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Mushrooms - So Hot Right Now

Mushrooms have long held a spot in the public psyche as everything from a simple pizza topping to a versatile ingredient in slightly more complicated fare and, obviously, a comedic focus of Dads everywhere.
 
Today, organic, functional mushrooms are being widely recognized for their diverse range of emerging health benefits that support well-being and increase body and mind performance.

 

My Name Is Ergothioneine, But You Can Call Me Ergo

 

Ergothioneine (Ergo) is a sulfur-containing amino acid that acts as an antioxidant, and it has a unique role in protecting your mitochondria from oxidation.  This is important because, while not all oxidation reactions are harmful, some can damage vital cell molecules. 

Your mitochondria are worth protecting; they play an essential role in creating energy to drive cellular function, including basically all our biological processes.[i] They’re far more than just the powerhouse of the cell you remember (or not) from high school science – even if they do have their own meme derived t-shirt.

It’s true that Ergo can be found in many foods, but studies have proven mushrooms to be, by far, the most concentrated dietary source. Interestingly, it has recently been discovered Ergo actually has its own dedicated transporter, ensuring it reaches our cells most experiencing oxidative stress, thus playing an important role in preventing the aforementioned cellular damage.

So, whether your idea of a transporter leans towards Jason Statham, or more in the direction of heroic parents spending their evenings and weekends delivering their kids to various activities, the role is the same; getting something very important exactly where it needs to go.

Lion’s Mane  (labelled as Hericium erinaceus in this table), presents as a significant source of Ergo, and studies are beginning to confirm the role it may have in easing stress-induced cell death and improving mild cognitive impairment.[ii]

Moreover, a comprehensive 6-year study has also provided evidence on how mushrooms may mitigate the risk of mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which is often a precursor to Alzheimer’s Disease. In the United Kingdom, the Alzheimer’s Society has recognized the significance of this development, while also looking forward to more research that may confirm the effectiveness of Ergo when used in isolation of other correlational factors.

 

All Systems Go

 
It seems worth acknowledging that the concept of supporting one’s immune system can seem overwhelming. We live in an era of quick fixes and desired instant results but our immune system doesn’t subscribe to that theory. There is no one thing you can do, but rather many smaller lifestyle changes that act in conjunction with each other.

It’s a team thing, where your efforts work together like the The Avengers and not against each other like the cast of The Real Housewives of….anywhere, really.

In this hierarchy, Cordyceps and Turkey Tail may not be Thor, but they can certainly slot in right around Captain America in terms of offering unique immune related benefits. 

Studies of Cordyceps have indicated the extracted component cordycepin supports the immune system against viral infections by way of suppressing cytokine storms.[iii]

Additionally, this 2017 study of Turkey Tail showed how its properties may be helpful in managing cell production and slowing down the progression of tumours.

As explained in further detail here, Turkey Tail also possesses antioxidant, anti-diabetic, and immunostimulant benefits. Within your immune system, Turkey Tail does the heavy lifting. Essentially, this is the mushroom equivalent of calling your strongest friend to help you move a couch, or your tallest friend to get a box down from the top shelf in your garage.

 

Take A Hike

 
It’s summer. We all like to get outside but most of us can use a little extra push - whether it’s out the door, or up the mountain. For that, Cordyceps complements its immune related benefits with the advantage of increased stamina and reduced fatigue.

Research has shown Cordyceps to improve oxygen uptake or aerobic capacity in the older population[iv], while experimental evidence also supports the clinical use of Cordyceps as an effective method of combatting fatigue.[v]

These effects have not yet been shown to improve the performance of athletes at the highest levels, but they do show promise for us regular folk. So, while recently retired track icon Allyson Felix was probably going to win eleven Olympic medals with or without Cordyceps, they may well give you the extra push needed to start - and finish - some of the world’s best day hikes.

 

Time For A Gut Check

 
Like saving for retirement, our gut and digestive health is something many of us don’t think or talk about until it’s too late. But thankfully, just as there are ways to make play catch-up with your finances, mushrooms can provide an accessible and straightforward path to improved digestive health.


Specifically, Reishi mushrooms can improve overall body health via the enrichment of beneficial bacteria within the microbiome. [vi] That is, they act as a prebiotic to stimulate the growth of microbiota bacteria; in turn, these microbiota initiate the immune system into action.

In essence, Reishi mushrooms will activate a positive immune response in much the same way jumper cables can bring your stalled vehicle back to life.

Next, for those living with Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD) research done to explore the effects of mushroom derived beta-glucans, a water soluble polysaccharide, has yielded positive, preliminary results.

While acknowledging further studies are necessary to determine how individual beta-glucans can provide maximum benefit, it was determined that fungal glucans appear to play a beneficial role in minimizing the effects Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD)[vii]; meanwhile, a further study also found a solid scientific basis for the utilization of natural polysaccharides from plants, mushrooms, and seaweeds as candidates for IBD therapy.[viii]

Specifically, Chaga mushrooms have been identified as a promising candidate within the realm of medicinal mushrooms, owing to their strong anti-oxidant activity. In studies, they have demonstrated anti-cancer activity and present as a promising, complementary treatment option.[ix]

Those living with IBD can have vastly different foods that act as a “trigger” for a flare-up of symptoms, but it is worth noting that mushrooms, in their natural state, appear on many lists of foods to avoid.  

Importantly, all Optimi products are provided in either powdered or capsule form, delivering the benefits of functional mushrooms and allowing for ease of digestion.

 

Why Don’t You Just Meat Me In The Middle?

 

Just as Maren Morris boldly took a chance and two-stepped away from her country roots back in 2018, you can also challenge your status quo by giving mushrooms a more prominent place on your plate.
 
You may not end up with the catchiest song of the last five years but with mushrooms acting as a vitamin rich catalyst for sodium reduction in meat-based dishes[x], you will be making a change that benefits both you and our planet.
 
As the most recent climate reports continue to cite the need for change on a global scale, many people continue to look for individual lifestyle changes that are both meaningful and manageable. In this case, because pastures used to raise cattle are an inefficient use of green space, cutting back on your intake of red meat is actually one small change that can make a big difference.
 
So, in addition to all the other benefits they provide, mushrooms may just save the world as well.

[Editors Note: This blog post was written by Jared Stephens]

[i] Why Mitochondria Is The Organelle Of The Moment | Pfizer.” Why Mitochondria Is The Organelle Of The Moment | Pfizer, www.pfizer.com, https://www.pfizer.com/news/articles/why_mitochondria_is_the_organelle_of_the_moment#:~:text=As%20the%20power%20plants%20in,all%20of%20our%20biological%20processes. Accessed 29 July 2022.

[ii] Mori K, Inatomi S, Ouchi K, Azumi Y, Tuchida T. Improving effects of the mushroom Yamabushitake (Hericium erinaceus) on mild cognitive impairment: a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Phytother Res. 2009 Mar;23(3):367-72. doi: 10.1002/ptr.2634. PMID: 18844328.

[iii] Tan L, Song X, Ren Y, Wang M, Guo C, Guo D, Gu Y, Li Y, Cao Z, Deng Y. Anti-inflammatory effects of cordycepin: A review. Phytother Res. 2020 Oct 8. doi: 10.1002/ptr.6890. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 33090621.

[iv] Yi, X., Xi-zhen, H. & Jia-shi, Z. Randomized double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial and assessment of fermentation product of Cordyceps sinensis (Cs-4) in enhancing aerobic capacity and respiratory function of the healthy elderly volunteers. Chin. J. Integr. Med. 10, 187–192 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02836405.

[v] Song, Jingjing et al. “Studies on the Antifatigue Activities of Cordyceps Militaris Fruit Body Extract in Mouse Model.” Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine 2015 (2015): 174616–174616. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2015/174616/

[vi] Li, Miaoyu, et al. “Role of Dietary Edible Mushrooms in the Modulation of Gut Microbiota.” Journal of Functional Foods, vol. 83, 2021, p. 104538., https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jff.2021.104538.

[vii] Schwartz B, Hadar Y. Possible mechanisms of action of mushroom-derived glucans on inflammatory bowel disease and associated cancer. Ann Transl Med. 2014 Feb;2(2):19. doi: 10.3978/j.issn.2305-5839.2014.01.03. PMID: 25332995; PMCID: PMC4202469.

[viii] Li, Cailan, et al. “Natural-Derived Polysaccharides from Plants, Mushrooms, and Seaweeds for the Treatment of Inflammatory Bowel Disease.” Frontiers in Pharmacology, vol. 12, 2021, https://doi.org/10.3389/fphar.2021.651813.

[ix] Jayachandran, M., Xiao, J., & Xu, B. (2017). A Critical Review on Health Promoting Benefits of Edible Mushrooms through Gut Microbiota. International journal of molecular sciences18(9), 1934. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms18091934. 

[x] Myrdal Miller, A., Mills, K., Wong, T., Drescher, G., Lee, S. M., Sirimuangmoon, C., Schaefer, S., Langstaff, S., Minor, B., & Guinard, J. X. (2014). Flavor-enhancing properties of mushrooms in meat-based dishes in which sodium has been reduced and meat has been partially substituted with mushrooms. Journal of food science79(9), S1795–S1804. https://doi.org/10.1111/1750-3841.12549.