Medicinal Mushrooms – Supercharge Your Health
Cancer-fighting fungi to boost immunity and beat stress
With endless health benefits including cancer-fighting properties and brain boosting compounds, it’s no wonder that medicinal mushrooms have become one of the most popular superfoods on the planet.
Medicinal mushrooms are a type of fungi that have been used for centuries in Eastern medicine to restore vitality and bolster health. Each medicinal mushroom has a unique nutritional profile and set of health benefits, making them a highly beneficial function food to add to your diet.
Here are 5 medicinal mushrooms to supercharge your health and prevent disease.
Chaga – Cancer-Fighting Properties
Known as the mushroom of immortality, chaga is one of the most nutritionally dense mushrooms in the world. It contains over 215 nutritional compounds and five times more antioxidants than blueberries, turmeric and acai berries. Antioxidants shield cells from damage caused by stress, toxins and radiation and slow down the ageing process. Chaga is rich in a type of antioxidant called super-oxide dismutase (SOD) which significantly reduces cell damage and inflammation in the body. It also contains an abundance of beta-glucans, a type of soluble fibre that regulates blood sugar levels and stimulates the immune system to work more efficiently. Chaga has shown to be effective in both cancer prevention and treatment due to its antioxidant and anti-tumour properties. Research demonstrates its capability to suppress tumour growth and prevent collateral damage from aggressive cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation. 
Cordyceps – The Stress Buster
Cordyceps is a type of fungus that lives on ghost moth caterpillars in the high mountainous regions of China and Tibet. Known for its energy-boosting properties, cordyceps is used by athletes to improve exercise performance as it helps build lean muscle and increases stamina and performance. Cordyceps is a natural stress buster, helping to alleviate anxiety and fatigue that come with stress. It’s considered an adaptogen which means it supports the body in times of stress, enabling it to adapt accordingly by regulating the production of stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol). This in turn calms the nervous system which is often overstimulated and wired. Naturally rich in B vitamins, minerals, amino acids (protein building blocks), antioxidants and beta-glucans, cordyceps nourishes the body, aids liver and kidney function, boosts libido and balances hormones. Cordyceps has also shown anti-tumour properties, helping to reduce the proliferation of cancer cells.
Lion’s Mane – Brain Cell Protector
With its long, shaggy spines, lion’s mane is an unusual looking mushroom that grows on decaying trees and logs in Asia, Europe and North America. Known for its positive effect on brain health and the nervous system, lion’s mane has shown to improve memory and focus, boost cognitive function and regenerate nerve cells. It contains specific compounds that stimulate the production of nerve growth factors (NGF) which are essential for the survival and development of nerve cells and a healthy functioning central nervous system. Ageing causes NGF to decline which can lead to a decline in cognitive function. Studies show that lion’s mane aids memory recognition in those with Alzheimer’s disease. It is also beneficial for those with dementia, Parkinson’s disease, anxiety, depression, peripheral nerve damage and stroke recovery.
Reishi – Enhances Sleep & Immune Function
Reishi, also known as Ganoderma lucidum, is commonly used in Asian culture as an immune stimulant and sleep tonic. It contains specific compounds that can increase the activity of immune cells, especially natural killer cells which are responsible for defending the body against infection and detecting (and destroying) cancer cells. Reishi exerts a sleep-promoting effect by relaxing the nervous system and improving overall sleep quality, so it is an excellent remedy for those experiencing insomnia.   It is considered an adaptogen herb in Eastern medicine due to its ability to help the body deal with the negative effects of stress. Reishi has also shown to reduce inflammation, replete energy stores, balance hormones and strengthen the cardiovascular system.
Turkey Tail – Fights Inflammation
Resembling a plume of turkey feathers, turkey tail is another immune-boosting medicinal mushroom with strong anti-inflammatory properties. It contains two types of beta-glucans (PSP and PSK) that have shown to increase natural killer cells (immune cells that target and destroy tumour cells) and slow cancer growth. It’s been used successfully as a cancer therapy adjunct to mitigate the effects of cancer medicine and radiation, stop metastasis and in some cases, improve life expectancy.   In Asia and Europe, traditional medicine practitioners promote turkey tail as a medicinal tea to treat digestive complaints and restore gut function (as it contains prebiotics to nourish beneficial bacteria in the gut), replenish energy and vitality, increase muscle strength and support the body in times of stress.
How to take medicinal mushrooms
With the exception of chaga, medicinal mushrooms can be eaten raw or cooked. You can add them to soups, salads and hot pots. Cooking does not destroy the medicinal properties in the mushroom; however, minimal cooking is recommended. Fresh turkey tail is slightly bitter and has a chewy consistency so dehydrating it first can make it more palatable.
The best place to buy fresh medicinal mushrooms is your local farmer’s market or from a reputable grower online.
A common way to consume medicinal mushrooms is in their powdered form. The powder is versatile and easy to add to smoothies, hot drinks (herbal teas) and sprinkle over food.The powder is highly concentrated so you don’t need much of it for a therapeutic effect – start with ½ tsp per day and gradually increase to 1 tsp. You can buy powdered mushrooms individually or as a blend (containing lots of different mushrooms). They also come in capsule form for those who like the ease of a capsule.
Only buy certified organic, extracted and wood-grown mushrooms that are pure and do not contain fillers.
Mushrooms naturally grow and thrive on decaying wood and they pull a lot of nutrients from the wood. Some brands grow their mushrooms on grains as it’s cheaper – these mushrooms are less nutritious as mushrooms do not grow naturally on grains.
To learn more about superfoods and how to improve your nutrition, take a look at CNM’s range of short, online courses and resources.