Did you know that many mushrooms — some that you can find in the grocery store and others that come in medicinal/capsule form — can support your health in many ways? Mushrooms are often used for their well-known benefits to the immune system or for their anti-cancer effects but there’s emerging research about the power they hold for reducing risk or being part of the treatment plan for chronic diseases like cardiovascular problems, blood sugar balance, liver protection, brain health, and even as a treatment for allergies. Learn more about the incredible power that mushrooms have and how you might use them to improve your health here in our FoodTrients top 5 ways that friendly fungi can support your health.
Mushrooms have some amazing benefits to help the body manage seasonal and environmental allergies. Chaga, reishi, and cordyceps mushrooms have been used in traditional medicine to help reduce allergy symptoms. These specific mushrooms help improve lung function and inflammation related to allergies. In fact, studies have shown that a compound in chaga mushrooms, inotodiol, can help regulate mast cell function. Mast cells are activated when the body is having an allergic reaction and are the root of many symptoms. Reishi and cordyceps have been used to support lung function in many cultures’ traditional medicine. This combination of mushrooms is available in a liquid, powder form, or capsules. You may also be able to find them in a tea or tincture. Be sure to speak with your allergist to better understand if mushrooms could be part of your treatment plan.
Cognition and brain health are hot topics, with rates of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias increasing. Researchers are looking for ways to protect the brain and mushrooms have been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years. Lion’s Mane has been extensively studied for its brain protective properties. In Parkinson’s research, this mushroom was shown to help protect and repair neurons damaged by the disease. A clinical trial looking at people with mild dementia showed improvement in a cognitive function test in the group receiving Lion’s Mane. Use this mushroom in vegan-friendly ‘crab’ cakes because of their hearty, chewy texture or grill them up for use in sandwiches or as a taco filling. You can also find brain support mushroom supplements, sometimes in combination with other supportive fungo like reishi. Before you use mushrooms to support cognition or brain health, be sure to let your medical team know so that they understand your goals and supplement usage.
Mushrooms can also have positive effects on diabetes. Blood sugar control and inflammation are key issues in diabetes management and mushrooms have been shown to have benefits in both of these areas. Button mushrooms have been shown to have positive effects on the gut microbiome in mice, leading to improved blood sugar control. These effects are due to the prebiotics in mushrooms which may play a role in regulating blood sugar levels. Reishi mushrooms have been well studied in diabetes management and studies have shown they are helpful in controlling blood sugar as well as reducing insulin resistance. Other mushrooms studied for diabetes support include: cordyceps, reishi, Lion’s Mane, and maitake. Add edible mushrooms like Button, Lion’s Mane and maitake to a stir fry, soup, or salad to get the benefits or look for supplements including these varieties in a blend. Blood sugar management is complex so be sure to have a registered dietitian on your team who can help you navigate other lifestyle aspects of diabetes management.
Mushrooms can also potentially benefit heart health by lowering inflammation which can cause problems with circulation and vasculature. Studies have shown that mushrooms, including shiitake, oyster, and reishi may have the ability to improve lipid profiles including; low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, total cholesterol, and triglycerides. Shiitakes contain compounds that reduce the absorption and production of cholesterol in the liver. Other studies have shown oyster mushrooms have positive effects on glucose (blood sugar) and fat metabolism, which can be helpful in overall heart and metabolic health. Reishi is known to have anti-inflammatory mechanisms so it’s the perfect addition to a heart health mushroom blend. This combination can be found in supplement form as a powder or pill but it’s important to know that these mushrooms can also be used in the kitchen. Cook oyster and shiitake mushrooms in a pan with garlic as a side dish or add them to eggs or noodle dishes. Before you use mushrooms to support your heart health, be sure to talk to your doctor or cardiologist for safety.
Another area where the inflammation lowering and antioxidant powers of mushrooms can be beneficial is in liver health and detoxification. The liver is the body’s most powerful detox center. A study comparing populations with high dietary mushroom intake, 2-3 times per week versus those at less than once a week, showed significant reduction in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NASH) in the higher mushroom group. Research shows there is a liver protective effect from ingesting mushrooms and that this helps reduce damage to the body from toxic chemicals. Numerous studies have shown a benefit to liver health from eating cordyceps mushrooms both in cooking as well as from supplements. As always, be sure to check in with your doctor before using mushrooms for your liver and an important safety reminder is that poisonous mushrooms can cause liver damage, so be sure to verify the mushrooms you are eating are safe.
What are some of the positive health benefits you’ve seen from using mushrooms? Are there any favorite varieties that you’re using?