More than just common forest fungi, mushrooms have been utilized both nutritionally and medicinally for centuries, with first usage dating as far back as 3000 BCE. In this article we will go through 5 mushrooms you should eat more and why.
Initially employed for use within ancient medicine for their anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic, anti-cancer, and cardiovascular-protective qualities, mushrooms have a well-documented role in the maintenance and overall support of a healthy lifestyle (1).
Mushrooms are thought to be involved in highly complex processes that take place within the human body such as apoptosis (positive cell death), immune modulation, and inflammatory response — and that’s just to name a few (2).
Precisely speaking, there are over 1,000 different bioactive compounds present in mushrooms, including some kinds you may have already heard of. These include polysaccharides (complex sugars), proteins, and glycoproteins (sugar-protein compounds) (3).
The most common medicinally used of these compounds is known as β-glucan (remember it because we’ll be coming back to it later).
While there are currently over 10,000 different named species of mushroom on earth, all with their own unique characteristics and ancient origins, recent research has turned its focus to a select few for their powerful range of purported health benefits.
So, without further ado…
Here are the 5 mushrooms you should eat more and why:
First Mushroom You Should Eat: Cordyceps Mushroom (Cordyceps sinensis)
Technically (and taxonomically) speaking, the Cordyceps Mushroom is not really a mushroom at all — rather, it’s a peculiar combination between a caterpillar and a fungus (4).
So, just as you thought Mother Nature couldn’t get any more surprising, it might interest you to know that this type of mushroom has been used in Chinese and Tibetan medicine for two primary reasons. Both of these reasons have to do with the control of blood within the body, but in very different ways.
These effects of the Cordyceps mushroom are:
- its ability to suppress the growth of cancer cells
- its ability to improve resistance to anaerobic fatigue (i.e. sports endurance)
That’s right. Science suggests that the Cordyceps may decreasethe amount of blood flow that reaches cancer cells in the body, thereby suppressing tumor growth and increasing the ability of cisplatin — aka chemotherapy — to produce its cytotoxic effects (5).
Research has also shown that consumption of this mushroom can increase the strength and endurance of an individual during exercise through an opposite reaction.
This process involves the increaseof blood flow to and from the heart, as well as the relaxation of the contracted vascular smooth muscle and the inhibition of constrictions within the trachea.
What’s more, is that researchers concluded that the regular use of Cordyceps can provide additional benefits to individuals leading an active lifestyle, due to its unique chemical makeup that speeds up lactate energy metabolism and reduces overall exercise fatigue (6).
So, before you judge the Cordyceps mushroom for its slightly bizarre origins, see if incorporating this fungi into your fitness routine can’t help you go from being a good sport, to a great one.
Coriolus Mushroom (Trametes versicolor)
This mushroom — often referred to as the Turkey Tail mushroom due to its distinct color and fan-like shape — naturally occurs in a range of different climates and geographical locations and is one of the most studied mushrooms on the planet. It is one of the 5 mushrooms you should eat more, let’s see why.
The Coriolus mushroom has been the focus of a number of clinical and epidemiological studies that provide evidence for its effectiveness in boosting the immune system and improving its adaptive response to invading pathogens (7).
Pathogens are harmful microbes such as a virus or bacteria that can pose a serious threat to the immune system when not kept in check by the white blood cells responsible for fighting infection.
The Turkey Tail helps to support the production of more white blood cells as a result of the polysaccharopeptides (PSP)present within the food or fungi extract.
Not only this means that consumption of this mushroom can help to promote immunity against incoming antigens, but the subsequent release of an inflammatory protein called cytokinesmeans that if you doget sick, your body has the ability to fight back faster than before, resulting in fewer sick days, on average (8).
Don’t overlook the immune supporting effects of the Trametes versicolor, Turkey Tail mushroom — future you might thank you for it later.
Maitake Mushroom (Grifola frondosa)
This type of Japanese mushroom directly translates to the words “dancing mushroom” and most closely resembles a handful of dried flowers with its petal-like clusters.
The Maitake mushroom can be found in most supermarkets, and its high concentration of vitamins (B2, D2, niacin), minerals (calcium, magnesium, potassium), amino acids, and fiber makes it a wonderful addition to your healthy lifestyle (9). This should be enough to convince you why you should eat this mushroom more often.
Boasting protective levels of that previously discussed compound, β-glucan, this mushroom is known for its cancer fighting activity. In one research study, where Maitake mushroom powder was given to stage II-IV cancer patients aged 22- to 57-years-old, significant improvement of cancer-related symptoms was observed in 68.8 percent of breast cancer patients, 62.5 percent of lung cancer patients, and 58.3 percent of liver cancer patients (9).
While Maitake mushrooms should not be considered a treatment for cancer, the results of this study and others like it are promising.
These effects are due to the power of β-glucan to turn on particular cells such as T cells, NK cells, and superoxide anions, which all contribute to anti-cancer reactions within the body.
With these benefits in mind, it’s no wonder the Japanese dancing mushroom earns its place on our list.
Reishi Mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum)
The Ganoderma lucidum — or Reishi — is a type of mushroom with a very long history of value. Known as the “long life herb,” this fungus contains over 200 different active ingredients and compounds that provide a myriad of positive effects when consumed regularly (10).
Often used to symbolized success, divine power and longevity, the Reishi mushroom is also considered one of the best at stimulating the immune system and triggering antioxidant action within the body, and this is why you should eat it.
These effects likely come as a result of bioavailability, where the Reishi mushroom stands out as being the plant source with the number one most actively obtainable array of polysaccharide and triterpene compounds (11).
This widely used and studied mushroom has been linked to individual well-being, improved quality of life, and reduced fatigue and depression symptoms.
One study examined the effects of Reishi mushroom powder on participants with diagnosed neurasthenia — a condition most commonly associated with aches, pains, and general irritability — and found significant improvement after only 8 weeks of supplementation (12).
While many of the benefits of this fungi relate directly to the prevention of disease via antioxidant and antitumor capabilities, the Reishi mushroom at its very core functions mostly as a support system for overall well-being.
Shiitake Mushroom (Lentinula edodes)
The Shiitake mushroom, scientifically known as the Lentinula edodes, is the second most popular mushroom globally in terms of sheer consumer demand. You should eat it more often and here is why.
In particular, the Shiitake mushroom is renowned for its superb ability to lower cholesterol and inhibit the activity of HMG Co-A reductase in the body.
HMG Co-A reductase is a fancy sounding name for the enzyme in charge of controlling the rate of the metabolic pathway that produces cholesterol within the body. Too much activity of this enzyme and the body risks experiencing an over-abundance of cholesterol that can contribute to atherosclerosis, and, thus, the development of plaque along the walls of the arteries that characterizes both heart disease and type-2 diabetes.
Fascinatingly, research studies have found that the shiitake mushroom puts up a relatively good fight against atherosclerosis, preventing up to 44.26% of HMG Co-A reductase enzyme activity (13).
Then, take this number and compare it to the effects of a common cholesterol-lowering medication, pravastatin, which saw an 87.64% inhibition in HMG Co-A reductase activity, and you see why Shiitake mushrooms have earned their hype.
In conclusion, what are the 5 mushrooms you should eat more and why?
A scientific study on this fungi food group provides an incredible wealth of research on the complex functions of various types of edible mushrooms.
Results even go as far as to suggest that certain mushrooms may offer a natural and affordable solution to a variety of ailments due to their highly safe/low side-effect profile when compared to certain over-the-counter drugs (14).
More research is, of course, always needed in order to better understand the intricacies of how the consumption of different mushrooms might benefit the human body — but this list of 5 types of mushroom you should eat more of is a great place to start:
- Cordyceps Mushroom (Cordycepts sinensis)
- Coriolus Mushroom (Trametes versicolor)
- Maitake Mushroom (Grifola frondosa)
- Reishi Mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum)
- Shiitake Mushroom (Lentinula edodes)