Written by Ashley Von Arx | Monday, 1 May 2023
Medicinal mushrooms have been used to promote and maintain health in traditional medicine systems for thousands of years. But only recently has the humble medicinal mushroom been gaining more widespread popularity.
Some of the latest research suggests that the various medicinal mushrooms have multiple, overlapping therapeutic actions including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-microbial, immunomodulating, and prebiotics (feeds the good bacteria in your gut).
The immunomodulating action is particularly interesting. Immunomodulating helps your immune system react appropriately – neither too much nor too little. So, for example, if you are experiencing an autoimmune flare-up, immunomodulating medicines help to scale back the immune system’s reactivity to stop your body from attacking its own tissues. If you are not staging enough of an immune response and catching every bug that is going around, an immunomodulator will help to dial up the immune system to fight off the bad guys.
Several bioactive compounds help give mushrooms their medicinal effect. The fibrous component of mushrooms contains polysaccharides including beta-glucans. These support immune defence through their actions on different types of immune cells and show promising anti-cancer effects through multiple mechanisms. Terpenes, immunomodulating proteins, and phenolic compounds also play important roles in the overall therapeutic action of medicinal mushrooms.
There are a multitude of medicinal mushrooms, and while they share many actions and compounds, they all have unique properties and personalities.
Ganoderma lucidum (reishi) was historically reserved for emperors and nobility and has been called the "mushroom of immortality." It has a broad range of therapeutic applications, and research shows promising applications for cardiovascular disease and the management of high blood pressure and cholesterol. It is also useful in regulating blood sugar and type 2 diabetes, respiratory disorders, and relief from anxiety and insomnia.
Hericium erinaceus (lion's mane) is considered a culinary and medicinal mushroom with a particular affinity to the nervous system. Research suggests that lion's mane is neuroprotective and neuroregenerative, reduces cognitive dysfunction, and may also reduce anxiety and depression. Lion’s mane also shows promising antimicrobial effects with difficult to treat infections such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and Helicobacter pylori.
Cordyceps sinensis and Cordyceps militaris (cordyceps) are fungal species that have a parasitic relationship with insects. This fungus is highly regarded in traditional medicine systems as a rejuvenating tonic for stress and fatigue as it can increase energy and vitality. It also has use as an aphrodisiac, respiratory and cardiovascular tonic, and as protection for the liver and kidneys with an overall anti-ageing and performance-enhancing effect.
There are many, many more medicinal mushroom species, all with unique personalities and properties, and they are available in various formulations (powders, tinctures, tables, foods etc). While medicinal mushrooms generally have an excellent safety profile, it is important to speak with a health professional to determine if they are right for you, particularly if you have a pre-existing health condition or are using any prescription medication. More research is needed to understand the mysterious world of medicinal mushrooms and the therapeutic benefits they can provide.
(Ahmad et al., 2021; Du et al., 2018; Paxton, 2020; Pohleven et al., 2016; Spelman et al., 2017; Venturella et al., 2021)
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Ahmad, R., Riaz, M., Khan, A., Aljamea, A., Algheryafi, M., Sewaket, D., & Alqathama, A. (2021). Ganoderma lucidum (Reishi) an edible mushroom; a comprehensive and critical review of its nutritional, cosmeceutical, mycochemical, pharmacological, clinical, and toxicological properties. Phytotherapy Research, 35(11), 6030–6062. https://doi.org/10.1002/ptr.7215
Du, B., Zhu, F., & Xu, B. (2018). An insight into the anti-inflammatory properties of edible and medicinal mushrooms. Journal of Functional Foods, 47, 334–342. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jff.2018.06.003
Paxton, F. (2020). Foundations of naturopathic nutrition: A comprehensive guide to essential nutrients and nutritional bioactives. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.
Pohleven, J., Korošec, T., & Gregori, A. (2016). Medicinal mushrooms. MycoMedica.
Spelman, K., Sutherland, E., & Bagade, A. (2017). Neurological Activity of lion’s mane ( Hericium erinaceus ). Journal of Restorative Medicine, 6(1), 19–26. https://doi.org/10.14200/jrm.2017.6.0108
Venturella, G., Ferraro, V., Cirlincione, F., & Gargano, M. L. (2021). Medicinal mushrooms: Bioactive compounds, use, and clinical trials. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 22(2), 634–664. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms22020634
Ashley Von Arx
Ashley is a practicing naturopath and Endeavour graduate (BHSc Naturopathy, Dux) based in Melbourne.
Ashley's journey into natural health and complementary medicine began as a desire to be in a helping profession combined with an interest in holistic healthcare. Her clinical practice has a focus on gut health, mental health, and the connection between the two, however, she works with people of all ages and with a broad range of health concerns. She is enrolled for further study to deepen her knowledge in the field. You can read more about Ashley at https://osok.com.au/practitioners/ or on her Instagram page @ashleyvonarx_naturopathy.