Mushrooms are truly magical – they’ve been used for centuries as both food and medicine, with at least 270 species of mushroom that are known to have various medicinal properties. Humans began to consume them over 2,000 years ago, and today we know that those healthy fungi can provide many beneficial compounds, including those that provide anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer powers, among many other valuable properties. Many edible mushrooms are also loaded with antioxidants, minerals, fiber and other elements that are important for our good health, yet, unlike produce, they don’t need a lot of water, soil, and space to cultivate them on a mass scale.
While mushrooms are still harvested in their natural habitats, our ability to cultivate many different types of mushrooms has improved greatly in recent decades. And, there have been many studies confirming their beneficial properties in recent years as well, confirming both traditional uses and new applications for health benefits. A lot of the attention has been focused on the anti-cancer properties and various immunological properties of mushrooms, but they also provide liver protection, anti-viral, anti-diabetic, antimicrobial, antihypertensive and anti-inflammatory properties.
Inflammation is the body’s response to disease or an injury. It’s a protective mechanism and an important part of the healing process, but if it becomes excessive and chronic, it can head to a wide range of health issues. In fact, many of today’s most common ailments, like diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity and even cancer, have been linked to chronic inflammation. Fortunately, there are certain types of medicinal mushrooms that can offer medicinal properties which inhibit the inflammation process in all sorts of ways. When it comes to reducing inflammation and keeping the body balanced, these types of fungi are especially potent.
Reishi mushrooms are a genus of polypores that are found growing on wood. This type can be differentiated by other polypores with a double-walled basidiospore. They’ve been around for centuries, used by emperors and other royals, particularly in Chinese medicine, but overlooked in western cultures for years. They’re best known for supporting the liver, enhancing the immune system and battling cancer. Until the 1970s, reishi mushrooms were hard to find and very pricey, but when the process of growing this mushroom inside on a larger scale was discovered, more and more people started discovering the many benefits of reishi and enjoying dramatic improvements in their overall health.
Reishi, officially known as Ganoderma lucidum, has been revered as the mushroom of immortality in many Asian regions for centuries. Ancient people utilized it to sharpen memory, calm the mind, enhance qi (life force) and promote longevity. The mushroom is shaped like a kidney and comes in several different hues, including yellow, red, purple, black and green, with red being the most common.
Lab tests have demonstrated that bioactive compounds from reishi offer immunomodulatory, anti-aging, anti-tumor and anti-inflammatory properties. Just like other anti-inflammatory foods, they contain a number of important anticancer nutrients too, including antioxidants. Experts believe one of reishi’s most beneficial components is its polysaccharides, a water-soluble kind of nutrient known for its antitumor abilities. Research has also found these mushrooms to help reduce inflammation related to rheumatism, asthma, and inflammation of the membrane that lines the eye and eyelids without notable side effects.
Reishi, along with Maitake and Shiitake mushrooms, is also a standout as it contains a high level of an impressive compound known as beta-glucans, something that’s remarkable for its ability to boost the immune system.
Lion’s Mane Mushrooms
Lion’s mane mushrooms, also referred to as bearded hedgehog, bearded tooth mushroom and bearded tooth fungus among others, is a nootropic food that’s especially popular in traditional Chinese medicine, particularly notable for its medicinal benefits to the nerve system and brain, with the potential ability to help treat mild cognitive impairment, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, anxiety, leg cramps and more.
Japanese research published in 2015 revealed that this mushroom that looks a bit like the scruff of a lion, was able to decrease inflammation in fatty tissue, an important find as fatty tissue inflammation is a factor in the formation of metabolic syndrome, something that raises your risk of developing diabetes, stroke and heart disease.
The potent anti-inflammatory properties of lion’s mane are also believed to help digestive functioning. A number of studies have found that it can help protect one from gastric ulcers or shrink them in those who’ve already developed them. Other research has shown that it may significantly improve systems of two major inflammatory conditions related to the digestive system: inflammatory bowel disease and gastritis.
Cordyceps sinensis is a mushroom made up of a rare combination of a caterpillar and fungus found in Sikkim, India at altitudes of over 14,000 feet. Traditional healers in this area have often recommended it as an “all illnesses tonic,” thanks to its ability to improve energy, stamina, appetite, libido, endurance, and sleep. Also referred to as caterpillar fungus, unlike other fungi that grow on trees or in the soil, it grows out of the body of an underground moth larva. That means that the complete fungus is made up of a dried caterpillar, with the mushroom’s fruiting body protruding from its head.
Cordyceps is highly valued as a medicinal mushroom in traditional Tibetan and Chinese medicine, often prescribed to treat fatigue as well as to heal and soothe the lungs and kidneys. Traditional Chinese medicine has used caterpillar fungus for treating night sweats, high blood sugar, kidney dysfunction, irregular heartbeat, liver disease, sexual dysfunction, respiratory disease and more.
Experts believe the cordyceps’ many anti-inflammatory benefits are derived from its ability to fight oxidation damage, positively affect the immune system, and stimulate protective cells that help to keep the body free from mutations like infections and cancerous cells. Supplements with these mushrooms are considered a kind of natural immunopotentiating drug, something that’s used to help the immune system regain its strength after a serious illness or infection. This fungus helps to control excessive inflammation and tissue damage, as well as to speed the time it takes to heal.
Traditionally, both males and females consumed tonics made from Cordyceps to boost the libido and enhance reproductive functioning, which makes sense considering that reducing inflammation levels, something that’s at the root of most illnesses and diseases, may naturally improve fertility. They can also improve blood flow and help the body utilize oxygen better, factors for improving sexual function.