6 Adaptogenic Mushrooms + Their Benefits, Explained By A Functional Medicine Doctor
Mushrooms are not just for coating the forest floor, or those looking for a psychedelic experience. Throughout history, fungi have been cultivated for medicinal benefits too. Though more large-scale clinical trials are needed, ongoing research suggests that certain mushrooms may provide adjunct treatment for a number of conditions—most notably stress and inflammation.
This doesn't mean you should eat any ol' mushroom you find the next time you feel anxious or sniffly. Some varieties are bioaccumulators, meaning that they absorb and store the chemicals that surround them, so you need to be super careful with sourcing the right 'shroom. With that being said, here are a few mushroom varieties that show some promise for their calming, adaptogenic properties.
Chaga has been used in traditional medicine in eastern Europe in a variety of health problems such as stomach diseases. More recently, research (albeit, on animal subjects) has emerged finding that chaga can help reduce pro-inflammatory compounds1 like nitric oxide and cyclooxygenase.
In another study, the water-based extract of chaga exhibited antiviral activity against common infections2 such as the flu. Chaga is also packed with beneficial antioxidants3.
Shitake mushrooms are commonly used in cooking, and lucky for us they might potentially help protect the body against heart disease4 and lower cholesterol5, according to animal trials out of Japan.
In one literature review, Himematsutake, or Royal Sun Agaricus, was found to promote a healthy immune response6, though more research is needed to look into exactly how they work in the body. We do know that this type of mushroom is rich in β-glucans, a healthy dietary fiber.
4. Lions Mane
Lion’s mane mushrooms are increasingly studied for their potential neuroprotective benefits7. Nerve Growth Factors (NGFs)8 found in this mushroom might 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 study9 gave human patients four 250 mg tablets containing 96 percent lion's mane 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 to the placebo group. Another small study found that the mushroom has the potential to reduce depression and anxiety symptoms10 in some cases.
One animal study out of China found that cordyceps extract was able to increase powerhouse antioxidants 11are rich in β-glucanssuperoxide dismutase and glutathione peroxidase. This fungus also decreased pro-inflammatory monoamine oxidase and lipid peroxidation activity, which causes us to age.
Another double-blind placebo-controlled trial on humans 12found that cordyceps acted like an adaptogen, or hormone balancer, helping people struggling with fatigue increase their levels of energy and endurance.
Preliminary cell studies have shown that the polysaccharides and triterpenes in reishi13 extracts may help reduce excess fat storage and promote blood sugar balance due to their ability to down-regulate alpha-glucosidase14, the enzyme responsible for breaking down starches into sugars.
How to use adaptogenic mushrooms safely.
You should always talk to your doctor before introducing a new supplement into your routine. If you have the go-ahead to start experimenting with adaptogenic mushrooms, here are some tips on how to safely incorporate them into your well-being practice.
1. Choose the format you want.
These superfood mushrooms typically come in a few forms:
- dry powdered form
- whole food form
Go for the form that works best for you and your daily routine. Of course, again, 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.
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 add your fresh crop to everything from salads and soups to tonics and elixirs. For some inspiration, here's my favorite adaptogenic mushroom drink recipe:
My go-to 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
- Blend all ingredients in a blender.
- Serve cold or, if it's chilly where you are, warm it up in a pot and enjoy!
Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, D.C., is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the globe, starting one of the first functional medicine telehealth centers in the world. Named one of the top 50 functional and integrative doctors in the nation, Dr. Will Cole provides a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. He is the host of the popular The Art Of Being Well podcast and the New York Times bestselling author of Intuitive Fasting, Ketotarian,The Inflammation Spectrum, and the brand new book Gut Feelings: Healing the Shame-Fueled Relationship Between What You Eat and How You Feel.