You either love mushrooms or you hate them. I happen to be in the first group. I just adore the umami taste of mushrooms and I love their varied textures.
I cook and eat them as often as my family permits me, lol, but I also take them as supplements.
However, some of the best medicinal mushrooms are rather bitter and not suitable for consumption as food.
For example, reishi or turkey tail mushroom benefits for cancer prevention are truly amazing, but these mushrooms are best consumed in a dried powder form or as an extract with water or ethanol.
Medicinal Mushrooms Benefits
Fungi have been used medicinally since at least 3000 BCE. Mushrooms are reported to have antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, cardiovascular-protective, antidiabetic, hepatoprotective, and anticancer properties.
Many mushrooms contain a certain polysaccharide called beta glucans. These polysaccharides have been studied to support immune health and overall wellness.Gaia Herbs
Fungi are great for gut health (something very close to my heart). They contain insoluble fiber which helps maintain healthy digestion. As prebiotics, i.e. food for gut flora, mushrooms help to keep a good balance of gut bacteria, therefore improving overall health.
According to studies performed on animals, the beta-glucans present in mushrooms may even help fight obesity.
Varied fungi such as reishi, chaga, cordyceps, maitake, turkey tail, and even the humble white button mushrooms are also brimming with antioxidants, including phenols and flavonoids, that promote immune system health by reducing inflammation and stimulating the release of protective immune cells.
Specific Anti-Cancer Benefits
Medicinal mushrooms contain biologically active compounds which can aid in the fight against the development and growth of cancer cells. Here again, it’s the beta-glucans that shine.
Some fungi have been studied for their benefits in the fight against specific cancer types. Here is an iconographic I made based on the medically reviewed article in Medicine.net
For colon cancer specifically, Turkey Tail (Trametes Versicolor) and Maitake (Grifola Frondosa) are of specific importance.
Polysaccharide-rich extracts obtained from certain medicinal mushroom species have shown antitumor effects in different experimental models.In Vitro Anti-proliferative and Anti-invasive Effect of Polysaccharide-rich Extracts from Trametes Versicolor and Grifola Frondosa in Colon Cancer Cells
Let’s dig into the specific benefits of the three species of mushrooms: Reishi, Chaga, and Turkey Tail. These three come up in every scientific study I came across and they have been most extensively studied by medical researchers.
Best Medicinal Mushrooms
Reishi mushrooms go by many names. Scientifically, the species is known as Ganoderma lucidum. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners call it Ling Zhi or “the mushroom of immortality.”
Even though it’s not very common in the wild, reishi tends to grow on trees such as maple and oak in warmer and subtropical climates.
Reishi mushrooms are rather bitter, so it is uncommon to see them in cooking. Instead, look for reishi in powdered form that can be added to coffee or tea, or as capsules or tinctures.
Reishi is praised for high levels of polysaccharides, triterpenoids, and peptidoglycans, and has been used in traditional medicine for over 2000 years.
The bioactive components found in the G. lucidum mushroom have numerous health properties to treat diseased conditions such as hepatopathy, chronic hepatitis, nephritis, hypertension, hyperlipemia, arthritis, neurasthenia, insomnia, bronchitis, asthma, gastric ulcers, atherosclerosis, leukopenia, diabetes, anorexia, and cancer.Probing Lingzhi or Reishi medicinal mushroom Ganoderma lucidum (higher Basidiomycetes): a bitter mushroom with amazing health benefits
Reishi mushroom powder benefits include
- antiviral and antibacterial, aiding in healing injuries and preventing infections
- improve cellular health
- protective against cancer
- improve memory and brain health
- boost cardiovascular health
- aid in digestion
As mentioned above, mushrooms are prebiotics and so they feed the microflora that resides in our guts.
It is crucial to feed the right bugs and to keep the bad guys at bay. Fungi such as reishi can help us achieve that perfect balance of gut microbiota.
Modulation of the gut microbiota is one of the promising tools to tackle obesity. Chang and colleagues have recently shown that an extract of the mushroom Ganoderma lucidum, a traditional remedy in Asia, can reduce obesity in mice by modulating the gut microbiota, thereby exerting a prebiotic effect.Ganoderma lucidum, a new prebiotic agent to treat obesity
- promote graceful aging
Reishi is a great addition to our diets for health reasons, but it can also help us age gracefully and with intact beauty.
Because it benefits so many baseline aspects of what we call “good health” (immunity, energy, focus, etc.), reishi can also be considered a great complementary supplement for aging.Healthy aging with the mushroom of immortality
Considered one of the most powerful healing plants known to men, chaga – also called the “King of Mushrooms” — has been used for centuries in Eastern European healing practices and in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
It grows in cold northern climates and feeds on trees, most often birch trees. When you see it in the forest, it might look like a clump of dirt or mud or an unsightly growth or blemish on the tree bark. It is not a pretty thing. But the health benefits of chaga are truly astounding.
Chaga Health Benefits
- improve immune responses
Thanks to the huge amounts of Beta-Glucans found in chaga, the mushroom aids in spurring the immune system when needed and also, regulates it down when it is in overdrive, like in case of allergies.
Thanks to the high levels of antioxidants and other compounds, Chaga is an anti-inflammatory powerhouse
Aside from beta-glucans, Chaga is rich in other compounds such as polyphenols, betulinic acid, inotodial, and ergosterol peroxide which can inhibit the overproduction of cytokines which would lead to inflammation.Anti-inflammatory and anticancer activities of extracts and compounds from the mushroom Inonotus obliquus
- promotes a healthy digestive system
Like all mushrooms, Chaga is a prebiotic and can help us achieve that proper gut flora balance.
The non-digestible polysaccharides in Chaga mushrooms also function as a prebiotic, nourishing the good bacteria in your gut so they can flourish.Gaia Herbs
Moreover, the compounds present in Chaga can interfere with Heliobacterium pylori which is a bacteria causing stomach ulcers that if unchecked can lead to stomach cancers.
- cancer prevention and cancer adjuvant therapy
Chaga extracts have been shown to not only prevent cancer but also to slow tumor growth by promoting apoptosis (cancer cell death).
Most importantly, unlike chemotherapy, treatment with Chaga does not harm non-cancerous cells.
Chaga fraction elicited anticancer effects which were attributed to decreased tumor cell proliferation, motility and morphological changes induction. Of note is the fact that it produced no or low toxicity in tested normal cells.NIH Study
- can lower blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure
If the above benefits are not convincing enough, Chaga extracts can also help crucial aspects of general health like lowering blood pressure, sugar, and cholesterol to keep us healthy and vibrant.
For centuries, people in various cultures have been utilizing these mushrooms —known by their scientific name as Trametes versicolor or Coriolus versicolor — as a health supplement. In traditional Chinese medicine, people use turkey tail extract (Yun zhi) mainly as a treatment for respiratory conditions.
But, turkey tail mushroom benefits reach much further than respiratory health. In particular, they are very powerful when it comes to cancer prevention and as adjuvant cancer therapy.
Extensive research over the last 40 years has demonstrated that mushrooms have potent antineoplastic properties that slow growth of tumors, regulate tumor genes, decrease tumoral angioneogenesis, and increase malignant-cell phagocytosis. Additionally, evidence suggests that medicinal mushrooms may safely boost chemotherapeutic efficacy and simultaneously protect against bone marrow suppression.Immune Modulation From Five Major Mushrooms: Application to Integrative Oncology
Turkey Tail Mushroom Benefits
- antitumor activity
Turkey Tail can affect tumor volume, angiogenesis, apoptosis, and survival of cancerous cells.
Most cancer patients are immunosuppressed during cancer treatment and turkey tail mushrooms can bring back an immune response by increasing the production of immune system cells.
- optimizing overall treatment outcomes for cancer patients
The polysaccharide K present in Turkey Tail can increase the positive effects of chemotherapy and other treatments.
Studies have shown that medicinal mushrooms can be used in conjunction with anti-neoplastic agents to increase the efficacy of chemotherapeutic agents and radiation, the mainstay treatments for most cancers.Immune Modulation From Five Major Mushrooms: Application to Integrative Oncology
It is very important to remember that no mushrooms are to be used as a standalone therapy but can be very effective as an adjunct therapy to chemotherapy and other conventional cancer therapies. If adding mushrooms to your therapy protocol, always do so under a doctor’s supervision and with their approval.
- protection against the adverse effects of radiation
Radiation can be an effective treatment against solid tumors, but it comes at a price. The immediate collateral damage can be burns of varying degrees, and the long-term effects are related to possible DNA damage by radioactivity. Turkey Tail can offer protection against these damages.
- stimulation of the immune system
Turkey Tail can effectively increase the activity of the various cells that make up our immune system: T, B, and NK (natural killer) cells.Ganoderma lucidum, a new prebiotic agent to treat obesity?
How to Use Mushroom Supplements?
Some mushrooms can be eaten, cooked, broiled, grilled, made into a soup, etc. You can use fresh or dried mushrooms.
Most of the medicinal mushrooms though, and reishi, chaga, and turkey tail belong in this category, are best consumed as a supplement. There are many forms of supplementation:
- Make an infusion from dry mushrooms and steep like a tea
- Buy or prepare and extract in the form of a tincture
- Buy or make capsules or tablets from the powdered form of dried mushrooms
- Use mushroom powder as a coffee substitute or mix it into coffee or tea
Where to Buy Mushroom Supplements?
Before I mention the places I consider good sources of great quality mushroom supplements, let me mention the importance of two points.
- When buying medicinal mushroom extracts, look for a 100% extract with no fillers. It’s very important to find a company that is completely transparent about what goes into their powder, capsules, or tinctures.
- Do your research and only buy from a place that is open about where the mushrooms were harvested, how were they prepared, what form of extraction was used, and when was it prepared.
Here is the best purveyor of medicinal mushrooms that I found.
Mountain Rose Herbs
Their dried mushrooms and powders are perfect for culinary creations and wellness blends. MRH offers packs of mushrooms from 2 oz all the way to bulk sizes of several pounds.
You can get Chaga, Maitake, Shitake, Turkey Tail, and Cordyceps in dry whole mushroom form as well as in powdered form.
MRH offers also multi-mushroom tinctures and single-mushroom tinctures of superb quality.
Alternatively, you get get a combined extract to get all the healthful benefits of organic reishi mushrooms, organic chaga mushrooms, organic maitake mushrooms, and organic turkey tail mushrooms, extracted in organic grain alcohol and distilled water.
I’ve been using Mountain Rose Herbs mushrooms for a while now and I am very satisfied with their quality and price point. There is always a sale or clearance going on so make sure to check the MRH website frequently (affiliate link which means if you buy through this link, I might get a small commission at no cost to you).
There you have it. I hope you’ll consider adding medicinal mushrooms to your diet as part of the healthy supplementation, whether just for general health or to help ward off serious illnesses such as cancer.
Aside from getting mushrooms in supplement form, I also love to include them in my cooking. Here is one example: Polish mushroom soup which is so delicious I reserve it for special occasions like Christmas but occasionally I just make it to indulge in the mushroomy goodness. Check it out!