It’s unfortunate, but the truth is that many things in our modern food system don’t work. However, the rise of the “superfood” category is one of the better advents that have happened to it in recent years. Nowadays, nutrient-packed goods, like functional mushrooms, offer a chance to add more nourishment to our daily routines.
But, to get the most out of these types of mushrooms, you have to know what they are and what they do. Simply put, functional mushrooms are edible mushrooms that offer potential wellness and nutritional benefits.
Some of their usefulness has been passed down through non-Western channels like traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), while others, such as Ganoderma lucidum (reishi mushrooms), have bodies of scientific research that indicate support for therapeutic benefits.
The possible advantages of taking functional shrooms, which are sometimes referred to as medicinal mushrooms, are wide-ranging. But there’s no need to forage the internet for information — we’ve collected it here for you.
Nutraceuticals can be defined as “Products, which other than nutrition, are also used as medicine. A nutraceutical product may be defined as a substance which has a physiological benefit or provides protection against chronic disease.” (1)
Incredibly, many mushroom species fit the bill, according to Chemistry Research Journal. (2)
Because these adaptogenic mushrooms have high concentrations of things like terpenoids, phenolic compounds, and especially polysaccharides, they are loaded with health benefits.
For example, one type of polysaccharide called beta-glucan has been linked to regulating blood sugar levels and enhancing natural immunity. Other polysaccharides found within mushrooms offer anticancerous, anti-aging, and antiviral benefits.
Similarly, consuming mushrooms high in terpenoids and phenolic compounds flushes us with antioxidant elements that inhibit free radicals and inactivate metals in the body. How amazing.
Rather than deriving from the mycelium part of the fungi, functional mushrooms come from the fruiting body. That’s the part of the organism that we can actually see.
There’s an abundance of these shrooms considered functional or adaptogenic mushrooms, but these are some of the ones you’re most likely to see.
As previously noted, reishi mushrooms are one type of adaptogen treasured by TCM and Western science alike. Research has shown that the compounds in reishi can be used to treat numerous infectious diseases, such as bronchitis (3) and hepatitis (4). Aside from healing the body, reishi has also been used to support mental health as an antidepressant (5).
In nature, chaga is a parasitic fungus often found under birch trees, per Mushroom Revival. That might not sound nutritious, but the mycological might of chaga can’t be denied. Immune-boosting properties, which can temper inflammation, have been displayed, hindering the deterioration of cells, and putting up a solid resistance to viral growth (2).
Uniquely, products with chaga may often use the fruit and the mycelium, as this is one shroom that shows benefit in both.
Consider cordyceps mushrooms for respiratory health and increased energy levels. This powerful fungus has demonstrated its role as a partner in increasing oxygen and aerobic capability (6). Most impressively, distinct compounds of cordyceps have shown strong resistance against human leukemia and tuberculosis (2).
Lion’s mane, also known as Hericium erinaceus or yamabushitake, is the mushroom of the mind. It has been linked to positive impacts on brain health. Some studies showed preventative effects on the death of neurons, which can increase cognitive function and be used as a treatment for Alzheimer’s (7).
Shiitake mushrooms are highly regarded as a culinary ingredient, but they have also demonstrated use as a functional food. In a 2015 study, whole, dried shiitakes demonstrated traits that increased resiliency and lowered bodily inflammation (10).
Trametes versicolor, or turkey tail, is well-known in traditional Chinese medicine. The Chinese State Administration of Food and Drugs has authorized nearly 12 turkey-tail-based drugs for clinical use in the country (11). Protein-bound polysaccharides in turkey tails often accompany cancer treatments as an immunotherapy medicine (12).
Besides being delicious, the elements in maitake mushrooms have exhibited various advantageous impacts. Specifically, maitake-based polysaccharides have been observed in triggering antitumor cells (13) (14).
Enokitake mushrooms have similar effects as maitakes. Otherwise known as golden needle, this shroom can help you weave wellness into your life, as enokitake mushrooms possess immune-modulating proteins that activate T lymphocytes, which are antitumor cells [](https://europepmc.org/article/med/19909827). Other research has shown antihypertensives in enokitake and memory restorative bioactive compounds, too (16).
If you’re looking for a mushroom with indicated effects on lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, oysters are it. Experiments reveal that oyster mushrooms possess significant bioactive compounds to reduce lipid levels (17) and regulate blood sugar (18).
According to Healthline, Tremella mushrooms go by many names, including silver, snow, or white wood ear, white jelly mushroom, or snow fungus — but I bet you’ll warm up to this one quickly.
The same polysaccharide makeup that allows tremella to excel as an adjunct treatment for several forms of hepatitis also gives it antioxidant, antitumor, and immune-system modulating effects. It’s known for neuroprotection as well (19).
Although polysaccharides have loads of benefits, science shows that how they are extracted affects the end amount of what’s available to you (20).
In many cases, whole fresh mushrooms are the least effective way to reap the benefits of this food group. This is because compounds like chitin, which hold onto important polysaccharides, are indigestible.
To add functional mushroom products into your life, we recommend using dried or liquid-extracted mushrooms.
Dried mushrooms can be soaked and made into mushroom tea, with some companies selling pre-packed bags for your morning cuppa or afternoon pick-me-up.
Mushroom supplements also rely on dried versions of the fruiting body. They may come in capsule form or with the powder stocked in a large tub. There’s a lot that goes into shopping for these, but be sure to avoid products that champion the use of mycelium and aim for a 100% fruiting body product.
Finally, you can purchase functional mushrooms in a liquid tincture form. Tinctures are maybe the easiest way to add adaptogens to your smoothies or breakfast bowls in the morning, but as Fresh Cap writes, they’re not all made equally. The jury is still out on whether alcohol-extracted mushrooms offer lessened benefits.
Overall, no matter how you choose to get functional shrooms into your life, the most important thing is that you do. With the number of health benefits they can provide, it’s no wonder this superfood is exploding across the scene.