from cancer to gastrointestinal issues.
Chaga can help with:
- Inflammation caused by a busy, stressful life
- Warding off the common cold
- Shiny, thick hair and glowing skin
- Lowering LDL (the “bad” cholesterol)
How and where to spot chaga mushrooms
A dark black fungus with protective benefits, chaga mushrooms typically grow on birch trees in very cold climates like Canada, Russia, northeast China, and northern areas of Europe and the United States.
Up close, chaga can be described as a clump of dirt thrown at a birch tree. Open it up, and you expose a bright orange center, and one of the highest antioxidant contents of any superfood you can think of.
Chaga’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties
Often referred to as “the king of medicinal mushrooms,” think of the chaga mushroom as nature’s antioxidant powerhouse.
To illustrate how high its antioxidant contents are, 1 gram of dual extracted chaga mushroom powder has more antioxidant ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) values than blueberries by ~53.9x, açai by ~6.1x, and even cacao by ~4.3x.
That means a single serving of chaga tea has the same antioxidant content as 30 lbs of carrots.
As a result of its antioxidant potency, chaga is great at preventing the common cold, and is highly capable of fighting free radicals and inflammation. This makes it an incredible contender for , prevent or treat the growth of cancer, and in some cases lowering low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and managing blood sugar.
If you’re looking for an anti-aging agent, chaga mushrooms have been used to combat oxidative stress (linked to premature skin aging), while making your hair and skin shinier, healthier, smoother, and youthfulyounger-looking
Chaga’s immunity-boosting and cancer-fighting powers
Thanks to its high beta-glucan count, chaga has incredible immunomodulating abilities - meaning it can help stimulate the immune system to fight cancer, infection, and other diseases.
In a nutshell, beta-glucans are naturally occurring polysaccharides found in the cell walls of certain bacteria and fungi, and are found in high concentrations in the chaga mushroom. Recent scientific evidence indicates that these substances increase immune defense by enhancing macrophage (white blood cell) and natural killer cell functions.
Beta-glucans also show anticarcinogenic potential, and may prevent the development of tumors caused by genotoxic carcinogens. These are chemicals that can cause cancer by directly altering the genetic material of certain cells.
How to take chaga mushrooms
Since chaga doesn’t have the greatest texture, it is normally consumed as an extract in powder, capsule, and tincture form.
If you’re looking for a practical and preventative way to integrate chaga mushrooms with your diet, our Protect+heal. ground mushroom coffee is a delicious, non-negotiable ritual. 1 to 2 cups per day can help boost your immune system, improve energy and mood, and reduce inflammation thanks to the combined benefits of chaga, reishi, and turkey tail mushrooms.
When shouldn’t I take chaga mushrooms?
If you have any bleeding disorders or diabetes, talk to your doctor before taking chaga. While people have been using it safely for hundreds of years, they can amplify the effects of anticoagulant medications and insulin.
Overuse of the medicinal mushroom can also damage your kidneys, so be sure to follow recommended dosages. And remember—when in doubt, consult your doctor.
Lion’s mane - for giving yourself a brain boost
Recommended daily dose: 1000mg (1 gram) to 3000mg (3 grams)
Scientific name: Hericium erinaceus
Superpower: Nootropic; improves focus and memory
Active compounds: Hericenones and erinacines
Dates back to: 200 BC China, where the medicinal mushroom was used to support digestive health, boost the immune system, improve brain function, and promote mental well-being.
Lion’s mane can help with:
- Improving memory and cognition
- Boosting concentration
- Protecting your nervous system
- Alleviating anxiety and irritability
- Preventing neurological diseases
How and where to spot lion’s mane mushrooms
Dating back to 200 BC, the lion’s mane mushroom was originally discovered for its medicinal use in the Han Dynasty. A white, hairy pompom that resembles a lion’s mane, it’s pretty easy to see where it got its name.
Although it’s found all over the world, the greatest concentrations can be found in the north eastern part of North America, and in China.
Lion’s mane mushroom for brain boosting
Lion’s mane mushrooms are not just rich in antioxidants and great for strengthening the immune system. While their anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and immunity-boosting powers made it a great general restorative, they also have the rare ability to improve brain health.
Why does that matter?
Lion’s mane mushrooms also help with cognition, memory, and concentration, while alleviating anxiety and irritability. By promoting the production of NGF and its receptors, it not only increases recognition memory, but also improves learning and memory associated with the creation of new brain cells and connections between neurons (synaptogenesis).
Lion’s mane mushroom for age-related neurological disorders
In 2009, a Japanese study discovered that lion’s mane (yamabushitake in Japan) is effective in regenerating cognitive function. The researchers compared the cognitive performance of two groups of 50- to 80-year-old Japanese men and women diagnosed with cognitive impairment. After the study ended, the group that was given 3 grams of 96% yamabushitake dry powder for 16 weeks saw significantly improved scores on the cognitive function scale compared to the placebo group. Talk about regenerative!
As mentioned earlier, lion’s mane helps with forming new connections in our brains. This typically declines with age, which partly explains why our cognitive functions deteriorate.
These medicinal mushrooms contain two rare compounds that can trigger brain cell growth—hericenones and erinacines. These are the specific compounds that promote NGF, and also has the added benefit of preventing the loss of structure, function, or even the death of neurons.
Can it do more?
Yes! Nerve growth factor is potent, and is essential for the maintenance and organization of our neurons. It is widely accepted in the scientific and scholarly communities that the onset of Alzheimer’s is tied to the drop in NGF activities.
How to take lion’s mane mushrooms
The most common ways to consume lion’s mane is through powders, tinctures, and capsule supplements.
Some of our customers report that they feel more focused and that their brain fog is lifted, within days. When it comes to anxiety and stress, it may take around 4 weeks or more to feel relief.
When shouldn’t I take lion’s mane mushrooms?
Lion’s mane consumption has no observed adverse effects.
If you have any pre-existing medical complications or are unsure of whether to take them, ask your doctor or integrated health practitioner for their recommendation.
Shiitake - for heart and cardiovascular health
Recommended daily dose: 5000mg+ (5 grams)
Scientific name: Lentinula edodes
Superpower: Combats inflammation
Active compounds: Lentinan, eritadenine, sterols, and beta-glucans
Dates back to: 12th century China, where the medicinal mushroom was used for replenishing vital energy, nourishing blood, and healing the sick
Shiitake can help with:
- Lowering bad cholesterol and blood pressure
- Improving heart health
- Correcting circulation
- Fighting disease and infections
- Preventing tumors and cancer growth
How and where to spot shiitake mushrooms
Dating back to 1100 AD, the shiitake mushroom was first discovered for its medicinal use in the Sung Dynasty. They’ve also been used for their health benefits for hundreds of years in Japan, Korea, and the geography of today’s Czech Republic.
If you’re already using the incredibly popular shiitake in your kitchen, then you know to look for tan to dark brown mushrooms with thick, domed caps that curl under and have pale spots on the cap.
These big, fleshy medicinal mushrooms typically grow wild in parts of Asia, especially China, Japan, and Korea, and are heavily cultivated in North America. They can be found growing around trees, where the nutrients, along with the weather, have a hand in how it looks and grows.
Shiitake mushrooms for heart health
There are three main compounds in shiitake mushrooms that aid with heart health: eEritadenine, sterols, and beta-glucans.
Eritadenine inhibits has two powers: inhibiting the production of an enzyme involved in cholesterol absorption, and inhibiting a hormone that leads to constricted arteries and high blood pressure.
Sterols are substances found in plants that help block cholesterol absorption, which in turn can help reduce LDL cholesterol (the bad kind).
Beta-glucans, discussed earlier in this article for their ability to boost the immune system (among other things), have proven characteristics in lowering blood cholesterol and blood lipid levels. Beta-glucans have also been shown to significantly lower blood sugar levels in mice.
Other studies on rats with high blood pressure and high-fat diets found that shiitake prevented an increase in blood pressure, while developing less fat in their livers, less plaque on their artery walls, and lower cholesterol levels.
Shiitake mushrooms for weight loss
Obesity is a chronic health problem, and the high-fat diets found in the West don’t help.
If you deduced that the combined characteristics described above make shiitake a weight loss supplement, you’re not wrong.
And the evidence is promising.
In one study, three groups of rats were fed a high-fat diet for a six-week period. The results showed that rats given a high dose of shiitake mushroom diet had 35% lower body weight gains than rats on low and medium shiitake mushroom diets. At the same time, they had a significantly lower fat levels in their blood plasma, and were accumulating fat at a much lower rate.
Shiitake mushrooms for boosting immunity and fighting cancer
The polysaccharides in shiitake, particularly lentinan, are potent anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antibacterial compounds, which may help stimulate the immune system.
One study analyzed the effect of shiitake on age-related immunity impairment and unbalanced gut bacteria in mice. The results showed that shiitake not only successfully restored age-related immunity deterioration, but partly reversed the age-altered decomposition of gut bacteria.
In a recent study on humans, the consumption of shiitake mushrooms rejuvenated cell reproduction and activation. This led to improved immunity and less inflammatory conditions than before consumption.
The results from another study showed that shiitake was able to significantly enhance immune responses, especially in the gut.
In addition to improving immune functions, Shiitake mushrooms may also help with cancer.
In hospitals, Chinese and Japanese cancer treatments like chemotherapy have started to use lentinan alongside gastric cancer treatments, maintaining the immune response and quality of life in patients.
The lentinan polysaccharide—a beta-glucan—in shiitake mushrooms is a potent antitumor and immune boosting substance (known as immunomodulators). By triggering various cellular responses, the medicinal substance in shiitake can suppress tumor cell reproduction.
How to take reishi mushrooms
You can (and should) enjoy shiitake however you want! From stir-fries and soups to sandwiches and pastas, just 5 grams of dried shiitake in a single meal—equal to 1 ounce of fresh shiitake—can significantly reduce inflammation.
The best part?
Dried shiitake can stay in the pantry for months, so make sure you stock up on this delicious medicinal mushroom next time you’re at a Whole Foods. Fun fact: In their 2018 Food Trends Forecast, Whole Foods nominated functional mushrooms as one of the foods of the year.
Shiitake mushrooms also come in pill and powder forms, but make sure to pick a brand with as few added ingredients as possible and an organic label.
When shouldn’t I take shiitake mushrooms?
These medicinal mushrooms are full of purines, chemical compounds found in all living things and in foods and drinks that are part of a regular diet.
However, people with certain diseases, like hyperuricemia or gout, are advised to limit their intake, as they may lead to flare-ups.
Antioxidant: A substance that protects cells from the damage caused by free radicals, unstable molecules that may play a part in cancer, heart disease, stroke, and other age-related diseases. Antioxidants include beta-carotene, lycopene, vitamins A, C, and E, among other natural and manufactured substances.
Beta-glucans: Sugars found in the cell walls of bacteria, fungi, yeasts, algae, lichens, and some plants. They are taken for high cholesterol, diabetes, cancer, HIV/AIDS, high blood pressure, and to boost the immune system in people whose defenses have been weakened by conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome, physical and emotional stress, or by treatments such as radiation or chemotherapy.
Erinacines: Natural substances derived from lion’s mane mushrooms that are studied for their enhancing effects on nerve growth factor.
Eritadenine: A therapeutic compound derived from shiitake that reduces blood cholesterol levels.
Free radicals: A type of unstable molecule that is made during normal cell metabolism. When free radicals build up in cells, they cause damage to other molecules, such as DNA, lipids, and proteins. This damage may increase the risk of cancer and other diseases.
Genotoxic carcinogens: Chemicals capable of producing cancer by directly altering the genetic material of target cells.
Hericenones: Compounds found in the fruiting bodies of lion’s mane mushrooms that induce the production of nerve growth factors.
Immunomodulating agent: A substance that stimulates or suppresses the immune system and may help the body fight cancer, infection, or other diseases.
Lentinan: A beta-glucan (a type of polysaccharide) found in the shiitake mushroom and studied in Japan as a treatment for cancer.
Macrophage: A type of white blood cell that surrounds and kills microorganisms, removes dead cells, and stimulates the action of other immune system cells.
Maximal oxygen consumption (VO2 max): The maximum rate of oxygen consumption measured during exercises of increasing intensity. It reflects the fitness and endurance capacity in exercise performance.
Myelin: An insulating layer or sheath made up of protein and fatty substances that forms around the brain. It allows electrical impulses to transmit quickly and efficiently along the nerve cells. If damaged, these impulses slow down and can cause diseases such as multiple sclerosis.
Natural Killer (NK) cells: A type of white blood cell (lymphocyte) that plays a major role in the host-rejection of both tumors and virally infected cells. They serve to contain viral infections while the immune system generates T cells that can clear the infection.
Nerve growth factor (NGF): The NGF gene instructs our body to create a protein called nerve growth factor beta, an important protein in the growth and survival of nerve cells, especially sensory neurons.
Oxidative stress: An imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in your body, which allows free radicals to freely react with other molecules. The damage caused by oxidative stress can lead to diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, neurodegenerative diseases, and cancer.
Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC): A lab test that quantifies the total antioxidant capacity of food by measuring how well the samples used protect vulnerable molecules from oxidation. The less free radical damage there is, the higher the antioxidant capacity of the test substance.
Pathogen: An organism that causes diseases upon entering the body. Pathogens need a host to survive. They can avoid the host’s immune responses and use the body’s resources to replicate before they exit. They can spread through a number of vectors, including skin contact, bodily fluids, airborne particles, feces, or even by touching the same surface that had previous contact with an infected person.
Polysaccharide: Carbohydrate chains assembled in ways that offer enormous diversity and varying properties, from inducing T cell growth to stimulating the immune system.
Purines: Molecules that form the building blocks of all living things. They are made up of carbon and nitrogen atoms, and can be found in cells’ DNA and RNA.
Sterols: Steroid alcohols that are an important class of organic molecules. They occur naturally in plants, animals, and fungi. The most familiar type of animal sterol is cholesterol, which is vital to cellular health.
T cells: A type of white blood cell that is at the core of adaptive immunity, the system that tailor’s the body’s immune response to specific pathogens.
Time to exhaustion (TE or TTE): Commonly used to evaluate the success or failure of treatments such as endurance training programs or nutritional supplements.
Triterpenes: A broad group of compounds that have been described as anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antimicrobial, and antitumoral agents.