5 Functional Mushrooms Offering Benefits Supported by Science
A quick search online and you’ll find numerous sources listing many traditionally-recognized health benefits of functional mushrooms, also referred to as medicinal mushrooms: better digestion, improved sleep quality, stress relief, disease prevention, and so on—these are definitely some exciting claims!
But what does the scientific research actually say? Fortunately some recent, fascinating research offers some key conclusions in a few functional areas and opens the door for more research to come.
Here are 5 functional mushrooms we chose to source for Landish products and why—keeping it science-based.
Reishi mushrooms are nicknamed “the mushroom of immortality” because of their immune-boosting and anti-cancer properties. The bioactive constituents found in reishi mushrooms are antioxidants (most notably triterpenes or triterpenoids) and the polysaccharide beta-glucan. Immune boosters improve the body’s defense against foreign invaders, like bacteria, viruses and cancer cells, by stimulating the production of white blood cells. In one study, 40 male athletes experienced an improvement in lymphocyte function after six weeks of consuming reishi mushroom extract daily (1). Although it is not recommended as a primary treatment, research has suggested that consuming reishi mushroom can be beneficial in conjunction with cancer therapy because of its potential to enhance tumour response, support immune function and improve quality of life (2).
Similar to reishi, chaga is traditionally known for supporting the immune system, reducing chronic inflammation and fighting tumours. Research suggests that the consumption of chaga supports the immune system by secreting cytokines and regulating antigen-specific antibody production(3). The compound inotodiol, which chaga extracts from the birch trees in which it grows, has been shown to have anti-cancer activity. In one study, chaga was recognized as an antitumour agent because of its ability to stimulate apoptotic cell death and to inhibit the growth of cancer cells (4).
Cordyceps militaris mushrooms are thought to increase the production of the molecule ATP (adenosine triphosphate) in the body, which plays a key role in delivering energy to the muscles. This may help to explain cordyceps’s ability to improve physical performance and to fight fatigue and lethargy (5). In a study of 37 healthy adults, participants who consumed cordyceps for six weeks showed a significant improvement in oxygen uptake (a measure of physical fitness) during exercise, while the oxygen uptake of participants given a placebo was unchanged (6)(7).
Lion’s mane mushroom is known for its ability to support brain health and improve cognitive function. The compounds erinacines and hericenones, found in lion’s mane, stimulate the synthesis of nerve growth factor (NGF), a protein responsible for the development and survival of neurons (brain cells) (8). This has been linked to better cognitive performance in humans and has been shown to help protect against Alzheimer’s disease in mice (9)(10).
5. TURKEY TAIL
Aptly named, turkey tail (trametes versicolor) mushroom is traditionally known for its immunomodulatory effect due to its profile of immune-boosting compounds, such as polysaccharopeptide (PSP), polysaccharide krestin (PSK) and antioxidants (11)(12). Research has shown that PSP from turkey tail mushrooms significantly increases the production of monocytes (white blood cells) that protect the body from infection (13). Although the consumption of turkey tail extract is not a replacement for cancer treatment, it has been shown to significantly increase the anti-tumour effect of cancer therapy by improving the function of natural killer cells that are often impaired in cancer patients (14).
What should I look for when choosing a functional mushroom product?
Not all functional mushroom products are created equally and choosing a high-quality product is key.
There are three main categories of products available on the market: (1) mushroom fruiting body extracts, (2) mushroom fruiting body non-extracted powders, and (3) mycelial products often labelled as “mycelial biomass” which are grown on and blended in with grain.
We’ll soon dive into this topic in more detail but for now, we’ll just mention that mushroom fruiting body extracts are the best and the only ones worth buying, since their properties and benefits are backed by research and those of the above-mentioned alternatives are not. Also note that at Landish, we only use organic mushroom fruiting body extracts in our products to ensure maximum efficacy.
Zhang, Y, Lin Z, et al. (2008) Effect of Ganoderma lucidum capsules on T lymphocyte subsets in football players on living high-training low.
Jin, x, Beguerie, J.R, et al. (2016) Ganoderma lucidum (Reishi mushroom) for cancer treatment.
Oka, S, Tanaka, S. (2010) A water-soluble extract from culture medium of Ganoderma lucidum mycelia suppresses the development of colorectal adenomas.
Haas, E.M. (2006) Staying Healthy with Nutrition: The Complete Guide to Diet and Nutritional Medicine.
Lessard-Rhead, B. (2013) Nutritional Pathology.
Song, F.Q, Liu, Y, et al. (2013) Progress on understanding the anticancer mechanisms of medicinal mushroom: inonotus obliquus.
Hak Lee, S, Hwang, H.S. (2009) Antitumor activity of water extract of a mushroom, Inonotus obliquus, against HT‐29 human colon cancer cells.
Xu, YF. (2016) Effect of Polysaccharide from Cordyceps militaris (Ascomycetes) on Physical Fatigue Induced by Forced Swimming.
Hawkins, M, Raven, P, et al. (2007) Maximal oxygen uptake as a parametric measure of cardiorespiratory capacity.
Yi, X, Xi-zhen, H, et al. (2004) Randomized double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial and assessment of fermentation product of Cordyceps sinensis (Cs-4) in enhancing aerobic capacity and respiratory function of the healthy elderly volunteers.
Lai, PL, Naidu, M. (2013) Neurotrophic properties of the Lion's mane medicinal mushroom, Hericium erinaceus (Higher Basidiomycetes) from Malaysia.
Tsai-Teng, T, Chin-Chu, C, et al. (2016) Erinacine A-enriched Hericium erinaceus mycelium ameliorates Alzheimer's disease-related pathologies in APPswe/PS1dE9 transgenic mice.
Zhang, J, An, S. (2016) The Neuroprotective Properties of Hericium erinaceus in Glutamate-Damaged Differentiated PC12 Cells and an Alzheimer’s Disease Mouse Model.
Blagodatski, A, Yatsunskaya, M, et al. (2018) Medicinal mushrooms as an attractive new source of natural compounds for future cancer therapy.
Knežević, A ,Živković, L. (2015) Antigenotoxic Effect of Trametes spp. Extracts against DNA Damage on Human Peripheral White Blood Cells.
Sekhon, B.K, Man-Yuen Sze, D, et al,.(2013) PSP activates monocytes in resting human peripheral blood mononuclear cells: immunomodulatory implications for cancer treatment.
Lu, H, Yang, Yi. (2011) TLR2 agonist PSK activates human NK cells and enhances the anti-tumor effect of HER2-targeted monoclonal antibody therapy.
Registered Holistic Nutritionist
As an Ottawa-based Registered Holistic Nutritionist, Cat spends her time working in clinics, supporting clients one-on-one, running nutrition and culinary workshops, and delivering corporate presentations. Returning to the school where she obtained her diploma in Natural Nutrition, Cat is currently pursuing her passion and talent for teaching as an educator at the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition. A lifelong learner, Cat has practiced many trades throughout her career, including engineering, international development, and working as a doula, but her greatest passion is reserved for holistic health and nutrition.