There are over ten thousand different species of mushrooms that have been recorded, although there may be more that we don’t know about yet. Throughout the history of humankind, mushrooms have been by our side. We have discovered ways to use mushrooms as food and medicine, and found uses for them as crafting and building materials.
Some mushrooms can be found in restaurants across the world, and others will cause a quick death. A handful of mushroom species have recently been identified as “superfoods” and are making a resurgence in the health world as they appear in supplements like protein powders and teas. These mushrooms are worth knowing about.
Reishi, Lion’s Mane, Cordyceps, and Chaga mushrooms all have cancer-fighting abilities and dozens of scientific studies to back these claims up. But even if you are totally healthy, adding these mushrooms into your diet can help to prevent inflammatory diseases, boost cognitive function, support a healthy nervous system and keep your body stress-free.
Also known as: Lingzhi mushrooms; Ganoderma lucidum; or the mushroom of immortality
Looks like: Typically red or orange; fan-shaped
Tastes like: Woody and bitter, mainly due to a type of sugars called triterpenoids
How to Consume: Reishi mushrooms cannot be eaten raw. You can purchase powdered Reishi mushroom extract, Reishi mushroom powder, or even Reishi wine.
Reishi mushrooms are experience a resurgence in popularity thanks to companies that have advertised Reishi powders as stress-fighting, anti-inflammatory miracle workers. But Reishi mushrooms aren’t a new discovery. Reishi, or Lingzhi, mushrooms have been used in Ancient Chinese medicine for thousands of years. Chinese art from as early as the 14th century features Lingzhi, often with The God of Longevity.
Even when it was used in these early times, Reishi mushrooms were used for a variety of health benefits. Chinese healers used Reishi mushrooms for their ability to replenish Qi (“vital life force,”) increase memory, and fight aging, among other benefits. Nowadays, health experts focus in on four ways that Reishi mushrooms can be used: for mental health benefits, cancer treatment, boosting the immune system, and for a beautiful complexion.
Mental Health Benefits
One of the most popular Reishi Mushroom benefits is fighting stress, anxiety, and depression. Experts who sing the praises of Reishi mushrooms suggest that anyone who experiences stress should try adding these mushrooms into their daily diet. The triterpene in Reishi is the leading cause of its calming effects. In addition to easing anxiety in study participants, triterpene has also helped boost focus and mental clarity.
In 2005, a study was conducted on 132 patients with neurasthenia, a condition that produces symptoms of fatigue and emotional disturbances. The study revealed that the patients that regularly consumed Reishi mushrooms had less fatigue and increased their well-being over the course of eight weeks.
Immune System Health
One of the more popular and well-studied benefits of Reishi mushrooms is its effect on the immune system. Most of the studies that have been conducted have focused on patients who were already inflicted with diseases like cancer, but the results have revealed that Reishi mushrooms have anti inflammatory benefits and encourage cell regeneration.
The benefits of Reishi on the immune system don’t just limit the mushroom to treating one type of disease. One study conducted in Beijing showed that Reishi mushroom essence helped relieve symptoms in elderly patients who suffered from insomnia and palpitations.
A 2012 study conducted on rats suggested that Reishi mushrooms could prove to prevent the symptoms of Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases.
Another study showed that consuming Reishi mushrooms increased the rate of NK cell production. “NK” stands for “natural killer.” These cells are white blood cells that not only attack tumors and types of cancer cells, but also attack other types of virally infected cells. Experts recommend consuming Reishi mushrooms in order to fight against viral infections like the flu.
Reishi mushrooms have also been studied for its ability to treat cancer patients. These mushrooms contain beta-Glucans, a type of sugar that have been shown to prevent tumor metastasis. Similar to beta-Glucans, you can also find triterpenoids in Reishi mushrooms; similar studies have linked triterpenoids to a possible treatment for breast cancer. The study recognizes that triterpenoids can reduce inflammation, which brings us to another reason why people are snatching Reishi mushrooms off the shelves.
The anti-inflammatory benefits of Reishi mushrooms don’t just mean you feel good inside; you also look great on the outside! Beauty experts often connect the anti-inflammatory and circulation-boosting qualities of Reishi to calmer skin and faster hair growth. A collection of mushrooms, including Reishi, in your diet and skincare products can also boost hydration and keep the skin healthy.
Lion’s Mane Mushrooms
Looks like: White; large; shaggy, resembling a lion’s mane or a bearded collie
Also known as: Monkey’s head mushroom, Hericium erinaceus
Tastes like: Seafood
How to Consume: Humans can eat Lion’s Mane mushrooms raw, but they are commonly consumed in a powder. Lion’s Mane extract capsules are also available.
Lion’s Mane mushrooms are an unmistakable species that are as well known for their appearance and shape as they are for their health benefits. The mushroom has spines that give it a “shaggy” appearance. While the Lion’s Mane mushroom has been used for centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is also native to North America and parts of Europe.
Lion’s Mane has similar benefits to the Reishi mushroom due to the presence of beta-Glucans. If you are looking to treat any of the following conditions, you could benefit from either Reishi or Lion’s Mane mushrooms:
- Anxiety and depression
- Neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimer’s, ALS, etc.)
- Various types of cancer
Lion’s Mane also has unique benefits. If you want to manage your blood sugar levels or promote cardiovascular health, try adding Lion’s Mane into your diet or tea.
A Brain Boost
Need help focusing? Lion’s Mane mushrooms can boost cognitive activity. A study conducted in 2009 looked at 50- to 80-year old patients who had been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment. The patients who continually consumed Lion’s Mane mushrooms showed significant improvements in their cognitive abilities without any adverse effects. Other studies have also revealed that Lion’s Mane can improve focus, memory, and concentration.
Blood Sugar and Diabetes Management
Several studies have revealed that Lion’s Mane mushrooms can be used to lower blood sugar in hyperglycemic animals, specifically rats. Hyperglycemia is a common symptom of diabetics. The antioxidant properties in Lion’s Mane mushrooms has made it one of the top mushrooms to study in treating diabetes in the past few decades. The mushroom was used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for that purpose.
The symptoms of diabetes extends past the blood. High blood sugar can result in pain throughout the limbs, specifically the legs and feet. Lion’s Mane mushrooms have helped to reduce that diabetic neuropathic pain in rats.
Improved Cardiovascular Health
Heart health is influenced by a lot of factors, including cholesterol and triglyceride levels. A 2013 study concluded that extracts from Lion’s Mane mushrooms and Capillary wormwood was effective in treating high cholesterol in rats, with the potential to have similar effects on humans. Similar studies showed that adding Lion’s Mane to your diet could help you lose weight and lower your triglyceride levels.
Lion’s Mane mushrooms may also be able to help people suffering from ulcers and other problems with their guts. A 2013 study conducted on rats showed that Lion’s Mane mushroom extracts protected participants from ulcers and greatly reduced the size of stomach ulcers that were present before the extracts were taken.
Also known as: Ophiocordyceps sinensis
Look like: “caterpillar” or carrot-like shape; orange or brown color
Taste like: Mild earthy taste
How to Consume: Cordyceps can be eaten raw, but is typically consumed in powder form. The fungi is popular in coffee for its ability to keep drinkers awake throughout the day.
Cordyceps aren’t just one type of mushroom. There are over 400 different species of Cordyceps, and not all of them sound like pleasant fungi to add to your supplements. If you are a nearby bug, Cordyceps are downright terrifying. Different types of Cordyceps thrive by latching onto an insect and growing out of the insect’s head and brain. Moths, spiders, and wasps alike are vulnerable to this “killer fungi.” Fortunately for humans, Cordyceps can’t take over our brains. This type of fungus has a long list of benefits for humans.
The type of Cordyceps that you will most likely find in your tea is a species similar to Cordyceps sinensis. This type of Cordyceps is also known as the “caterpillar fungus,” and grows after infecting a caterpillar. Most likely, you won’t find a pure form of the caterpillar fungus in your tea; it’s the most expensive mushroom in the world. But similar species, including “Cs-4” and Cordyceps militaris, offer similar benefits.
Cordyceps are often studied alongside Reishi mushrooms, specifically for their ability to combat cancer and boost immune system health. Unique benefits of Cordyceps include improved athletic ability, improved sexual function, and promote kidney health.
Improve Athletic Ability
Studies have shown that different types of Cordyceps can encourage ATP generation. ATP, or Adenosine triphosphate, is a molecule that delivers energy to cells. The food we eat and the carbs that we have stored throughout our body are broken down into ATP before they are used to fuel our muscles.
Cordyceps have been shown to increase ATP production and simultaneously decrease fatigue levels. With more energy to expend, athletes can exercise longer, and recover from exercise faster. In one study conducted on rats, the rats who were given the highest dose of Cordyceps for three weeks saw a 30% increase in endurance.
Improved Sexual Function
Low fatigue doesn’t just affect the ability to hit the gym. Cordyceps are also a popular ingredient in supplements that boost libido. This fungus doesn’t just ramp up the desire to have sex (for both men and women.) For centuries, Cordyceps have been used to treat conditions like impotence and infertility. In one study, researchers observed a 33% increase in sperm count and a 79% increase in sperm survival rate after Cordyceps had been administered to patients for eight weeks. Cordyceps can help a wide range of sexual dysfunctions.
Kidney and Liver Health
Cordyceps are often recommended to people who suffer from chronic kidney disease. In a 2011 study on rats, Cordyceps cicadae was able to significantly relieve symptoms of kidney malfunction. Other studies have shown that the fungi can help to halt the growth of excess mesangial cells that could cause kidney disease in the first place. Similarly, the fungi can be used to halt the growth of excess cells that lead to liver disease.
Also known as: Inonotus obliquus
Looks like: Black on the outside; gold and orange underneath.
Tastes like: Mild and sweet
How to Consume: Chaga can be eaten raw, but that is not necessarily recommended. Chaga is typically boiled for tea, and can be purchased in powder form.
Chaga mushrooms are typically only found on birch trees in Russia, Korea, and countries in the northern parts of Europe and North America. Although Chaga was revered as an “upper herb” by classic books of Traditional Chinese Medicine, the mushroom has much more significance in Russia. Tsar Vladimir Monomakh, who was the ruler of Russia in the 12th century, was known for saying that Chaga mushrooms healed his lip tumor.
Scientists don’t necessarily disagree with the 12th century Russian ruler. Since the 1950s, studies have looked at how Chaga mushrooms can be used to fight cancer. In a 2016 study, mice with tumors in their lungs were given regular does of Chaga mushroom extract. After three weeks, their tumors were reduced by 60%. The same study also revealed that the extract helped to maintain the mice’s body temperature, which is a common symptom of patients with tumors. Other studies have shown that Chaga mushrooms have similar tumor-reducing effects on animals with colon and liver cancer.
Chaga’s ability to fight cancer draws many comparisons to other mushrooms mentioned throughout this post. Similar to Reishi mushrooms, Chaga can help to reduce inflammation. Chaga mushrooms and Lion’s mane mushrooms share similar compounds that can help to manage blood sugar levels and manage symptoms of diabetes. And like Cordyceps, Chaga mushrooms can help to increase physical endurance.
Chaga mushrooms also provide unique benefits that could help patients choose Chaga over other superfood mushrooms. If you have a high risk for blood clots, suffer from inflammatory bowel disease, or have chronic pain, you might want to give Chaga mushrooms a try.
Blood Clot Prevention
Chaga mushrooms are often recommended to patients before or after surgery to prevent blood clots. The mushrooms have been shown to stop platelet aggregation. Platelet aggregation is the process of blood cells coming together to form a clot; while this naturally occurs to stop a wound from bleeding, it can prove to be dangerous if it occurs within the veins and leads to a heart attack. Only use this form of prevention if you are at a high risk of developing blood clots. If you are currently taking blood-thinning medication, Chaga mushrooms can result in unwanted effects.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease Prevention
One of the better known side effects of Chaga mushroom consumption is the relief of oxidative stress. Oxidative stress occurs when the body experiences an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants. A high number of free radicals can cause damage to tissues throughout the body and even your DNA. Chaga mushrooms bring back that balance by eliminating excess free radicals.
Oxidative stress can cause a wide range of health problems, from diabetes and heart disease. It may also cause inflammatory diseases, like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD.) Studies have shown that Chaga mushroom consumption can treat IBD in patients that already have the condition and prevent IBD in patients who are healthy. These studies specifically looked at how Chaga mushrooms affect free radicals in the colon and gut, although the mushrooms are known to reduce inflammation throughout the body.
Chronic Pain Treatment
Chaga mushrooms offer promising uses for chronic pain, similar to traditional drugs like Ibuprofen or Advil. These over-the-counter medicines halt the production and spread of Cyclooxygenase-2 isozyme. Too much of this enzyme (also known as COX-2) can cause pain and fever throughout the body. A 2005 study showed that Chaga mushrooms can limit the effects of COX-2 and potentially reduce chronic pain symptoms.
A Note About Adding Mushrooms into Your Diet
The research done on these mushrooms suggests that they have positive benefits, but taking supplements containing mushrooms may also interact with other medications or medical conditions. Talk to a medical professional before adding supplements or mushrooms to your diet. If you live with conditions including low blood pressure or are pregnant, you may be advised against adding mushrooms to your diet.