Mushrooms are fungi that tend to grow best in damp, light-poor conditions. In traditional medicine, it is often thought that whatever behaviours a plant must adopt to survive it’s environment - it is likely to pass on to its host. Whilst this is not entirely scientifically validated, with mushrooms there does seem to be an uncanny correlation between what they must be able to do to grow in their damp cold environments and the benefits they confer to humans that consume them. Growing in areas of low or sparse light means that mushrooms have to be very good at absorbing Vitamin D, making them a rare food source of this important nutrient. A fungus, mushrooms also are great for combating other fungi such as candida. Mushrooms also need a lot of oxygen just as humans do – and this may be why mushrooms have such a beneficial effect on oxygenation, being used frequently as an aid to prevent altitude sickness in mountain climbers. It may be that the traditional healers were onto something, but for today’s blogpost we will stick with what the clinical trials are telling us about mushrooms which is no less impressive:
Reishi is a popular mushroom that is frequently used in Chinese Medicine, where it has been used medically for more than 2,000 years. Known colloquially as the ‘spirit plant’, Reishi is believed to be a mind and body healer, used in many classical Chinese medicinal formulas.
In recent years, Reishi has been extensively studied for its effects on the immune system. In clinical trials Reishi mushroom powder has been shown to increase in white blood cells, T cells and natural killer cells, particularly in immune compromised people such as those with chronic long-term disease or infection. Reishi mushroom also results in a marked drop in inflammation, a very important influencer of health outcomes.
In trials concerned with much more life altering conditions such as cancer, Reishi has been shown to improve quality of life – reducing commonly reported experiences such as fatigue, low appetite and anxiety. Since discovering the immune enhancing effects of Reishi this medicinal mushroom has been clinically trialled within a range of disease states including bronchitis, liver disease, serious infection and cardiovascular diseases such as high cholesterol and blood pressure. In all of these trials, Reishi was able to show a substantial beneficial effect on immune function, which facilitated an overall health effect on participants of these studies.
It seems that Reishi’s immune enhancing effects are most significant in subjects with depleted or lowered immunity that has occurred either through chronic disease, or injury. In healthy subjects, very little effect was observed. The suggestion from the available literature is that Reishi is a useful tool for those who need some additional immune support – particularly with health problems that are driven by inflammation.
Reishi is also a powerful oxygenator of the human body. Oxygen is commonly referred to as the most powerful anti oxidant on the planet. Effective oxygenation commonly forms a key part of naturopathic healing routines in the form of hyperbaric therapy, oxygenated water therapy, or the simple act of breathing fresh air. This is what makes the oxygenating quality of Reishi so intriguing when we think of it as a health and healing tool. In studies on Athletes, Reishi was shown to improve the body’s use of oxygen at high altitudes and is frequently recommended for prevention of altitude sickness, thanks to this ability to improve the use of oxygen throughout the body. Whilst high altitude athletes are not a like for like match for the every day person trying to facilitate their own health – it is a nevertheless of great significance that Reishi can improve the body’s use of oxygen – it is after all, just a mushroom.
Lions Mane is considered in Nutritional Therapy as an immune enhancer that is specific to the intestines, digestive tract, colon and brain due to mouse studies that have linked Lion’s Mane to reduced growth of tumours in the colon.
In other mouse studies, rats that were induced to have a stroke and given Lion’s Mane had lower levels of injury than mice that were not given Lion’s Mane. Further studies have found increases in cognitive function, memory, mood, irritability, and lowered stress levels when subjects where given supplemental Lions Mane in the form of powder.
Lion’s Mane has attracted a lot of research attention in recent years, as it seems to enhance immune response in areas of the body that are often regarded as difficult to reach, engage or assist. Colon immunity, bowel immunity and brain immunity are all extremely specific and exceptionally difficult to access by normal nutrient means. But Lion’s Mane seems to be able to facilitate healthy function in these areas – and if that is not a feat worthy of fame, we don’t know what is.
Cordyceps is a Chinese mushroom that is most known for its adaptogenic and anti-aging properties. Adaptogens are so named as they seem to have the effect of helping the body adapt it’s stress response. This group of plants facilitate physical and mental resilience so that stressors such as intense physical exercise or emotional stress have a less negative impact overall. It is thought that adaptogens have this effect via modulation of chemical messages that pass through the HPA axis. Yet because adaptogens are changing so many different physical and mental responses to different forms of stress: it is difficult to pin down the method by which they are able to have this effect.
Research into Cordyceps shows it is a powerful natural anti-inflammatory – particularly where athletics is concerned. In studies on cordyceps and athletic performance, this amazing mushroom significantly impacted the way that cells were utilising energy – with athletes generating more ATP – the energy source for muscles. Use of cordyceps also increased VO2 – a standard industry measure of fitness.
How? Well, understanding how a simple mushroom can facilitate human fitness will take a lot more investigation. For now, we can safely conclude that Cordyceps is a fitness friend – another humble mushroom with inexplicable affinity for bettering human health.
So which mushroom is best for you?
The truth is that there is just so much to say about mushrooms, it is quite impossible to summarise all of their outstanding health benefits into a simple post, or choose one mushroom as being more beneficial than another. Have a read, have a research around and pick the one you’d most like to trial.
Possibly the best way to understand, would be to give them a try. Click here to browse our mushroom range.