Functional mushrooms have recently made a name for themselves as the newest health food. Wellness influencers, athletes and foragers alike are adding buzz to the trend. Still, in the wake of the hype, there is confusion. Sure, loads of people tout the healing effects of these mushrooms, but many of us are left scratching our heads at what these fungi do for us and how.
Good news, these mushrooms aren’t hearsay, they are rooted in science and there is still much to be discovered. With what we know right now about the amazing world of mycelium, we’ve put together the ultimate guide to functional mushrooms. Whether you are a pro athlete or just looking to get healthier, we’ve got you covered. Read on to learn all about the wonderful world of functional mushrooms.
New trend, old history
In 2020, there was a big push for physical and mental wellness. With this, we saw a massive spike in natural medicine. People started to look to nature to promote health. This concept is hardly a new one. Humans have used plants, mushrooms and countless other natural resources for healing for thousands of years. Cultures and civilizations from the Aztecs to the Egyptians have been harnessing the power of mushrooms.
It of course makes sense. Today, mushrooms are widely known to be a reliable source of protein and vitamins D and B. Recent studies have shifted to exploring how mushrooms can be utilized in antibiotics, antivirals, and antidepressants. With thousands of years of research and human history to draw upon, it is no wonder that mushrooms are making a comeback in modern day.
What are functional mushrooms?
When we talk about functional mushrooms, we don’t mean the white capped ones you find in the supermarket. Furthermore, we aren’t talking about anything psychedelic or mind altering. We mean, those rare and sometimes funny looking ones that only grow in deep forests or high cliffs. These mushrooms are supercharged with nutritional value and loads of health benefits. These can be anything from lowered stress levels, clearer skin, gut health, anti-inflammatory properties, and so many more.
What you should look for in functional mushrooms
While the benefits of consuming functional mushrooms are clear, it is important to remember that not all products are created equal. There are a few things you need to look out for when choosing which function mushroom product is right for you.
A company’s sourcing method is vital to how effective the mushroom will be. Be on the lookout for products that are made with whole fruiting bodies. These are spore producing structures that support the asexual reproduction of the plant. It is also important that the mushrooms are extracted raw or whole to make sure you get all the good benefits when consumed.
Testing details are important in quality assurance so that you are purchasing a product that is the best of the best. Functional mushroom products should be tested for heavy metals, bad bacteria, mycotoxins, yeasts, molds, and pesticides.
Harnessing the power of functional mushrooms
Sure, functional mushrooms look like a glamorous health product from afar, but the benefits of the mushrooms are rooted in science. Out of the currently recognized 2,000 species of mushrooms considered to be medicinal or edible, only 15 are recognized as functional. This list is comprised of adaptogenic and medicinal mushrooms.
An adaptogen is a substance that helps to reduce the negative effects of stress on the body. On the other hand, medical mushrooms are known to have related physiological effects. These can be anything from healthy digestion, to improved cardiac performance. It is important to note that adaptogenic and medicinal are not the same thing. Mushrooms in either category work differently in the body.
Taking a more in-depth look at adaptogens means looking at how stress takes form in the body. The body’s stress response is remarkably complex and involves multiple bodily systems. However, our main stress mechanism is the Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal (HPA axis).
Our HPA’s job is to release glucocorticoids like cortisol (a primary stress hormone) to activate our stress response. Adaptogens primarily work by influencing our HPA axis. In doing so, adaptogens increase our resistance to stress, boost recovery and create stability in the body. Researchers have discovered that certain plants and some mushrooms, have adaptogenic properties.
Types of adaptogenic mushrooms and their benefits
Let’s face it, most of us would consider lowered stress levels to be a dream come true. Still, in order to get there, it is important to know which mushrooms are adaptogenic and which are medicinal. Below is a list of the most common adaptogenic mushrooms and their benefits for stress and beyond.
Reishi and its benefits
Benefits: immune support, relieving stress and anxiety, improved sleep.
Known as one of the most common adaptogenic mushrooms, Reishi is used for its benefits to overall health. It works to boost the immune system by stimulating it to prevent infections. On top of this, the triterpenes and beta-glucans found in the functional mushroom may help reduce cholesterol. Lastly, Reishi relieves stress and anxiety, and can help you get deeper sleep.
Chaga and its benefits
Benefits: immune health, lower inflammation, reduced blood sugar and blood pressure, alleviating arthritis, stress relief.
Chaga is effective for reducing inflammation and defends against free radicals by regulating the immune system. According to research, Chaga can also lower blood sugar, blood pressure, and aid arthritis symptoms. Currently, Umbo isn't using Chaga until we are better educated on the sustainability and complicated extraction methods required to make Chaga truly bioavailable.
Cordyceps and its benefits
Benefits: energy boost, increased stamina, immune health.
With what we know at present, cordyceps are great for athletes, no matter what level. This adaptogenic mushroom supports your adrenal glands and helps your body maintain consistent energy levels.
Cordyceps give your body a boost by increasing the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which in turn increases cellular oxygen absorption. This means that it can improve the flow of oxygen throughout the body, which makes it great for exercise.
Lion's Mane and its benefits
Benefits: cognitive health, lower anxiety and depressive symptoms.
Based on current research, Lion’s mane is known to improve immune function and have been beneficial in treating anxiety and depression. The adaptogenic mushroom benefits also extend to cognitive health. Research shows that compounds found in lion’s mane are known to stimulate the production of NGF (Nerve Growth Factor). This is a bioprotein that plays a critical role in the maintenance, health, and regeneration of neurons in the brain. When NGF amounts are low, it is usually associated with Alzheimer’s and other degenerative brain diseases. Lion’s mane helps boost memory, improve creativity, and strengthen concentration.
Turkey Tail and its benefits
Benefits: immune support, cellular regeneration, digestive functioning.
Turkey tail’s super power is immune boosting. The functional mushroom contains powerful antiviral and antimicrobial properties. This makes it incredibly effective at treating the common cold or flu. Turkey tail is also packed with antioxidants which can help reduce damage caused by oxidative stress. The mushroom also has loads of prebiotics that offer healthy gut benefits and can improve your microbiome.
Shiitake and its benefits
Benefits: immune health, antioxidants, heart, and liver health.
Shiitake mushrooms are packed with vitamins B, D and zinc. The functional mushroom contains three main compounds that can lower cholesterol: eritadenine, sterols, and beta-glucans. The improved effect on immune function from shiitake can be attributed to its powerful polysaccharides.
Unearth Your Potential
If you are a regular mycologist or just someone looking to try out the amazing benefits of mushrooms, Umbo has your needs covered. All of our mushrooms are certified organic, made with fruiting bodies and come in a tasty bar or a vegan capsule. We also use all sorts of adaptogenic mushrooms so you can reap the rewards. We hope you’ll keep exploring the world of mushrooms with us. Check out our amazing products today.