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I always wondered about the thought process of the first person who saw a mushroom and said, “wow, I am going to try that”. What would lead someone to consider mushrooms as a food source? How many mushrooms did they try until they crossed paths with a poisonous one? There are so many questions to ponder about how mushrooms became food.
Beyond their savory flavor, the benefits of mushrooms go well beyond their versatility in cooking. Many mushroom varieties are also loaded with health-promoting properties. In the vast kingdom of fungi, functional mushrooms are those that stand out offering a variety of health benefits.
While the health benefits of mushrooms have been known for centuries across various cultures, it’s only recently that modern science has started to uncover the depth of their potential. Let’s explore these mushrooms, what they can do for you, and why they are such a huge food trend.
What are Functional Mushrooms?
Functional mushrooms contain a wealth of what we call bioactive compounds. These are compounds that actively help improve or support our health in some way. Some of these compounds found in mushrooms include polysaccharides, beta-glucans, and antioxidants. Each has specific health benefits helping contribute to the mushrooms’ ability to boost the immune system, support cognitive function, reduce stress, and offer anti-inflammatory benefits.
Due to these health-promoting benefits, functional mushrooms are finding their way into our health routines and commonly used products. They are now widely found in coffee, dietary supplements, and functional foods. Incorporating these mushrooms into your lifestyle promises a host of benefits, backed by both ancient wisdom and contemporary research.
Health Benefits of Functional Mushrooms
From bolstering the immune system to enhancing cognitive function, the benefits of integrating functional mushrooms into your routine are vast. Let’s explore some of the key health advantages these fungi offer.
One of the best understood benefits of functional mushrooms is their ability to support the immune system. Varieties such as Reishi and Turkey Tail are rich in beta-glucans, a type of carbohydrate that stimulates the immune system by enhancing the activity of certain immune cells.
Some varieties of mushrooms, such as Lion’s Mane, are known to help protect brain health and function. Lion’s Mane contains compounds that stimulate nerve growth factor (NGF), a protein that helps maintain brain health. Regular consumption of Lion’s Mane may improve memory, focus, and overall cognitive function.
Stress, Depression, and Anxiety
In our fast-paced world, chronic stress and anxiety are a major health concern for most of us, but functional mushrooms offer a natural remedy. Adaptogenic mushrooms may help the body adapt to stress and exert a calming effect on the nervous system. This effect on the nervous system can result in reduced feelings of anxiety and depression, helping restore brain balance.
Anti-inflammatory and Antioxidant Properties
Chronic inflammation is at the root of many diseases and functional mushrooms are renowned for their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits. These mushrooms help the body scavenge free radicals protecting cells from damage and reducing inflammation. This not only supports overall health but lowers the risk of chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Energy and Stamina
For those seeking a natural energy boost, certain mushrooms like Cordyceps help the body’s production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), used for energy. Athletes and fitness enthusiasts may find functional mushrooms particularly beneficial for improving exercise performance and recovery times.
Functional mushrooms can address a variety of health concerns with just a few little fungi. As research continues to discover their full potential incorporating them into our daily routines can be a powerful step towards achieving optimal health. In the next sections, we’ll delve deeper into the specific types of functional mushrooms and practical ways to include them in your lifestyle.
Best Functional Functional Mushrooms
Now that you have a general understanding of some of the functional mushroom benefits, which ones should you add to your routine? Each fungus has a slightly different benefit, so here is a rundown of the most common mushrooms you might see in foods, supplements, and beverages.
Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)
Often referred to as the “mushroom of immortality,” Reishi has been used in Eastern medicine for thousands of years. It is considered an adaptogen, as it helps balance the body’s response to stress. It also has benefits for immunity, stress reduction, and improving sleep.
Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus)
Lion’s Mane is distinguished by its unique, shaggy appearance, resembling a white lion’s mane. This mushroom is known for its brain-boosting properties, including supporting nerve growth and brain health. Research suggests that Lion’s Mane can improve memory, focus, and support the regeneration of nerve cells.
Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis)
Cordyceps mushrooms are known for their energy-boosting and performance-enhancing effects. Traditionally used by athletes to improve stamina and endurance, Cordyceps can increase the body’s production of ATP, a molecule that delivers energy to muscles.
Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor)
Named for its colorful, fan-like appearance that resembles a turkey’s tail, this mushroom is a potent immune booster. Turkey Tail is packed with certain types of compounds that support immune health and are even being evaluated for use in cancer treatment.
Chaga (Inonotus obliquus)
Chaga mushrooms grow primarily on birch trees in cold climates and are rich in antioxidants. Known for their anti-inflammatory and immune-enhancing properties, Chaga mushrooms can help reduce oxidative stress and support overall health.
By understanding the unique properties of each of these mushrooms, you can tailor your intake to your specific health needs and goals to enhance your overall wellness.
How to Add Functional Mushrooms to Your Routine
Whether you’re new to the world of fungi or looking to expand your mushroom repertoire, there are so many different ways to enjoy the health benefits they offer. Here are some of our favorite trendy ways to add more mushrooms to your diet.
For those interested in functional mushrooms that are too bitter to consume as food (looking at you Reishi), dietary supplements are a great option. Functional mushroom supplements come in various forms:
- Powders: Easily mixed into smoothies, juices, or teas, mushroom powders are a versatile option for incorporating into your daily diet.
- Capsules and Pills: These provide a measured dose of mushroom extracts without the taste.
- Tinctures: Liquid extracts can be taken directly or added to water that can be easily absorbed (but the taste can vary)
- Gummies: Our absolute favorite mushroom supplement is Fungies, a line of mushroom-infused gummies that are so tasty and easy to add to your routine.
When choosing supplements, look for products that specify the type of extraction used (e.g., water or alcohol extraction) and the concentration of active compounds.
There are several varieties of mushroom infused coffee or coffee-like beverages that include these functional fungi. The blending of functional mushrooms with coffee or tea helps reduce the jitters associated with caffeine while enhancing focus and energy.
Some of our favorite brands of mushroom coffee or beverages include:
Four Sigmatic: Four Sigmatic offers mushroom-infused coffee. They have different types of coffee infused with different mushrooms, so you can select the type depending on the health benefit.
Mud/Wtr: Mud/Wtr is a coffee alternative made with a variety of functional mushrooms and other beneficial ingredients.
These mushroom coffees can be used to replace your regular cup or added to your mid-afternoon routine for a brain-boosting pick-me-up.
Final Thoughts on Functional Mushrooms
While functional mushrooms are generally safe for most people, there are a few things to be aware of before adding them to your routine. Choose high-quality, organically grown mushrooms or reputable supplement brands to avoid contaminants.
Always start with small doses to see how your body reacts, especially if you’re new to functional mushrooms. Do not consume more than what is on the label, particularly for dietary supplements.
If you have allergies, are pregnant, breastfeeding, or on medication, consult with a healthcare provider before adding functional mushrooms to your routine.
By incorporating functional mushrooms into your lifestyle, you can tap into an ancient source of wellness that supports your health in numerous ways. Whether through dietary supplements, functional foods, or culinary exploration, these fungi offer a natural, holistic approach to enhancing your well-being.