Mushroom Mania

Shoppers who think mushrooms are strictly a culinary item are missing out. Mushroom supplements benefit the body in many significant ways.


Mushrooms contain large concentrations of 1,3 beta-glucan,  polysaccharides that play a role in supporting a healthy immune system response (1). Medicinal mushrooms also offer antioxidant activity and support for the heart, liver, inflammation balancing help, blood sugar balancing, brain and more (2). Studies haven’t confirmed that mushrooms can cure, treat or prevent any disease, however. Here are seven mushrooms that should be on your radar:


1. Maitake (Grifola frondosa)

Maitake has a unique molecular structure that has exhibited great immune support effects. Preliminary research also suggested the mushroom may have antitumor activity, though additional research is needed to confirm this finding (3).


Initial research suggests that maitake may benefit individuals undergoing chemotherapy. In a study of 671 patients, combining chemotherapy with maitake reduced hair loss, pain and nausea, as well as the pain that comes with conventional treatments (3).


Some believe maitake makes chemotherapy more effective, though this work needs more backing. One study compared the effects of maitake beta-glucan extract and the chemotherapy drug mitomycin (MMC) on mice with cancer and found that the maitake beta-glucan alone inhibited tumor growth more effectively (80% inhibition) than MMC (45% inhibition). The most effective tumor inhibition was observed with the combination of these two substances with almost 98% inhibition. This pairing may be beneficial because maitake supports immune function while the MMC directly diminishes tumor cells (3). Maitake was also shown to be effective in a study of stages 2–4 cancer patients who were given either maitake beta-glucan or maitake beta-glucan in addition to chemotherapy. Cancer regression or significant symptom improvement occurred in more than half of the breast, liver and lung cancer patients in the combination group (3).


Additional work in mice and rats suggests maitake may be helpful for supporting balanced blood sugar levels (4).


2. Caterpillar Fungus (Cordyceps sinensis)

This mushroom attracted attention in 1993 when several Chinese runners broke nine world records and attributed the results to their use of a cordyceps-based tonic, which was said to support stamina and healthy energy levels (3). Animal studies have suggested that cordyceps improves the ability of organs and tissues to use oxygen more efficiently and increases the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) for energy (3).


For similar reasons, cordyceps also has a history of use for supporting respiratory health and some studies suggest support for those with asthma and other respiratory issues, though more research is needed before it can be called a treatment (3).


This mushroom may also benefit healthy adrenal and sexual function. Studies suggest cordyceps may balance adrenal hormones and protect against adrenal atrophy (3). In a double-blind clinical trial, patients with decreased sex drive were given cordyceps or a placebo. Those receiving cordyceps reported improvement that was significantly better than those taking a placebo (3). Another study found the supplement supports healthy testosterone levels and nitric oxide production in men (5).


Some researchers believe that cordyceps also supports proper kidney function. Small animal studies suggest the mushroom offers “antiapoptotic and anti-inflammatory activity” in rats with impaired kidney function. Decreases in several markers of inflammation (i.e., MCP-1, TNF-a and iNOS) were also found (5). And scientists believe the mushroom supports the function of mesangial cells, which help the kidneys filter out residue and toxins.

Both human and animal studies also suggest a diverse amount of cardiovascular benefits (3). A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study looked at the effects of cordyceps on elevated cholesterol levels and found that over half of the patients using cordyceps therapy had more than a 10% decrease in total cholesterol and more than a 10% increase in HDL (so-called “good”) cholesterol (3).

Cordyceps has also been found to have antioxidant properties in some clinical studies, which research suggests helps keep the brain healthy with age, both structurally and functionally (3, 5).

3. Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)
Reishi is said to have cardiovascular benefits. In one trial of 33 people with hypertension, researchers found blood pressure was significantly reduced over two weeks’ time thanks to reishi supplementation (3). In a separate small study, reishi increased HDL-cholesterol levels in individuals (6). This species contains phytosterols that researchers believe act as precursors to hormones in the body, along with triterpenes that may have blood-pressure support and anti-allergy/antihistamine benefits (6).

Reishi has also been shown to support healthy blood sugar levels. This activity may be due to polysaccharides known as ganoderans A, B and C. Studies suggest the mushroom inhibits alpha-glucosidase, an enzyme that breaks down starches into sugars (7).

In vitro studies suggest reishi supports a healthy inflammation response. One found that 220 mg of reishi extract and 50 mg of reishi powder had comparable effects to 5 mg of hydrocortisone (3).

4. God’s Mushroom (Agaricus blazei)
This mushroom  contains a beta-glucan complex that supports a healthy immune system, including activating T-lymphocytes, granulocytes and C3 complement, though more research is needed (3). This mushroom is also said to support healthy cholesterol levels with one small clinical study showing that agaricus reduced cholesterol levels in healthy subjects. Also, although there are limited data, one small clinical study showed that agaricus supported normal cholesterol and blood glucose levels in healthy subjects (8).


5. Turkey Tail (Coriolus/Trametes versicolor)
Turkey tail is known for its immune health benefits. In some countries, cancer patients are prescribed polysaccharide-K (PSK) derived from this mushroom (3). In a 10-year study giving PSK and radiation therapy to 185 stage 1, 2 and 3 lung cancer patients, the five-year survival rate of patients drastically increased (3).

More than 400 studies found immune-support properties of Coriolus versicolor in healthy people and those with chronic conditions. For instance, PSK and PSP (another Coriolus compound) improved immune function in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy (9).

6. Shiitake (Lentinula edodes)
Shiitake contains Active Hexose Correlated Compound (AHCC), an alpha-glucan rich oligosaccharide that may have several beneficial properties (10).

Lentinan, a polysaccharide, is associated with the medicinal properties of shiitake and has had extensive research done to show that lentinan does not kill cancer cells directly, but enhances multiple aspects of the immune system, which suggests the slowing of tumor growth (11). In a study of 16 people with advanced cancer, lentinan was injected into malignant areas of certain individuals. Researchers found that a better survival time for those who received the polysaccharide than those who didn’t (129 days versus 49 days) (3).

Compounds in shiitake also have cholesterol-support effects in animal (11) and human studies, which showed a 7–14% decrease in cholesterol when volunteers consumed large amounts of shiitake (3).

7. Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus)
Lion’s Mane is an established medicinal mushrooms for neural health due to its regenerative capability in nerves (12) and may have potential benefits for those with mild age-related cognitive impairment. Researchers gave 30 older adults with mild cognitive impairment lion’s mane or a placebo daily for 16 weeks. Overall, members of the lion’s mane group “significantly increased scores on the cognitive function scale compared with the placebo group” (13).

This mushroom also has benefits for memory support and has been studied in individuals experiencing memory loss caused by build-up of amyloid beta in the brain, which is associated with degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. This mushroom is hypothesized to promote the secretion of nerve growth factor, a specialized protein necessary for the growth and maintenance of neurons in the nervous system (14).

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