Functional Mushrooms

The Hype Over the Health Benefits of Functional Mushrooms

If ever you were curious about the health benefits of functional mushrooms, you have come to the right place! Mushrooms, one of the oldest forms of life on this planet, have been used in many forms (powder, liquid, or solid) all throughout history for food, medicine, and more.

With this in mind, you can look at learning about these purported functional mushrooms can be seen as studying history as well as looking into some alternative medicines. Whether you are looking to steer away from Western medicine or just find yourself wondering about new things that you can add to your supplement routine to improve your overall health, read on for 6 of the top health benefits of functional mushrooms.


Chaga mushrooms


What are functional mushrooms?

For anyone who happened across this article by accident and doesn’t already know, let’s talk about what exactly “functional mushrooms” are. Functional mushrooms are certain types of fungi that have more than just nutritional benefits to them. These mushrooms can be used in a variety of forms and are usually broken out into two categories, medicinal and adaptogenic.

Medicinal mushrooms are those mushrooms that have some sort of health benefit in the makeup of their compounds. They usually have huge amounts of antioxidants and other such properties that make them useful in holistic medicine, from inflammation treatment to cancer treatment.

Adaptogenic mushrooms are the ones that have compounds that help the body handle stress, physical or chemical. Think of these adaptogens as a natural way to assist your body in its healing process, like by relieving a headache or assisting with muscle recovery after stressing it. These adaptogens mainly work to make sure that your body’s stress systems are functioning as they should.

Here are some examples of better-known functional mushrooms that you can experiment with:

  • Reishi: Grows on various trees around the world and are used for improving your immune system, sleep quality, relaxation, and stamina; one of the more well-known choices
  • Chaga: Grows out of birch trees, usually, and are full of antioxidants to help with fighting free radicals and inflammation
  • Cordyceps: Grows out of caterpillars (they’re parasitic and look a little creepy) and are used in minimizing fatigue and increasing fitness levels
  • Lion’s Mane: Grows on hardwoods (are a little hard to find) and have been shown to help improve cognitive abilities
  • Shiitake: Grows mostly on deciduous trees and may help with immunity and possibly even with gastric cancer treatment
  • Turkey Tail: Grows on hardwood trees and are filled with antioxidants and used to boost immune cells, so much so that it’s actually an approved anticancer treatment in Japan

What are the health benefits of functional mushrooms?

While there are plenty of types of functional mushrooms to choose from, as you read above, many of them have the same or similar health benefits. Let’s talk a little bit about some of them in this section:

  • Improve sleep quality: Adaptogens in certain functional mushrooms are known to help your body adapt to various stresses. This means that you can fall asleep faster and spend more time in deep sleep, which will help your body in all sorts of ways. Some of these mushrooms help to correct circadian rhythms, some soothe your mind, etc. As an example, reishi mushrooms have been studied often and are shown to aid in getting more non-REM sleep (which is where deep sleep happens). This may be from the body’s improved stress management, or it could be its effect on delta wave activity.
  • Boost metabolism and muscle recovery: Did you know that back in Ancient Greece and Rome, gladiators used to eat certain mushrooms to improve their performance? This is because they contain adaptogens in their makeup. Adaptogens help your body regulate stress, and that’s exactly what exercise is: good stress on your body to help it improve. Some others have properties that aid in reducing physical fatigue and improving your cardiovascular and respiratory function. The performance aspects of functional mushrooms are still being studied, but they have been shown to have a positive impact. Many functional mushrooms also help to reduce inflammation, meaning that your recovery will go a little more smoothly.
  • Immunity improvement: If you are looking for an additional way to improve your immune health, functional mushrooms can help. Many of the medicinal ones modify cytokines, which are what send inflammation responses through your immune cells. These mushrooms can help regulate the level or number of these responses based on what stage of immunity your body needs to be in, which allows your immune system to function more easily. Some studies have also suggested that there are certain active compounds in varieties of mushrooms that may inhibit the enzymes that viruses use to replicate, such as the flu.
  • Mental function: We all need a boost in our mental performance sometimes, and certain functional mushrooms can help with that. One part of this ability comes from the anti-inflammatory properties in these mushrooms, which is something that can impact a wide variety of neurological issues (ex: depression and anxiety). One mushroom that is touted as being the best for cognitive function is Lion’s Mane, whose nutrients have the ability to pass into the brain barrier and directly impact your brain function. Some studies have shown that it may increase neurogenesis in your hippocampus, which is the fancy name for when your brain creates new neural pathways when you are learning and forming memories. There are other benefits that come from those aforementioned anti-inflammatory properties, which we’ll dive into in-depth next.
  • Minimize inflammation: So, as you may have noticed in all of these other categories, functional mushrooms can play a big role in regulating your inflammatory responses. Many functional mushrooms are so powerful because they are full of antioxidants. These antioxidants perform in ways that help minimize inflammation, which in turn helps with a lot of different areas. Let’s talk about some examples. The polysaccharides in these mushrooms have been shown to regulate cytokine production, which helps to lower inflammation. Do you know what inflammation can affect in your body? Everything. From your head to toe, your body battles with inflammation on a daily basis to keep everything balanced. If you end up with inflammation in certain areas of your brain, you could develop some serious neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. If your body can find a way to fight off that inflammation naturally, the impact of this would be dramatically reduced. Certain functional mushrooms have been shown to have the ability to aid in the production of myelin and nerve growth factors, both of which can impact your brain health and, if imbalanced, are part of what causes neurological diseases.
  • Inhibit tumor growth: Yes, you read that correctly. Certain functional mushrooms are being studied to determine their impact on the growth of tumors. These medicinal mushrooms contain properties (such as polysaccharides) that inhibit inflammation, which is a part of tumor growth. The boost to T-cells and their function have also been seen to have an anti-tumor effect. The cytotoxins and antioxidants in these mushrooms aid in this, as well. Patients with solid tumors are the ones who have shown the best responses to functional mushrooms in conjunction with their cancer treatments, so far.


Lion's mane mushroom


With all of this new knowledge on the health benefits of functional mushrooms, along with the reassurance that they are being studied scientifically to prove those benefits, it’s time to take this research into your own hands and dig deeper.

Decide if these mushrooms are something that could be a good addition to your supplements. If this is something that you are interested in exploring, for the mental or physical benefits, chat with your medical doctor to ask what functional mushrooms the best option for your health goals would be.

They will be able to offer options, guide you on how to use them, and what the dosage should be. They may also even be able to alert you to an allergy that could cause a serious reaction. We don’t recommend going into any supplement journey without taking this step.

So, give one of these functional mushrooms a whirl depending on what you need, and then let us know how you feel. You can find many of these in powder forms to add to coffee, smoothies, etc., but some of them are also able to be cooked with! Whatever the shroom, you can find a way to incorporate it and realize the health benefits of functional mushrooms. Remember, your health is your responsibility.

Disclaimer: We are not doctors, and these functional mushrooms are only considered supplements by the FDA at this time. They have only recently started being researched by scientists for their benefits to humans (even though the ancients knew about them thousands of years ago). We just want to offer some insight into what they are and how they might be helpful to you. You should speak with your doctor if you are interested in adding them to your nutritional routine, as improper dosage could have negative side effects.


 About the Author
Founder of Windansea Coffee sitting at a beach smiling wearing a beanie
This article was written by Jordan O'Hara, Founder of Windansea Coffee. 
You can learn more about him here.