What are the benefits of medicinal mushrooms?
Written by Abbe Findley (Clinical herbalist, founder, formulator, and creator of all things Zizia)
Medicinal mushrooms contain a variety of potent constituents that have been well documented for their effects on the human body. Medicinal mushrooms include both edible and medicinal species, often there's a crossover of the two. Notable actions of medicinal mushrooms when taken regularly include
supporting the immune system particularly long term adaptive immunity (start taking these before and throughout the flu season, allergy season, and when you're traveling if you feel concerned about catching a virus) 6, 7, 13, 14, 16
may support the nervous system and reduce stress, restlessness, and promote better sleep 2
may offer support for cancer (antitumor) as an adjunct therapy to conventional medicine/in conjunction with 3, 4, 10, 12, 13, 17, 18
may reduce inflammation 8, 19
improve general well-being and quality of life through preventative mechanisms of action 9, 11, 15, 20
- may support gut health 5, 14
- may protect and support the health of the liver (hepatoprotective) 6
Medicinal mushrooms have very little side effects and the research looks rather spectacular in their ability to support our longevity, I see them as wonderful addition into our daily routine, incorporated as teas, powders, tinctures or used in cooking.
Medicinal mushrooms can be taken as a tea, in powder form added to hot water to make a tea or added to smoothies, in capsules, tinctures, and prepared into meals (soups being one popular method).
Popular medicinal mushrooms
While there are many medicinal mushrooms, here are few that you can commonly find in commerce.
Now onward to some of the medicinal mushrooms most well known set of constituents. The polysaccharides, and while there are many others, we'll keep it simple here today and focus on one.
What's a polysaccharide?
a carbohydrate (e.g. starch, cellulose, or glycogen) whose molecules consist of a number of sugar molecules bonded together
Many of the commonly used medicinal mushrooms and other adaptogenic plants contain polysaccharides. While in the beginning, this seemed like an easy concept to share, after spiraling out on research last night, the subject is much broader and complex. My goal, however, is to share with you a few digestible tidbits I’ve found helpful in understanding their benefits in supporting our health. While there is most definitely the DIVAS of constituents, hallelujah, the ones that get isolated and researched and sometimes turned into potent pharmaceuticals. It’s important to note that one of the benefits of herbal medicine is the use of the whole plant. This complex array of phytochemicals can balance out the stronger constituents, reducing potential side effects and toxicity, thereby increasing safety. *Note: herbal medicine is quite safe, way safer than many of the industrial preservatives and additives found lining 70% of the grocery store, foods, and industrial products, people are ingesting and absorbing everyday! Just sayin'.
Anyway, back to shrooms before I go off on that topic.
Polysaccharides are found in many plants and fungi, not just mushrooms, and not just adaptogens. Plants like Astragalus, Echinacea, Reishi, American Ginseng, Privet, and Maitake all are examples. What’s interesting about this class of constituents is their notable and long researched effects on supporting immune health. Medicinal mushrooms are often cited as being antitumor and it’s not necessarily because they are actually entering the body to zap tumors here and there. What’s happening is they’re stimulating the immune system to repair the damaged tissue creating the tumor. Interesting, eh? Same goes for Echinacea, widely popular as an antiviral and antibacterial and when you take Echinacea during a viral infection it’s stimulating your immune cells to zap the virus rather than killing the virus itself.
Perhaps some of you have seen the phrase, “immunomodulating polysaccharides” which means that herb may be stimulating or suppression certain components of the immune system depending on the dysfunction according to Eric Yarnell, author of Phytochemistry and Pharmacy for Practitioners of Botanical Medicine. Examples of these include Siberian Ginseng, Turkey Tail, and Shiitake.
A broader note:
“Polysaccharides from various edible mushrooms have been shown to have antitumor effects in human cell lines, and these polysaccharides generally belong to the β-glucan family (β-d-glucans) and appear to exert their anti-tumor effects, not via a direct cytotoxic effect on cancer cells, but indirectly by stimulation of immune function, allowing a host to better combat the effects of cancer cells. Reviews have been published on the immunomodulatory activities of mushroom polysaccharides,19 on the health effects of β-glucans in mushrooms,20 and on the immunobiology of mushrooms.21”
Find/Buy Medicinal Mushrooms in Zizia Products
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