7 Adaptogenic Mushrooms + Their Benefits, Explained By A Functional Medicine Doctor

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Mushrooms are not just for the forest floor, or those looking for a psychedelic experience.

Certain mushrooms have been used throughout history for their medicinal benefits. Now research is catching up with folk medicine.

Join me on a stroll through the magical mushroom kingdom. These special fungi have been shown to have some amazing things for your energy, brain, hormones, and immune system.

1. Chaga

Chaga has been used in traditional medicine in eastern Europe in a variety of health problems such as stomach diseases and tumors. Research is now validating antiquity as chaga shows many health benefits.

Inflammation is linked to just about every chronic and autoimmune health problem. One study found chaga was able to reduce the pro-inflammatory nitric oxide and cyclooxygenase.

Chaga is jam-packed with antioxidant power, having the ability to scavenge harmful free radicals. Think berries on steroids!

Chaga also has been shown to be able to fight off viruses. In one study, the water-based extract of chaga exhibited antiviral activity against common viral infections such as the flu. This superfood medicine was also shown to have immune balancing effects as well.

If that wasn't enough, research has also shown chaga to be a cancer killer. Certain cancers of the liver, and lung and brain, were all decreased with chaga.

2. Shitake

Watch out cancer, Shitake was also shown to have cancer-fighting properties. One Japanese study found that mice given shitake extract saw shrinking of their tumors.

Shitake was also found to have been beneficial in improving heart disease and lowering cholesterol.

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3. Himematsutake

Himematsutake, or Royal Sun Agaricus, is another super cancer fighter. One study looked at a special protein found in the Royal mushoom called blazein. Blazein has the ability to actually kill cancer cells. Cancer cells began to die from blazein after only two days of treatment for stomach cancer and only three days for lung cancer.

4. Lions Mane

Do you struggle with brain problems such as brain fog or memory loss? Lion’s mane mushrooms are increasingly studied for their neuroprotective benefits. Nerve Growth Factors (NGFs) found in this mushroom have the ability to regenerate and protect brain tissue.

About a dozen studies have been published on the neuroregenerative properties of lion’s mane so far. One small-scale study gave lion's mane to patients four 250 mg tablets containing 96 percent mushroom powder three times a day for 16 weeks. Those who took the lion's mane powder showed significantly increased scores on the cognitive function scale compared with the placebo group.

Lion's mane also has been shown to be beneficial for people struggling with anxiety and depression. Post-menopausal women who consumed lion’s mane baked into cookies showed less anxiety and depression and also had better concentration in just four weeks.

5. Turkey Tail

Turkey tail, named for its colorful stripes, is probably the most promising mushroom as far as research is concerned. Many of the studies centered around the medicinal benefits of mushrooms have been small-scale studies. Turkey tail is, at this point, the most well researched mushroom in larger scale studies.

Turkey Tail has two powerful polysaccharides called PSP and PSK (or Kreskin) which is at the center of a $5.4 million collaboration between Bastyr University, the University of Washington and funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Researchers found that taking Turkey Tail daily improves immune function when dosed daily to women with stage I to III breast cancer. PSP has been shown to significantly enhance immune status in up to 97 percent of cancer patients.

Unlike most pharmaceutical drugs, Turkey tail also showed no negative side effects in the study.

Turkey tail is also something I use in some of my patients struggling with gut overgrowths, such as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) and candida overgrowth.

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6. Cordyceps

Cordyceps is the anti-ager of the mushroom kingdom.

One study out of China found that cordyceps extract was able to dramatically increase powerhouse antioxidants superoxide dismutase and glutathione peroxidase. This special fungus also decreased pro-inflammatory monoamine oxidase and lipid peroxidation activity which causes us to age.

A double-blind placebo-controlled trial also found that cordyceps acted like an adaptogen, or hormone balancer, helping people struggling with fatigue increase their levels of energy and endurance.

7. Reishi

A staggering 50 percent of America is either prediabetic or diabetic, and that number will most likely grow if we continue to progress the way we have been. Studies have shown that the polysaccharides and triterpenes in reishi extracts decreased excessive fat storage seen in people struggling with weight gain and lower blood sugars in diabetics.

Reishi is able to down-regulate alpha-glucosidase, the enzyme responsible for breaking down starches into sugars. This magic mushroom was also shown to help with kidney problems and wound healing in diabetics.

Adaptogen Mushroom Recipes

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1. Choose the format you want.

These superfood mushrooms typically come in a few forms:

  • dry powdered form
  • capsules
  • extracts
  • whole food form

Go for the form that works best for you and your daily routine. Of course, talk with your doctor about your interest in supplementing with anything.

2. Go for organic.

Any way you bring healing mushrooms into your life, make sure they are organic and harvested from a trusted source.

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3. Consider growing your own.

Mushrooms are easy to grow and there are many places to buy your own mushroom starter kit. This is a fun, affordable way to get these foods into your diet. They typically come in terrariums or logs which are inoculated with mushroom spores. You can then add them to salads and soups, even on an elimination diet.

4. Try this healing anti-inflammatory mushroom elixir recipe.


  • 1.5 cups plain full-fat organic coconut milk
  • 1/2 tsp each of organic powdered of chaga, reishi, lion's mane, turkey tail, cordyceps, shitake, and himematsutake
  • 1 tsp chia seed
  • 1 tbsp raw organic honey
  • 2 pitted medjool dates (more if you want it sweeter!)
  • 2 tbsp raw cacao powder
  • 1 tsp maca powder
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • Himalayan sea salt to taste


  1. Blend all ingredients in a blender.
  2. Serve cold or, if it's chilly where you are, warm it up in a pot and enjoy!

Want to learn how to unlock the power of food to heal your body, prevent disease & achieve optimal health? Register now for our FREE Functional Nutrition Webinar with Kelly LeVeque.

William Cole, D.C., IFMCP

Functional Medicine Practitioner
Dr. Will Cole, leading functional-medicine expert, consults people around the world via webcam at www.drwillcole.com and locally in Pittsburgh. He specializes in clinically investigating underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing health programs for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal dysfunctions, digestive disorders, and brain problems.Dr. Cole was named one of the top 50 functional-medicine and integrative doctors in the nation and is the author of Ketotarian in which he melds the powerful benefits of the ketogenic and plant-based diets.
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William Cole, D.C., IFMCP

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