Mushrooms and Health: Exploring Functional Varieties by Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD (Garden of Life)
Mushrooms are popping up everywhere lately, and not just in your backyard. They can be found in tea, coffee, gummies, supplements, and a variety of health products. Why are these fungi suddenly so popular and should you try this newest health trend?
What are functional mushrooms?
There are over 2,000 species of edible mushrooms, and most of us are only familiar with a handful that we might find on grocery shelves. But mushrooms are much more than food.
Western medical research is starting to catch up to the potential of mushrooms for promoting health and well-being. Functional mushrooms are those that have specific nutritional properties with possible benefits for health.
Mushrooms are a source of antioxidants, polysaccharides, B vitamins, minerals, sterols, and a type of fiber called beta-glucan. Some of the health benefits that researchers have evaluated for functional mushrooms include:
As researchers continue to study mushrooms, we likely will learn more about their health benefits.
Types of functional mushrooms
There are a few functional mushrooms that stand out and that you may see when looking for a mushroom product.
Lions Mane looks just like a shaggy white lion’s mane and has potential benefits for brain function, mood, and digestive health.
Reishi is a kidney-shaped mushroom and is one of the most widely studied. It contains compounds that support natural detoxification and immune function, and promote relaxation.
Chaga mushrooms are best known for supporting immunity, skin health, and healthy blood sugar. They are also a rich source of antioxidants.
Cordyceps are sometimes called the “energy mushroom” because they help support increased oxygen uptake (Vo2Max) during exercise.
Turkey Tail has benefits for digestive health due to the positive impact it can have on beneficial bacteria in the gut. It may also have immune health benefits.
Other mushrooms that deserve an honorable mention for their health benefits are Tremella, Shiitake, Maitake, and King Trumpet.
How to use functional mushrooms
When adding mushrooms to your routine, some of them can be cooked and added to recipes, such as Lion’s Mane. But others can be quite bitter or difficult to find fresh. This is why many people opt for supplements, powders, or beverages with mushrooms.
Functional mushroom products may contain individual mushrooms or a blend like our Herbals Brain Health Capsules. This product provides a blend of 10 different mushrooms and other beneficial ingredients to support immune benefits, as well as other beneficial ingredients to support immune health.
Mushrooms are extracted in various ways and supplements may contain different parts of the fungus. Some contain whole fruiting bodies, which includes the entire mushroom and likely has the most health benefits. Other products just contain the mycelium or the “roots” of the mushroom which may not provide as many health benefits but are typically easier to grow.
While you can take a mushroom supplement at any time, some may have relaxing or energizing properties. For example, Lion’s Mane and Cordyceps are good for increasing energy, whereas Reishi may make you sleepy, so match the mushroom to your desired state of mind.
Mushrooms will most certainly continue to pop up in health products, beverages, and other functional foods, as we have just scratched the surface of their potential health benefits. Bookmark this article to come back and reference the different mushroom types and their common uses, but be sure to check in with your healthcare practitioner before adding anything new to your wellness routine.