Have you ever heard of adaptogenic mushrooms?
These fabulous fungi don’t just add flavour and texture to your food. They also contain essential bioactive compounds that play a critical role in improving your physical and mental health.
Read on to learn more about adaptogenic mushrooms, the most popular known varieties of these power-packed plants, and the unique health benefits they offer.
What are adaptogens?
An adaptogen is a type of herb or mushroom species that can help the body to adapt — hence the name — and respond to stress in healthy ways.
The term “stress” often refers to emotional stress. However, it can also include physical stress placed on the body in the form of inflammation or illness.
Adaptogens throughout history
The use of adaptogenic or functional mushrooms for their health benefits has become more popular in the western world and among practitioners of modern medicine. In reality, though, they have long been used in eastern medicine traditions.
For thousands of years in India, for example, they have played an important role in Ayurvedic medicine (or Ayurveda).
Ayurvedic medicine is a practice based on the idea that disease occurs because of an imbalance or stress that affects a person’s consciousness. Incorporating adaptogens is believed to help combat these imbalances and support the body as it fights disease.
Most popular adaptogenic mushrooms
All kinds of functional mushrooms are used in herbal medicine. However, the following are some of the most well-known varieties:
- Reishi mushrooms: Grown in hot, humid climates in Asia, they contain many beneficial compounds, including triterpenoids, polysaccharides, and peptidoglycans.
- Shiitake mushrooms: Grown in Japan and China, as well as in the United States and Canada, shiitake mushrooms are rich in B vitamins and minerals, as well as other compounds that boost immune function and lower cholesterol.
- Chaga mushrooms: Native to cold climates (such as Canada, Russia, and Siberia), Chaga mushrooms are known for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. They may also lower blood sugar and reduce inflammation.
- Cordyceps mushrooms: Cordyceps mushrooms grow on certain types of caterpillars that reside in China’s high mountain regions. They have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and they’re also known to increase energy levels.
- Turkey tail mushrooms: Turkey tail mushrooms are native to the woods of North America. They are rich in antioxidants and may improve immune function.
- Lion’s mane mushrooms: Lion’s mane mushrooms are native to North America, Asia, and Europe. They are known to support the brain, heart, and gut health.
- Maitake mushrooms: These mushrooms are native to North America, Asia, and Europe. They are rich in vitamin D and support bone health and calcium absorption.
There are lots of ways to enjoy the benefits of medicinal mushrooms. For example, they’re often added to food or brewed as teas, though they can be made into tinctures as well.
From balanced hormones to lower cholesterol, adaptogenic mushrooms like those listed above offer health benefits that other mushrooms and plant foods do not. The following are some of their most noteworthy benefits:
Immune system support
An increase in immune system function is one of the top reasons why people incorporate these edible mushroom species into their diets.
Cordyceps, turkey tail, and reishi mushroom are some of the best-known immune-boosting varieties.
These mushroom varieties can help those who want to minimise inflammation and avoid illnesses like the common cold. They also support the body’s natural disease-fighting processes.
Improved brain health
Because of their anti-inflammatory properties, many adaptogenic mushroom species have the potential to improve brain health.
The polysaccharides in reishi mushrooms have been shown to support neurogenesis (the formation of new neurons) and improve cognitive function.
The lion’s mane mushroom species plays a role in improving mild cognitive impairment as well. This has to do, in part, with the fact that compounds in this type of mushroom stimulate the production of nerve growth factor (NGF) — a bioprotein that supports the maintenance and regeneration of neurons.
Another one of the most amazing health benefits of adaptogenic mushrooms is that many varieties have cancer-preventing properties.
The maitake, shiitake, and reishi mushroom species are some of the best-known when it comes to preventing and treating breast cancer. Turkey tail mushroom and maitake mushroom may also support immune system cells and stop the spread of cancer cells.
Gut healing benefits
In addition to offering immune support, adaptogenic mushrooms can also support beneficial bacteria in the gut or digestive tract.
With their anti-inflammatory benefits and positive effect on free radicals — which can damage the gut — the reishi and Chaga mushroom species also have the potential to improve gut health as well as immune health.
Turkey tail contains polysaccharides and beta-glucans, both of which stimulate the immune system. Lion’s mane, on the other hand, can prevent the growth of a common bacteria known as helicobacter pylori (or H. pylori).
Improved liver health
A healthy liver is essential for supporting the body’s natural detox processes.
Of all the adaptogenic mushroom varieties, shiitake mushrooms have long been used to support liver health. Reishi also contains ganoderic acid, which has protective benefits for the liver and also boasts antiviral properties.
More consistent energy levels
Some mushroom varieties have been shown to increase energy and improve mental clarity. This includes cordyceps, which can increase cellular oxygen absorption, reduce fatigue, and increase stamina and exercise performance. Lion’s mane also improves mental clarity, boosts creativity, and enhances concentration.
For those who struggle with chronic stress and want to minimize the harmful effects of elevated cortisol levels (such as excess fat storage, high blood pressure, mood swings, and poor sleep), reishi is one of the best options to try.
Balanced blood sugar
Chaga mushroom is a powerful whole food tool for people who need help reducing blood sugar levels. This effect is attributed to compounds known as beta-D-glucans.
Cordyceps and maitake mushrooms may also help to increase insulin sensitivity and lower blood glucose levels.
From cancer patients to those who want to protect brain tissue, all kinds of people can benefit from incorporating more adaptogenic mushrooms into their routines.
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