Did you know that mushrooms are actually more closely related to humans than they are to plants?
This unique relationship means that mushrooms share many biological similarities with humans, including the ability to produce vitamin D in response to sunlight exposure.
Many ancient cultures understood that mushrooms had powerful healing properties, and modern science has since confirmed that some species of mushrooms contain compounds that have anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and even anti-cancer properties.
In fact, some of the most commonly used and effective medicines in modern healthcare, such as penicillin and cyclosporine, are derived from mushrooms.
In this blog post, we will dive into the world of functional mushrooms and explore the best functional mushrooms for health and where to buy them in the UK.
What are functional mushrooms?
Functional mushrooms, also known as medicinal mushrooms, are a group of mushrooms that have specific health benefits.
They have been used for centuries in traditional medicine practices and are currently gaining mainstream recognition as a natural way to support various aspects of health and well-being.
Some examples of functional mushrooms include chaga, reishi, lion's mane, and cordyceps, which are often consumed in supplement form, such as capsules or powders, or incorporated into foods like teas, coffees, and smoothies.
They are believed to offer a range of benefits, from boosting the immune system and improving mental clarity to reducing inflammation in the body - and modern research is backing this up.
Health benefits of functional mushrooms
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 health.
Here are 6 proven health benefits of consuming mushrooms
Reduced depression risk
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.
Lead researcher Djibril Ba says, “Mushrooms are the highest dietary source of the amino acid ergothioneine — an anti-inflammatory which cannot be synthesised by humans.
“Having high levels of this may lower the risk of oxidative stress, which could also reduce the symptoms of depression.”
While the types of mushrooms consumed was not reported in this study, previous research has shown hericium erinaceus, also known as Lion’s Mane, to stimulate nerve growth factor (NGF), which may help prevent or reduce depression.
Reduced risk of cancer
According to a meta-analysis published in 2021, mushroom consumption is associated with a lower risk of cancer.
Researchers found that people who regularly ate any type of mushroom had a lower risk of cancer. According to the findings, individuals who ate 18 grams of mushrooms daily had a 45% lower risk of cancer compared to those who did not eat mushrooms.
It was also found that the protective effects of mushrooms were most strongly associated with reduced breast cancer risk.
Reduced risk of premature death
Another study from 2021 found that adults who ate mushrooms had a lower risk of premature death, regardless of their demographics, lifestyle choices and other dietary factors.
The study analysed the diets of more than 15,000 U.S. adults and found that individuals who consumed mushrooms had lower risk of death by all causes compared with those who did not eat mushrooms.
The researchers also observed a dose-response relationship between higher mushroom consumption and lower risk of all-cause mortality, suggesting the more mushrooms one eats, the less chance they have of dying of anything!
A number of mushrooms contain compounds that are proven to protect the brain from disease, injury and degeneration.
In one study, people who ate more than two cups of mushrooms (including golden, oyster, shiitake and white button mushrooms) a week had a 50% lower risk of developing mild cognitive impairment.
Lion’s mane in particular has been shown to promote the growth of new brain cells and protect the brain from neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Improves gut health
The microbiome in your gut is an ecosystem home to billions of organisms and bacteria. And it plays a vital role in keeping you healthy.
Research shows that polysaccharides found in mushrooms can work as potent prebiotics by stimulating the growth of healthy bacteria in your gut.
Mushrooms contain many macronutrients that work to support a healthy immune system. In fact, it is well-established that mushrooms are adept at immune modulation, most notably stimulating cytokine production, which in turn increases our natural killer cells to improve our body’s defence system.
7 best functional mushrooms
1. Lion’s mane
This funky-looking fungi has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine, and for good reason.
First off, the lion's mane mushroom is a superfood for your brain. It contains compounds that have been shown to stimulate nerve growth and protect against neurological diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. So if you're looking to keep your noggin sharp as a tack, this mushroom might be worth adding to your diet.
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. Plus, it's loaded with antioxidants, which can help protect your cells from damage caused by free radicals.
Cordyceps have been shown to boost your energy, improve your athletic performance, and even enhance your sex drive. Yep, you heard that right - they're like a natural Viagra!
Cordyceps mushrooms also have anti-inflammatory properties, which can help reduce pain and swelling in your body. They've also been shown to improve your immune system, lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol levels, and even prevent the buildup of plaque in your arteries.
But wait, there's more! Cordyceps mushrooms have also been linked to improved respiratory function, better digestion, and even a reduced risk of cancer.
3. Turkey Tail
Turkey tail mushrooms are well known to be great for your immune system. They contain compounds called beta-glucans, which have been shown to boost your body's natural defences against infections and diseases.
They are also chock-full of antioxidants, which can help protect your cells from damage caused by free radicals. And they've been linked to improved gut health, thanks to their prebiotic properties that can help feed the good bacteria in your gut.
Turkey tail mushrooms have also been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, and have even been studied for their potential to fight cancer, with some promising results.
Chaga mushroom has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which can help reduce pain and swelling in your body.
They have also been linked to improved immune function and may have potential to prevent and treat cancer.
Chaga mushrooms have also been shown to have anti-aging properties, helping to keep your skin looking youthful and radiant. And they're great for your gut health, thanks to their prebiotic properties that can help feed the good bacteria in your gut.
Like many functional mushrooms, Reishi may hold some promise in preventing and treating cancer. They have also been shown to have anti-stress properties, helping to reduce anxiety and improve sleep quality, and are great for your heart health, with some studies showing that they can lower cholesterol levels and improve blood flow.
And if you're looking to boost your energy levels and improve your athletic performance, Reishi mushrooms might just be your new best friend. They've been shown to increase endurance and reduce fatigue, helping you to push harder and go farther.
Shiitake mushrooms are not only delicious but also packed with nutrients and health benefits. They include supporting the immune system, lowering cholesterol levels and improving blood circulation, which can reduce the risk of heart disease.
Studies have also shown that shiitake mushrooms contain compounds that have anti-cancer properties. These compounds can help to prevent the growth and spread of cancer cells.
Shiitake mushrooms also contain a compound called ergothioneine, which has been shown to support brain function and improve cognitive health. Ergothioneine has antioxidant properties that help to protect the brain from oxidative stress.
Maitake mushrooms are a type of edible mushroom that is commonly used in traditional medicine practices in Japan and China.
They have been shown to increase the activity of immune cells, helping to improve overall immune function, as well as having anti-inflammatory properties and lowering cholesterol levels.
Maitake mushrooms may also have a beneficial effect on blood sugar levels, and some studies suggest that compounds found in maitake mushrooms may have anti-cancer properties.
The article explores the world of functional mushrooms and their health benefits. Functional mushrooms are a group of mushrooms that have specific health benefits and have been used for centuries in traditional medicine.
They include chaga, reishi, lion's mane, and cordyceps. Some of the proven health benefits of consuming mushrooms are reduced depression risk, reduced risk of cancer, reduced risk of premature death, brain protection, improvement of gut health, and immune enhancement.
The article goes on to detail the seven best functional mushrooms, including Lion's Mane, Cordyceps, and Chaga, among others.
Overall, including mushrooms and mushroom supplements in your diet can have lots of health benefits and should be considered by anyone who wants a healthy and well-functioning mind and body.