Medicinal Mushrooms Going Mainstream

About 2000 years ago you may have walked into a Chinese medical establishment and found piles of powders laying around the “office”. As a mystical medicine man stepped into sight, you would have asked for a few treatments to overcome your ailments. Having fatigue? Take some of this. Liver issues? Here’s another fungus for that.

chinese medicine

Even though reishi, cordyceps, and lion’s mane mushroom might be
new to you, their medicinal properties are thousands of years old.

We have good ol’ Tim Ferriss to “blame” for some of this positive trend.

The Fungal Revolution

Most people have heard of mushrooms with psychoactive effects. These so called “magic mushrooms” are popular among a wide array of people and sub-cultures, but they’re starting to show promise for medical applications as well.

A Michael Pollan 2015 piece entitled Trip Treatment help bring psilocybin into the mainstream as less of a hippy past-time and more of a tool to treat symptoms of anxiety and depression. Within the past year, Tim Ferriss has popularized research at Johns Hopkins University  and the U.S. / U.K. governments have changed their tone about research of the fungus and psychoactive benefits.

Beyond magic mushrooms, the medicinal mushroom revolution is in full swing. As information has proliferated, people are gaining access to more things from across the globe. The myopic standard western medicine model has its uses, but many westerners are seeking alternative, old-school methods.

Over the past year, Tim Ferriss has started promoting Four Sigmatic mushroom coffee, which is a unique blend of coffee and medicinal mushrooms (such as lion’s mane or reishi). It’s increased the popularity of medicinal mushrooms as a whole and kickstarted the mainstream push we are seeing today.

The Big Four: Popular Medicinal Mushrooms

There are dozens of medicinal mushrooms and some that humans have probably not classified. Fungus is an entire class of life very unique and ubiquitous. However, human experience and modern research has focused primarily on four medicinal mushrooms, which are the topic of most attention.

Lion’s Mane Mushroom

The lion’s mane mushroom is one of the few, which primarily has benefits for cognitive performance. It is particularly useful for people with some type of brain-trauma and the depression caused by these incidents. One study showed that lion’s mane could combat symptoms of anxiety and decrease feelings of depression. In another study, researchers confirmed potential for lion’s mane to prevent some aspects of cognitive decline.

Perhaps the most promising of the lion’s mane benefits is for increasing nerve-growth factor (NGF) in regions of the brain, such as the hippocampus. This increased nerve-growth can be helpful for mood, but also learning and memory formation.

Reishi Mushroom

Called the “mushroom of immortality” by the traditional Chinese, reishi is another popular medicinal option. Although the name is a bit of an over-statement, reishi does have neuroprotective effects and can increase neurogenesis via brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and NGF as mentioned above.

The primary benefit of reishi mushroom is as a immune booster and anti-inflammatory. Many traditional cures used reishi for the treatment of cancer and tumors. The reishi works, according to modern scientists, through increased natural killer (NK) cells, which target the tumor and kill cancerous cells.

Chaga Mushroom

Less of a brain booster per se, chaga mushroom has gained acclaim for the protection against cancer. It is known as an anti-cancer agent, but can also have a significant impact on DNA damage, which impacts longevity and aging.

cordyceps mushroomCordyceps Mushroom
Finally, there is cordyceps mushroom, which is more of a physical enhancement tool and powerful adaptogen. Much like rhodiola rosea, the cordyceps mushroom can help the body to adapt to stressful situations and overcome them more easily.

While it is used often by athletes and physical fitness enthusiasts, it has a significant impact on the stress response, which makes it a great tool in general.

Selling the Wrong Fungus

Even though the medicinal revolution is well under way, there are plenty of false prophets and snake oil salesmen. Unfortunately, medicinal mushrooms are being packaged and sold as beneficial while the extraction and processing are not.

The most important aspect is to check the labels to see whether products are extracted using the mycelium or the fruiting bodies. One is almost useless while the other has the lion’s share of the benefits.

The mycelium is akin to the root of the plant. This is where the nutrients are absorbed, but not where the benefits are. The unfortunate thing is, many reputable brands (including dozens at your nearby health food store) are filled with mycelium. Take a look on Amazon and you’ll see the same thing in almost every ingredient deck.

The key is to find medicinal mushrooms extracted with the fruiting bodies. This ensures the most effective beta-glucan percentage (the psychoactive ingredients involved with medicinal mushrooms) and the best health results for you as a consumer.

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