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The Rise Of Medicinal Mushrooms

Written By Joseph Jackson 19 Feb 2019
The Rise Of Medicinal Mushrooms

People have known about the power of mushrooms for a very long time, but it is only now that they are becoming mainstream in the West. Traditional Chinese medicine has incorporated their use since at least 200AD with the book Shennong Ben Cao Jing (“The Classic of Herbal Medicine”) noting that the lingzhi mushroom has many beneficial qualities with no side effects. (1) The lingzhi mushroom is also known as the ling chi mushroom, and even as the reishi mushroom in Japan.

For a doctor, finding a medicine that cures a number of ailments and has no side effects is quite remarkable. It does cause you to wonder how many different mushrooms the Chinese doctors had to examine before they found the ones that suited their needs!

Of course, some mushrooms can have negative effects or even be toxic. You should never go picking wild mushrooms unless you are absolutely sure of what you are doing, and even then, it is wise to take care. A much safer way of getting good quality beneficial mushrooms into your diet is take a look at some of the supplements and other products that are now available.

Vitamin D isn’t just from the sun

Here’s the first benefit to consuming mushrooms – they are one of the few foods that contain vitamin D. In humans, vitamin D is normally manufactured by the body being exposed to sunlight. Many people are deficient in vitamin D, especially during winter, and so mushrooms provide a solution to this problem. (2)

Other foods that are high in vitamin D include liver, fatty fish, and egg yolks, but none of those are suitable for vegans (or even some vegetarians), and so mushrooms can provide a solution if you are avoiding animal products.

However, some people enjoy eating mushrooms, while others can’t stand even looking at them – fortunately, supplements are now available in capsule form. Made from extracts of mushroom, each capsule can contain 10 micrograms of vitamin D, which is the RDA in the UK. You don’t have to eat mushrooms or try and find sunshine in winter – the capsule does it all for you.

How else can mushrooms benefit your health?

Mushrooms grow in many different varieties, but medicinal mushrooms have one thing in common – they all contain polysaccharides called beta-glucans. Beta-glucans are the compounds that produce the beneficial effects, but the beta-glucans in one species of mushroom differ from the beta-glucans in another. (3)

Lingzhi mushrooms make you feel good – they can alleviate anxiety and depression, and help with better sleep. Better yet, you can buy them in powder form, which you can add to drinks and food. They may even attack cancer cells. (4)

Chaga mushrooms also possess cancer-fighting properties, along with the ability to help lower LDL cholesterol – that’s the bad kind of cholesterol – and are also available in powder form. (5) Chaga mushrooms are also considered to be helpful in the battle against the common cold.

Shiitake mushrooms offer similar benefits and are once again available as a dietary supplement in the form of powder.

In fact, many varieties of mushroom offer general health benefits. They contain high amounts of antioxidants, desirable for their anticancer properties, heart health benefits, and immune-boosting ability.

There are a number of fruits and vegetables that provide similar health benefits, including such diverse plants as squashes and blueberries, but it is hard to find such a concentrated amount of “goodness” in an individual food that is not of the mushroom family.

But eating fungus can’t be healthy, can it?

Fungus and mould have had a bad reputation as far as food goes – after all, would you eat mouldy food? Scientifically, they are essentially the same thing, with the difference being in the way they grow and reproduce. 

You already know that there are incidents good fungus and bad fungus – some mushrooms can make you very ill, but some are fine to eat. Some mouldy cheese needs to be thrown away, but Stilton cheese is mouldy by design. Penicillin, the antibiotic, was developed from mould - so even Western medicine can see the benefits!

Commercially produced supplements and foodstuffs made from mushrooms will be safe to consume and will provide numerous benefits, not just limited to those listed above. With mushroom supplements available as powders, the rise in mushroom teas, and an assortment of other products being made, it is certainly time to embrace fungus!

Don’t just eat it - wear it

Skincare products including mushroom extracts have already hit the market. (6) The antioxidant properties of mushrooms provide anti-aging qualities, while the cordyceps mushroom is especially well-known for this. (7)

Snow mushrooms are said to increase skin hydration, so mushrooms can be beneficial whether you eat them or rub them on your skin. (8

Versatile, health giving, and tasty – what more could you ask for?