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Have functional mushrooms taken over your Instagram ad feed? In recent years, mushroom supplements have taken the form of coffee substitutes, teas, and capsules all boasting health benefits and promising that you’ll never want a cup of coffee again (something that this writer can’t even fathom thanks to his tasty CBD coffee.)
While the idea of a mushroom optimizing your life sounds neat and convenient, how plausible is it? What are functional mushrooms? Are they actually effective? What do they do?
In this post, we’ll try to answer those questions and more like,
- What kinds of functional mushrooms are there?
- How do you take them?
- Are they safe?
What Are Functional Mushrooms?
Functional mushrooms, sometimes referred to as medicinal mushrooms, are fungi that may offer a range of health benefits like improved focus, reduced stress, and better sleep. They’re nothing new though. Some cultures have been using fungi in herbal medicine for thousands of years.
Ancient Medicinal Mushrooms
While we can’t say functional mushrooms have any medicinal use, it’s interesting to point out that humans have been using mushrooms medicinally for millennia. The ancient Greeks, Chinese, and American Indigenous Peoples used various mushrooms for their anti-inflammatory and healing properties.
Adaptogenic mushrooms are a type of functional mushroom that have adaptogenic properties.
What does that mean?
Adaptogens help neutralize and prevent the formation of free radicals in your body— unstable atoms that can cause damage to your body in higher amounts.
If left unchecked, free radicals can cause,2
- Cardiovascular disease
- Various cancers
- And more…
Free-radical neutralizing adaptogens aren’t exclusive functional mushrooms though. Foods like blueberries, ginseng, basil, and ashwagandha also contain adaptogens.
Putting aside personal beliefs and growing evidence of the benefits of psilocybin (“magic”) mushrooms, they are not considered to be functional because,
- Magic mushrooms do not have any adaptogenic properties
- They do not have any recorded physical health benefits
- Magic mushrooms have unique negative side effects if not used properly.
What Makes Mushrooms Functional?
Not all mushrooms are functional. Some, like baby bells and portobello, simply just taste good. A functional mushroom contains certain compounds that may be able to help us humans. Different functional mushrooms may be able to help with
- Alleviating symptoms of anxiety and depression 3
- Lowering cholesterol 4
- Low energy levels 5
- Decreasing our risk of cancer 6
- Protecting brain health 7
Are Functional Mushrooms Safe?
Functional mushrooms are considered safe for most people. It is important to note that adaptogenic mushrooms don’t have passive effects and may exacerbate any conditions you may have.
For example, if you are someone with generally low blood pressure and you take a functional mushroom that helps lower blood pressure, you might find yourself in a precarious position.
People who should avoid functional mushrooms include,
- People who are pregnant or breastfeeding
- People with type 1 diabetes
- People with low blood pressure or blood sugar
Different Types Of Functional Mushrooms
While there are a good number of functional mushrooms, there are four that have quickly grabbed the attention of consumers. They include,
Reishi Ganoderma Lucidum
Reishi mushrooms contain bioactive compounds like triterpenes and beta-glucans that are believed to support a healthy immune system, reduce inflammation, and promote relaxation. Nicknamed the “mushroom of immortality,” Japanese and Chinese herbal medicine have used Reishi mushrooms as far back as 100 B.C. to improve health.
Lion’s Mane Hericium Erinaceas
This visually striking mushroom is believed to help maintain and improve cognitive health. Lion’s Mane mushrooms contain erinacines and hericenones, compounds some research suggests may stimulate nerve growth and myelin sheath maintenance thus making this mushroom good for supporting a healthy nervous system.
Chaga Inonotus Obliquus
This (less visually striking) mushroom grows almost exclusively on birch trees and contains many antioxidants like melanin and polyphenols. Many use chaga to help boost their immune system, protect cells from oxidative stress, and help boost energy levels.
Cordyceps Cordyceps Sinensis
This somewhat notorious fungus gained a lot of attention after the release of the HBO series Last of Us. While it does have a unique propagation method, cordyceps mushrooms also have the potential to enhance endurance and boost energy levels. They contain cordycepin, adenosine, and other compounds that help us use oxygen more efficiently.
Cordyceps use has even been mistaken for steroid use in the past. Check out this post on the 1993 Chinese Olympics Women’s Running Team.
Turkey Tail Trametes Versicolor
This mushroom gets its name from its appearance— clustered together, this fungus looks like a turkey tail feather. Turkey tail mushrooms contain beta-glucans and polysaccharopeptides, the latter of which has been observed for its anti-tumor properties. As such, some believe that turkey tail mushrooms help support your immune system and can promote overall well-being.
How Do You Take Functional Mushrooms?
If you’re not a fan of mushrooms, don’t worry— you’re not alone. And even if you were to cook and eat your preferred functional mushroom, it may not be the best way to unlock its adaptogenic potential.
Many of the aforementioned mushrooms need to undergo an extraction process to make their beneficial compounds more bioavailable. Sort of like how we need to decarboxylate hemp before we can use the CBD in edibles or tinctures.
Luckily there are a lot of knowledgeable companies who’ve been water- and alcohol-extracting the fruiting bodies of functional mushrooms and infusing them into several kinds of products.
The original functional mushroom product. If mixed with water or scalding milk, functional mushroom powders almost taste like coffee. Almost. While not everyone’s favorite product, mushroom coffee is definitely one of the most affordable functional mushroom options.
Functional Mushroom Gummies
Perhaps the most accessible and best-tasting, functional mushrooms taste great and are pre-dosed for you. You’ll definitely want to see some analysis documentation to confirm your dosages.
Functional Mushroom Capsules
For the no-frills crowd. Capsules will be a more affordable option than gummies, but they may have some funky aftertaste. If that doesn’t bother you, then you may want to consider capsules.
Functional mushrooms and many adaptogenic foods can be processed and turned into tasty teas. These can be a convenient choice for folks who appreciate simplicity and want to experience the benefits of adaptogens quickly.
While some adaptogens are only water-soluble, making them good candidates for teas, others are only alcohol-soluble and will need to be extracted with ethanol before you can consume them.
How Often Should You Take Them?
How much and how often you take your functional mushroom supplements really depends on your product. Be sure to note the dosage schedule on your label and not exceed that. Unlike CBD, you can overdo functional mushrooms.
If you plan on adding functional mushrooms to your supplement regimen, you should do a few things first. Identify your needs, do your research into the different types of fungi, and find a reputable company that’s transparent about its product and where it sources its mushrooms.
Sunset Lake CBD will be releasing a line of functional mushroom gummies with CBD shortly, so be sure to stay tuned for that.
- Learn, Joshua. “5000-year-old ‘Iceman’ May Have Benefited From a Sophisticated Health Care System.” science.org, 7 Sept. 2018, www.science.org/content/article/5000-year-old-iceman-may-have-benefited-sophisticated-health-care-system. Accessed 7 Sept. 2023.
- Lobo, V et al. “Free radicals, antioxidants and functional foods: Impact on human health.” Pharmacognosy reviews vol. 4,8 (2010): 118-26. doi:10.4103/0973-7847.70902
- Nagano, Mayumi et al. “Reduction of depression and anxiety by 4 weeks Hericium erinaceus intake.” Biomedical research (Tokyo, Japan) vol. 31,4 (2010): 231-7. doi:10.2220/biomedres.31.231
- Sugiyama, K et al. “Hypocholesterolemic action of eritadenine is mediated by a modification of hepatic phospholipid metabolism in rats.” The Journal of nutrition vol. 125,8 (1995): 2134-44. doi:10.1093/jn/125.8.2134
- Chen, Steve et al. “Effect of Cs-4 (Cordyceps sinensis) on exercise performance in healthy older subjects: a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.” Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.) vol. 16,5 (2010): 585-90. doi:10.1089/acm.2009.0226
- Ba, Djibril M et al. “Higher Mushroom Consumption Is Associated with Lower Risk of Cancer: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies.” Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.) vol. 12,5 (2021): 1691-1704. doi:10.1093/advances/nmab015
- Feng, Lei et al. ‘The Association Between Mushroom Consumption and Mild Cognitive Impairment: A Community-Based Cross-Sectional Study in Singapore’. 1 Jan. 2019 : 197 – 203.