A Closer Look at Medicinal Mushrooms

By Farah Hillou

Medicinal mushrooms, including Reishi, Chaga, Maitake, Shiitake, Lion’s mane and Turkey Tail, have long been used in Chinese, Egyptian and Greek medicine for their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, immune-supporting, anti-microbial and anti-tumor effects.

Research has shown that they provide a rich source of nutrients including fiber, selenium, B vitamins, vitamin C and vitamin E, in addition to bioactive compounds such as alkaloids, flavonoids, and phenolic compounds. Moreover, they contain polysaccharides, most notably beta-glucan which is believed to be the primary active compound responsible for the health benefits of medicinal mushrooms.

Below is a summary of some of the commonly used medicinal mushrooms:

  • Reishi: often referred to as the “king of mushrooms”, has been used in Chinese medicine for increasing vitality, lowering blood sugar, improving heart health, and protecting against liver damage. Beta-glucans found in Reishi act as prebiotics and have beneficial effects on gut microbiota. They may also have anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor effects. 
  • Chaga mushrooms are rich in a variety of nutrients including zinc, copper, selenium, potassium, magnesium, and B vitamins. They are rich in key antioxidants, which may help slow the aging process, and prevent cellular damage caused by everyday toxins. Although still being researched, Chaga mushrooms show promise in helping to slow growth of cancerous cells. Moreover, chaga mushrooms may help control blood pressure, reduce blood sugar levels, and lower cholesterol levels.
  • Lion’s mane: as the name indicates, this mushroom has a white, fur like appearance that resembles the mane of a lion. It is known for its brain-boosting and protective effects. It has been shown to stimulate the growth of nerve growth factors in cells of the nervous system, which tend to decline with age. Lion’s mane mushroom may also help boost beneficial bacteria in the gut, reduce inflammation, and enhance the immune system.
  • Turkey tail: this type of mushroom obtains its name from its close resemblance to the tail feathers of a turkey. Traditionally used against fungal and bacterial infections, it can also improve stamina and support gut health. Turkey tail contains natural polysaccharides, including polysaccharide K (PSK), which can support the immune system and help reduce cellular inflammation. In certain countries like China and Japan, Turkey tail may be taken alongside chemotherapy (best to check with your physician).

There are many ways that medicinal mushrooms can be incorporated into the diet. The powder versions can be blended with a smoothie, added to oatmeal and puddings, or mixed into tea/coffee.

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