For whatever reasons, anxiety, depression and addiction are all now far too common - most of us (me included) have either experienced these things first hand or second hand through a friend or family member.
Which is why I made my own mental health a priority in my life.
And that led me to mushrooms - a powerful tool for your mental and physical health (which are the same thing, really) and overall well being.
Before we get into the best mushrooms for mental health, let’s make sure we understand what mushrooms are and how they can help us.
Organic medicine factories: Mushrooms explained
Mushrooms have been referred to as “miniature pharmaceutical factories”, because they contain a variety of bioactive compounds that can have powerful effects on the body and mind.
Of the thousands of mushroom species in nature, our ancestors and modern scientists have identified several dozen that have a unique combination of compounds that improve our health.
For example, many mushrooms contain beta-glucans, which are complex polysaccharides that have immune-boosting and anti-inflammatory properties. They also contain compounds like ergothioneine and glutathione, which are powerful antioxidants that can help protect the body from oxidative stress and inflammation.
How mushrooms benefit mental health
While the use of mushrooms has deep cultural roots, modern science is only beginning to explore and explain just how useful they can be for our mental health.
First and foremost, many mushrooms have strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, and chronic inflammation and oxidative stress have been linked to a variety of mental health issues, including depression and anxiety.
A study from November 2021 found that people who eat mushrooms have a lower chance of experiencing depression. The antidepressant properties of mushrooms is thought to be down to ergothioneine, an antioxidant that may protect against cell and tissue damage.
Many mushrooms also appear to have adaptogenic qualities, meaning it can help the body adapt to stress by regulating the body's stress response system. Chronic stress is linked to a variety of mental health issues.
Some mushrooms, such as Lion's Mane, have been shown to promote the growth of new brain cells and improve cognitive function and mood.
Other mushrooms, such as Reishi, have been shown to have calming effects on the nervous system and may be useful for reducing symptoms of anxiety and promoting relaxation.
3 best mushrooms for mental health
So what are the best mushrooms from mental health? Well, we’ve been researching and experimenting with many species over the last 10 years, we think these are the ones that show the most promise, based on scientific research and anecdotal reports.
- Lion’s Mane
Lions are king of the jungle and lion's mane is king of the brain boosting mushrooms! And that’s because it contains compounds that have been shown to stimulate nerve and brain cell growth.
This recent study has found that Hericene A, a compound found in lion’s mane, can actually increase neuron (brain cell) growth and connection among neurons, ultimately increasing the size of growth cones, which play a crucial role in brain cells sensing their environment and establishing new connections with other neurons in the brain.
This is important because these connections between neurons allow different parts of the brain to communicate with each other, and that's what makes our brain work properly.
But that's not all. Lion's mane has also been shown to boost your immune system, fight inflammation, and even improve your gut health - which plays an important role in producing neurotransmitters and mental health.
So if you want your brain to work better, this mushroom might be worth adding to your health regimen.
One of the main ways is through its ability to reduce stress and anxiety. Studies have found that reishi mushroom can help regulate the levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in the body. By reducing cortisol levels, reishi mushroom may help reduce feelings of stress and anxiety, which can have a positive impact on mental health.
In addition, reishi mushroom has been shown to have adaptogenic properties, meaning it can help the body adapt to and cope with stressors more effectively. This may help reduce the negative effects of chronic stress on mental health.
In one study, scientists investigated the potential of reishi to alleviate anxiety in mice who were stuck in a maze. The mice that were given reishi extracts showed greater resilience and motivation when confronted with the challenge of navigating the maze.
Reishi mushroom may also have a positive impact on mood. Studies have found that it can increase the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in regulating mood.
Finally, reishi mushroom may also improve sleep quality, which can have a significant impact on mental health. Studies have found that reishi mushroom can help improve sleep quality and reduce symptoms of insomnia. Getting enough high-quality sleep is essential for maintaining good mental health and wellbeing.
While much of the research on cordyceps mushroom has focused on its effects on physical health, there is also some evidence to suggest that it may have benefits for mental health.
Studies have found that Cordyceps can help reduce inflammation in the body, which may help improve mental health symptoms.
It can also boost energy levels and endurance, with fatigue and low energy levels being common symptoms of depression and other mental health disorders.
Additionally, cordyceps also have adaptogenic properties, meaning it can help the body cope with stressors more effectively - which is very beneficial for mental health.
Cordyceps may also have a positive impact on cognitive function and circulation.
Psilocybin for mental health
Psilocybin, the compound in certain "magic" mushrooms that causes potent mind-altering effects, has been shown to have beneficial effects on mental health, including powerful antidepressant effects.
It is not known exactly how psilocybin exerts its antidepressant effects. However, we do that it binds to serotonin receptors in the brain as it’s structurally very similar to the neurotransmitter.
Psilocybin also reduces activity in the amygdala – the part of the brain that deals with emotional responses, stress, and fear – and reduces activity in the “default mode network”, which is thought to be a collection of brain regions and neurotransmitters that construct the self and controls perception.
At high doses, many describe the loss of self or ‘ego death’. Most studies have found that mystical experiences are not only common with psilocybin, but they are predictive of positive outcomes. In other words, it seems to work better if you have a mystical, meaningful or spiritual experience.
This 2016 trial found high-doses of psilocybin (with no therapy) in terminal cancer patients decreased depression and anxiety. Even after six months, 80 percent were still experiencing benefits.
Earlier that year, a trial published in The Lancet found lasting benefits after two doses of psilocybin among patients with treatment-resistant depression.
The most recent research has found two doses of psilocybin plus therapy to be effective in the treatment of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) for up to one year after being administered.
It's important to note that in most studies on psilocybin and depression, psychotherapy is also given to the patients alongside the psilocybin. This provides safety and structure for the patient to explore their thinking patterns, memories and beliefs.
Which mushroom is best for depression?
One mushroom that has shown promise in reducing symptoms of depression is lion's lane.
Lion's Mane mushroom contains compounds such as Hericenones and Erinacines that have been shown to stimulate nerve and brain cell growth, also known as neurogenesis.
Studies have found that reduced neurogenesis may contribute to the development of depression and other mood disorders. On the other hand, increasing neurogenesis has been shown to have antidepressant effects
Which mushroom is best for anxiety?
Reishi mushroom has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries for its health benefits, including its potential to alleviate anxiety symptoms. While more research is needed to fully understand the effects of Reishi on anxiety, some studies suggest that it may have potential benefits.
One way in which Reishi may help alleviate anxiety is through its effects on the nervous system. Reishi contains compounds that have been shown to have a calming effect on the nervous system, which may help reduce feelings of anxiety and promote relaxation.
Which mushroom is best for brain health?
There are several mushrooms that are known to be beneficial for brain health, but one of the best is Lion's Mane mushroom.
As we’ve already discussed, lion's mane mushroom contains Hericenones and Erinacines that have been shown to stimulate nerve and brain cell growth, which can help improve brain function and promote overall brain health.
One study conducted on adults with mild cognitive impairment found that taking Lion's Mane extract for 16 weeks resulted in significant improvements in cognitive function compared to a placebo group.
What mushrooms increase with serotonin?
While no mushroom has been shown to directly increase serotonin levels, some mushrooms have compounds that may indirectly support serotonin production or improve serotonin signalling in the brain.
For example, Cordyceps and Reishi mushrooms have been shown to have adaptogenic properties, which can help the body cope with stress more effectively. Chronic stress can deplete serotonin levels, so anything that can help reduce stress may indirectly support serotonin production.
Additionally, both Cordyceps and Reishi have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, which can help reduce inflammation in the brain and improve serotonin signalling.
Mushrooms are referred to as "miniature pharmaceutical factories" because they contain bioactive compounds that can have powerful effects on the body and mind.
When it comes to mental health, some mushrooms are certainly worth incorporating into your wellness routine. They include lion's mane, as it has compounds that stimulate nerve and brain cell growth, boosting the immune system, fighting inflammation, and improving gut health.
Reishi is helpful in regulating cortisol levels, reducing stress and anxiety, increasing the production of serotonin, and improving sleep quality.
And cordyceps can help reduce inflammation in the body, boost energy levels and endurance, and have adaptogenic properties that help the body cope with stressors more effectively.