What makes functional mushrooms beneficial to our health?

Functional mushrooms are not usually found in the aisle of your local grocery store — they are rarer than the baby bellas you see in the produce section. Functional mushrooms and fungi grow on plant and animal surfaces in the wild, prospering in the most hostile conditions nature can produce. Their defining ability to thrive in almost any environment is enabled by the antioxidants, vitamins, essential minerals, and powerful sugar complexes stored in the body of the fungi.   So what makes functional mushrooms beneficial?

Functional mushrooms are known to be a reliable source of pantothenic acid, phosphorous, low-calorie protein, vitamin D, vitamin B, and selenium. And beta glutens, a sugar complex found in fungi, are known to catalyze and strengthen the human immune system. However, scientists still do not understand the reason beta glutens have this effect on the immune system. It is theorized that the sugar complex mimics infection and triggers a rapid response from the immune system. Modern research has found antiviral, antifungal, antibiotic, and antidepressive applications for chemical components in functional mushrooms. 

Much like the medicines that come from plant-based life forms, functional mushrooms contain many of the same survival chemicals that are active in humans. In fact, humans are more closely related to fungi than plants. Scientists have yet to discover the vast powers of the functional mushroom in medicine and healthcare. The vegetative part of the mushroom, called the mycelium, contains healing potential that researchers are slowly uncovering over time. For example, using solvents other than water has revealed a whole new set of active chemical complexes in fungi. 



Popular Functional Mushrooms and Their Potential Benefits


There are numerous species of functional mushrooms with a wide variety of health benefits. Many of these mushrooms have been used for thousands of years in medicinal practices. Today, the study of functional mushrooms is multidisciplinary, and researchers are finding new applications for functional mushroom components all the time. Just about a century ago, scientists discovered the antibiotic, Penicillin, through the study of functional mushrooms. Here’s a brief breakdown on the benefits of some of the most popular functional mushrooms on the market today:


Lion’s mane 

Lion’s mane is used in ancient medicinal practices, as well as in contemporary medicines. This functional mushroom produces a protein called the nerve growth factor, which helps regenerate nerve tissue in the brain, and has the potential to fight dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, lethargy, weight gain, and distractedness. 



The cordyceps mushroom can be found in worldwide medicines as it grows on a living host. For thousands of years, China has used the functional mushroom as a daily supplement for its ability to increase energy levels and endurance. Cordyceps also has components that activate anti-aging processes in the human body.  Modern research has proven the legitimacy of these ancient medicinal practices. When consumed, cordyceps have been shown to increase lung functions and ameliorate issues with breathing, specifically in those with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Cordyceps reduces oxidative stress and improves cold intolerance, dizziness, fatigue, and tinnitus. 



Reishi is one of the most extensively studied mushrooms in the world and is known as the mushroom of immortality for its neuroprotective properties and nerve growth factor protein (also found in lion’s mane). The fungi are bitter tasting because of their terpenoids, an active component with powerful anti-inflammatory properties, immunity complexes, and antioxidant effects. Contemporary research has revealed that the sugar complexes in reishi produce substances that mimic toxins and control the growth of malignant cancer cells. Reishi is a whole-body tonic that supports many aspects of health through its detoxifying properties. 


Turkey Tail 

Turkey tail is a common mushroom that can be found growing in the forests of North America on the bodies of fallen trees and dead plant life. Traditionally, turkey tail is used in cooking and teas. It is praised for its prebiotic and antioxidant components, which assist in digestion and gut health. Beta gluten in turkey tail, called Krestin, is the most frequently prescribed anticancer agent in Japan.