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Top 5 benefits of therapeutic mushrooms

Mushrooms have been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years for their anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, glucose management and heart protective properties, among other benefits.[1]

Here are the top 5 reasons for you to add functional mushrooms to your daily health regimen:

Healthy gut

Mushrooms support digestive tract health and metabolism in a variety of ways.[2] First, they are a source of soluble fibres called beta-glucans that resist digestion and absorption and, as a result, may help to improve the gut microbiome. In other words, they are prebiotic fibres (food) that feed probiotic (helpful) bacteria and produce health-promoting short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) as a result. SCFA support gut integrity, and studies show they provide anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, and anti-microbial benefits.[3] Beta-glucans also help to reduce cholesterol.

Adaptogens – to help with stress

Adaptogens are compounds in your food that help your body adapt to stressors that threaten homeostasis or balance.[4]  Sometimes adaptation involves turning up the volume on activity. Sometimes it means helping systems relax. By definition, adaptogens must be harmless, act quickly, have long-lasting effects, and reduce stress-induced damage.[5]

Adaptogens can increase both physical and mental power, reduce fatigue, and help you stay healthy. They also help you recover if you do get sick or injured.

 And mushrooms are one of the best sources of adaptogens.

Remember those beta-glucans? Along with supporting the health of your gut microbiome, they are also powerful adaptogens. Mushroom beta-glucans bind to various immune system cells that protect you from pathogens like germs and viruses. They also can detect and control early signs of cancer. Recent lab studies show that beta-glucans kick in when stress levels are most damaging.[6] So: Now.

Antioxidants

You’ve likely heard of free radicals. They’re unstable molecules that bounce around inside your body trying to steady themselves and wreaking all sorts of havoc as they go. In fact, some theories propose that free radicals are a significant cause of aging and chronic disease.[7]

Antioxidants stabilize free radicals and stop the carnage, and mushrooms are a source of two powerhouse free radical scavengers: Ergothioneine (ergo) and glutathione.[8] Although humans don’t manufacture ergo, it’s found in high concentrations in damaged human tissues. Research suggests this antioxidant is called in to prevent further damage.[9]

Unlike other nutrients, ergo has its own dedicated transporter, which suggests that your body places a pretty high value on it. In other words, obtaining ergo and holding on to it is critical for health. Lower blood levels of ergo have been linked with mild cognitive impairment, Crohn’s disease, eye disorders, and frailty.[10]   

Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant that helps to regenerate worn-out vitamin C and plays a critical role in drug detoxification and elimination. [11],[12] (Drugs include everything from over-the-counter pain or cold medication, to prescription drugs to alcohol and other toxins.)

Low levels of glutathione are also associated with neurogenerative disorders, acute respiratory disease and asthma, high blood pressure and immune diseases.

Reishi and lion’s mane are excellent sources of ergothioneine and glutathione.4

Immune support

Mushrooms like chaga are a rich source of unique polysaccharides that can regulate immune function, and the most well-known of these carbohydrates – again – are the beta-glucans.[13] Beta-glucans prime the immune system and activate white blood cells to increase resistance to invading pathogens. [14] This antioxidant-rich mushroom helps your body manage inflammation and defends against stress-induced free radicals.[15]

And mushrooms provide some unique benefits. Turkey tail mushroom, for example, contains two nutrients you can’t get anywhere else. These nutrients stimulate T-cells that act as messengers between the innate and adaptive immune systems.[16] They also encourage “immune system project manager” cells that work as in response to infection, inflammation and injury. [17]

Research shows that turkey tail nutrients may be helpful in managing cell production and slowing down the progression of tumours. They also may work to reduce side effects and improve survival rates when used along with standard cancer treatment.

Cordyceps mushroom is the only source of cordycepin, a compound that helps to protect you from inflammatory injury for many diseases including asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson's disease, hepatitis, atherosclerosis, and atopic dermatitis. Research has shown that cordycepin enhances immunity, inhibits the proliferation of viral RNA, suppresses cytokine storms, and may support the immune system against viral infections. [18]

Power up your brain

There are growth factors in your brain that regulate the growth and death of nerve cells and tissue after an injury. They keep your brain vibrant. The most well-known are brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and nerve growth factor (NGF). A shortage of these growth factors has been linked to major depressive disorder in the short term[19] and neurodegenerative diseases in the long-term.[20]

Compounds in lion’s mane mushroom can easily cross the blood-brain barrier, where they stimulate the nerve growth factors that activate your brain.[21] Studies show that lion’s mane may have a role in easing stress-induced cell death [22] and improving mild cognitive impairment.[23]

How do you take them?

Take your Optimi supplements every day. With food. With coffee. With water. In the morning. At night. It doesn’t matter when or how you take them. What’s important is that you take them.

(It’s also okay if you miss a day here or there, but they won’t work if you don’t take them.)

How do you choose?

Each mushroom provides unique health benefits, so choose according to your goals. For all-round therapeutic support, choose a blend of five powerhouse mushrooms. Go here to learn more.

Lisa Petty, PhD is Education Manager at Optimi. Learn more about her interests and background here.

REFERENCES:

[1] Guggenheim, A. G., Wright, K. M., & Zwickey, H. L. (2014). Immune Modulation From Five Major Mushrooms: Application to Integrative Oncology. Integrative medicine (Encinitas, Calif.)13(1), 32–44.

[2] Van Steenwijk, H. P., Bast, A., & De Boer, A. (2021). Immunomodulating Effects of Fungal Beta-Glucans: From Traditional Use to Medicine. Nutrients, 13(4), 1333–. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13041333

[3] Tan J, McKenzie C, Potamitis M, Thorburn AN, Mackay CR, Macia L. The role of short-chain fatty acids in health and disease. Adv Immunol. 2014;121:91-119. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-800100-4.00003-9. PMID: 24388214.

[4] Todd, K. (2021). An Overview of Adaptogens: Can these compounds help us 'adapt' in times of stress?" Environmental Nutrition, vol. 44, no. 7, July 2021, p. 7. Gale Academic OneFile, link.gale.com/apps/doc/A664733803/AONE?u=st46245&sid=bookmark-AONE&xid=fd288daf. Accessed 15 Sept. 2021.

[5] Liao, Ly., He, Yf., Li, L. et al. A preliminary review of studies on adaptogens: comparison of their bioactivity in TCM with that of ginseng-like herbs used worldwide. Chin Med 1357 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13020-018-0214-9

[6] Vetvicka V, Vancikova Z. Anti-stress action of several orally-given β-glucans. Biomed Pap Med Fac Univ Palacky Olomouc Czech Repub. 2010 Sep;154(3):235-8. doi: 10.5507/bp.2010.035. PMID: 21048809.

[7] Biesalski HK. Free radical theory of aging. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2002 Jan;5(1):5-10. doi: 10.1097/00075197-200201000-00002. PMID: 11790942.

[8] Kalaras, M. D., Richie, J. P., Calcagnotto, A., & Beelman, R. B. (2017). Mushrooms: A rich source of the antioxidants ergothioneine and glutathione. Food Chemistry233, 429–433. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodchem.2017.04.109

[9] Halliwell. (2016). Ergothioneine, an adaptive antioxidant for the protection of injured tissues? A hypothesis. Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications., 470(2), 245–250. https://doi.org/info:doi/

[10] Cheah, I. K., & Halliwell, B. (2021). Ergothioneine, recent developments. Redox Biology, 42, 101868–101868. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.redox.2021.101868

[11] Lenton KJ, Sané AT, Therriault H, Cantin AM, Payette H, Wagner JR. Vitamin C augments lymphocyte glutathione in subjects with ascorbate deficiency. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003 Jan;77(1):189-95. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/77.1.189. PMID: 12499341

[12] Salguero, M. L. (2007). Chapter 107: Detoxification.  D. Rakel (ed.). W.B. Saunders. Pp 1123-1135. ISBN 9781416029540, https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-1-4160-2954-0.50111-3.

(https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9781416029540501113)

[13] Linnakoski, R., Reshamwala, D., Veteli, P., Cortina-Escribano, M., Vanhanen, H., & Marjomäki, V. (2018). Antiviral Agents From Fungi: Diversity, Mechanisms and Potential Applications. Frontiers in microbiology, 9, 2325. https://doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2018.02325

[14] Volman, J. J., Ramakers, J. D., & Plat, J. (2007). Dietary modulation of immune function by β-glucans. Physiology & Behavior94(2), 276–284. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.physbeh.2007.11.045

[15] Patel, Seema. “Chaga (Inonotus Obliquus) Mushroom: Nutraceutical Assesement Based on Latest Findings.” Emerging Bioresources with Nutraceutical and Pharmaceutical Prospects. Cham: Springer International Publishing, 2015. 115–126.

[16] Moradali, M.-F., Mostafavi, H., Ghods, S., & Hedjaroude, G.-A. (2007). Immunomodulating and anticancer agents in the realm of macromycetes fungi (macrofungi). International Immunopharmacology, 7(6), 701–724. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.intimp.2007.01.008

[17]   Saleh, M. H., Rashedi, I., & Keating, A. (2017). Immunomodulatory Properties of Coriolus versicolor : The Role of Polysaccharopeptide. Frontiers in Immunology, 8, 1087–1087. https://doi.org/10.3389/fimmu.2017.01087

[18] 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.

[19] Vigna, L., Morelli, F., Agnelli, G. M., Napolitano, F., Ratto, D., Occhinegro, A., … Rossi, P. (2019). Hericium erinaceus Improves Mood and Sleep Disorders in Patients Affected by Overweight or Obesity: Could Circulating Pro-BDNF and BDNF Be Potential Biomarkers? Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2019, 7861297–12. https://doi.org/10.1155/2019/7861297

[20] Ryu, S. H., Hong, S. M., Khan, Z., Lee, S. K., Vishwanath, M., Turk, A., Yeon, S. W., Jo, Y. H., Lee, D. H., Lee, J. K., Hwang, B. Y., Jung, J.-K., Kim, S. Y., & Lee, M. K. (2021). Neurotrophic isoindolinones from the fruiting bodies of Hericium erinaceus. Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry Letters, 31, 127714–127714. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bmcl.2020.127714

[21] Ryu, S. H., Hong, S. M., Khan, Z., Lee, S. K., Vishwanath, M., Turk, A., Yeon, S. W., Jo, Y. H., Lee, D. H., Lee, J. K., Hwang, B. Y., Jung, J.-K., Kim, S. Y., & Lee, M. K. (2021). Neurotrophic isoindolinones from the fruiting bodies of Hericium erinaceus. Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry Letters, 31, 127714–127714. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bmcl.2020.127714

[22] Sabaratnam, V., Kah-Hui, W., Naidu, M., & Rosie David, P. (2013). Neuronal health - can culinary and medicinal mushrooms help?. Journal of traditional and complementary medicine3(1), 62–68. https://doi.org/10.4103/2225-4110.106549

[23] 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.