Mushrooms as Functional Foods
BySarah Axtell, ND •July 25, 2022
Mushrooms are a prime example of a functional food. Functional foods are foods that go well beyond simply providing calories and good nutrition. They have disease-fighting properties. In other words, they are medicinal, which we get pretty excited about here at Lakeside!
Mushrooms have a large number of bioactive compounds, such as polysaccharide-rich Beta-glucans, and polysaccharide-protein complexes, such as lactones, terpenoids, alkaloids, antibiotics, and heavy metal-chelating agents. These bioactive compounds have the following effects:
- Immune regulation
- Cholesterol balance
- Improves blood flow
- Anti-diabetic, anti-obesity, and blood-sugar balancing actions
- Hepatoprotective (protects liver cells) and enhances detoxification
- Promotes healing of inflamed digestive tissues
- Building blocks of essential nutrients for neurons and neurotransmitters (serotonin)
- Mitochondrial support
- Hormone balancing
- Adaptogenic (stress support)
- Supports physical recovery, endurance, and stamina
In addition, they are a rich source of fiber, vitamins (ie. vitamin D), and antioxidants. And not to mention they taste amazing! Adding mushrooms to your meals provides that savory, umami flavor to otherwise boring dishes.
Here are the top 8 medicinal mushrooms to consider including as part of your diet and/or supplement regimen:
- White button mushrooms (Agaricus)- This family of mushrooms includes the white button mushrooms, cremini mushrooms, and portobellos. This family of mushrooms contain phytochemicals that inhibit aromatase activity and breast cancer cell proliferation. They’ve also been shown to improve memory.
- Cordyceps- This super-mushroom is best known for its adaptogenic (ie. good for stress) and energy-promoting effects. It boosts metabolic rates and helps with muscle recovery post-workout. It has also been shown to enhance fertility. In a rat study in which rats were induced with reproductive damage (with BPA, the toxic chemical found in plastic), the damage was significantly alleviated with Corydceps. Cordyceps increased detoxifying glutathione production, enhanced levels of LH and testosterone, and improved sperm count and motility.
- Reishi- Like cordyceps, reishi also has adaptogenic effects. Reishi also has a positive impact on the brain, improving focus and memory. This mushroom is particularly helpful in cases of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
- Maitake- This mushroom is also known as “hen of the woods.” It has anti-cancer and immune-modulation effects. It also enhances fertility and protects the liver from damage. In addition, it has anti-aging effects, protecting the skin against UV damage and promoting collagen production.
- Lion’s mane- This one is for your brain! Studies show this mushroom significantly improves scores on cognitive function scales. It also boosts brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is like “miracle grow for the brain.” In addition, lion’s mane has been shown to be effective in cases of depression and anxiety.
- Chaga- Chaga isenergizing! It increases exercise endurance and improves biological measures related to fatigue. Chaga is also a rich source of antioxidants.
- Morels– The substances extracted from this magical mushroom are promising for immune-modulation, anti-cancer, and anti-inflammatory applications.
- Turkey Tail (Coriolus)- Turkey tail is a rich source of antioxidants, notably quercetin. It slows the progression of breast cancer, especially in combination with radiation and chemotherapy. Cancer patients that took Coriolus had a 9% absolute reduction in 5-year mortality.
Tips to fully reap the benefits of your mushrooms:
- Always cook them! This enhances the bioavailability of the medicinal compounds within the mushrooms. And not to mention they taste better when cooked!
- Leave mushrooms upside down in the sun prior to eating them to enhance the vitamin D content within them. This is best done for 6 hours of sunlight (ie. 10 am- 4 pm) for 2 days.
B J Grube, et al. “White button mushroom phytochemicals inhibit aromatase activity and breast cancer cell proliferation,” Journal of Nutrition, 2001 Dec;131(12):3288-93.
Jian Wang, et al. “Protective effect of Cordyceps militaris extract against bisphenol A induced reproductive damage,” Systems Biology in Reproductive Medicine, 2016 Aug;62(4):249-57.
Chen Zhao, et al. “Pharmacological effects of natural Ganoderma and its extracts on neurological diseases: A comprehensive review,” Intl J Bio Macromol, 2019 Jan;121:1160-1178.
Kathrin Wittstein, et al. “Corallocins A-C, Nerve Growth and Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor Inducing Metabolites from the Mushroom Hericium coralloides,” J Nat Prod, 2016 Sep 23;79(9):2264-9.
Haishan Wu, et al. “Recent Advances on Bioactive Ingredients of Morchella esculenta,” Appl Biochem Biotechnol. 2021 Dec;193(12):4197-4213.
Wong L Y Eliza, et al. “Efficacy of Yun Zhi (Coriolus versicolor) on survival in cancer patients: systematic review and meta-analysis,” Recent Pat Inflamm Allergy Drug Discov. 2012 Jan;6(1):78-87.
Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health practitioners with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.