Mushrooms are one of nature's great dividers. Many people love the umami, earthy flavor of edible mushrooms, while others prefer to avoid the little fungi creatures entirely. But, in the wake of the medicinal mushroom movement, even those who hate mushrooms are asking one important question – are mushrooms good for you?
The answer is a resounding yes! Most mushrooms (excluding those that are toxic) are very good for you. Not only do edible mushrooms carry superfood qualities, but medicinal mushrooms have biologically active compounds that can help boost immunity, regulate cognitive functions, reduce signs of aging, and so much more.
Ready to dig into the nutritional and medicinal qualities of fungi foods and supplements? Here's what you need to know:
Table of Contents
Mushrooms are a healthy addition to a regular diet, or medicinal mushrooms can be used to reap more specific wellness benefits.
Different mushrooms have unique compositions, and therefore unique benefits and uses.
The quality of the mushrooms or mushroom supplements you choose has everything to do with the benefits you will reap.
Nutritional Benefits of Mushrooms
Mushrooms, when eaten as a part of a healthy diet, have amazing superfood qualities.
First, they are packed with vitamins and minerals. The exact composition varies by mushroom variety, of course, but most mushrooms contain the following nutrients that are sometimes hard to get in other foods:
- Vitamin D
- Antioxidants (glutathione, ergothioneine, and selenium)
Plus, mushrooms are a good source of fiber and healthy carbs. Specifically, polysaccharides called beta-glucans, the biologically active compounds found in medicinal mushrooms, but we'll discuss this more below. First, let's take a look at the kinds of mushrooms that are most commonly eaten alongside a normal, healthy diet.
Most Common Edible Mushrooms
Many mushrooms are edible, including more exotic varieties like Lion's Mane. However, not all are readily available to eat, so if you're looking to add mushrooms to your diet (and you aren't going to forage them yourself), you'll have to choose from the varieties available at your local grocery stores.
Some of the most common edible mushrooms you'll find in stores include:
- button or white mushroom
Some mushrooms are good to eat raw, while others are much better when they're cooked. If all else fails, try sauteeing them in salted butter–it's a no-fail way to enjoy tasty, tender mushrooms.
Medicinal Benefits of Mushrooms
We mentioned that mushrooms contain beta-glucans, but now we want to dive further into what that means and how it affects the health benefits associated with medicinal mushrooms.
According to research, beta-glucan nutrients have various benefits, including antitumor, anti-microbial, anti-allergy, and immune-modulating effects, as well as benefits for cognition and improving heart health. In fact, beta-glucans are thought to be the primary active compound responsible for the health benefits of mushrooms, which have been well documented since nearly the beginning of medicine.
Additionally, mushrooms contain terpenoids, a type of hydrocarbon found in most plants that can interact with the body's nervous system. Some mushrooms contain their own specialized bioactive compounds as well, like the cordycepin found in Cordyceps mushrooms.
In short, mushrooms contain a cocktail of biologically active compounds, and each type of mushroom has a unique composition, and therefore unique benefits for the body. The best way to understand this is to look at the most common medicinal mushrooms and their unique benefits.
Most Common Medicinal Mushrooms
Although most mushrooms contain some amount of beta-glucans and terpenoids that may have health benefits, some have been more thoroughly researched for their wellness potential than others. The most common mushrooms used for medicinal purposes include:
Lion’s Mane mushrooms have been thought for centuries to help improve cognitive performance and energy, balance mood, and boost immunity. It is estimated to be composed of about 60-70% polysaccharides, including at least 35 completely unique beta-glucans–the bioactive compounds responsible for such a wide range of health benefits.
Researchers have found that Lion’s Mane has high antioxidant activity, and may boost the activity of gut bacteria that functions as part of the immune system leading to various immune-boosting benefits. Some evidence suggests that lion’s mane can help to improve neurogenesis, the growth of neurons in the brain, which is the reason that it’s gained such a following as a nootropic supplement.
Subsequently, some research found that using lion’s mane supplementally may help to reduce anxiety and depression and may even be useful for treating depressive disorders. Plus, benefits for memory and cognitive performance have also been observed.
More research is needed to understand lion’s mane’s full wellness potential, but its undeniable benefits as a nootropic make it a popular choice for daily supplementation.
Tremella is an edible mushroom that is sometimes used in cuisine, but it’s most often used in alternative medicine and as a wellness supplement. This mushroom, known as the ‘beauty mushroom” is most often linked to anti-aging and moisturizing benefits, but it may do much more.
A 2017 study, for instance, found that Tremella reduced the incidence of human skin fibroids caused by hydrogen peroxide, likely due to Tremella’s high antioxidant content, which can help to ward off free radicals that damage tissues. Another study from the same year describes potent anti-inflammatory benefits, which may help in managing certain inflammatory conditions, though more research is needed to explore the use of Tremella to treat any condition.
Cordyceps is one of the oldest medicinal mushrooms in the book, and traditional uses included promoting blood and oxygen flow throughout the body to improve stamina, boost immunity, and treat various conditions. Now researchers are particularly interested in the wellness benefits linked to one of the mushroom’s most unique compounds–cordycepin.
A review published in 2020 highlights cordycepin’s potential benefits as an antifungal, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory, antioxidant, and anti-aging compound, among other benefits, and describes it as “a most valuable medicinal mushroom for helping in maintaining good health.”
As a supplement, cordyceps is most often used to improve physical performance by increasing endurance and speeding recovery. Some evidence suggests that Cordyceps may help to increase the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in the body, which researchers believe may help to improve physical performance by improving oxygen flow in the body during physical activity. A 2004 placebo-controlled study, for instance, found Cordyceps to increase fitness levels in older adults.
The maitake mushroom is an edible mushroom that is much more commonly used in cuisine than many others on this list, but it still has undeniable health benefits when used as a supplement.
Maitake contains a beta-glucan called D-fraction, which is known to have a strong effect on the immune system by boosting the production of lymphokines. This may help to improve the immune response to foreign bodies, which can help to stave off illness caused by the flu or common colds.
Maitake is also known to have powerful adaptogenic effects, meaning it alters the way that the body responds to stress. It may help to improve the overall stress response, lowering the effects of cortisol on the body. For this reason, it may pair well with mushrooms known to boost cognition and energy by helping to keep stress levels more stable during increased activity.
Reishi is one of the most infamous medicinal mushrooms, well known for its adaptogenic effects that help to reduce the impact of stress on the body. Reishi may impact the hormone system to help reduce the secretion of cortisol, known as the stress hormone. One study even suggests that it may help to reduce stress-induced anxiety.
Reishi is most often linked to its potential ability to help improve sleep, but it has several benefits that may make it useful all around. One study found that reishi may help to reduce inflammation in the brain caused by reduced oxygen exposure. Another found that reishi may help to reduce muscular damage during exercise.
More research is needed, but reishi may be best taken at night since it has a tendency to promote relaxation and enhance recovery.
How to Incorporate Mushrooms into Your Wellness Routine
If you're convinced that mushrooms are a good addition to your wellness routine, you may be wondering how to work them in. The truth is that there's no wrong way to reap the benefits of mushrooms, either for nutritional or medicinal purposes.
You can work edible mushrooms into your diet at any time of the day. Or, you can opt for supplemental forms of medicinal mushrooms, like capsules or powders, that make it easy to get in one or two daily doses. Of course, the best time of day to take mushrooms and the dosage needed will vary by mushroom, so you should research medicinal mushrooms individually before you get started.
Many people prefer to opt for a mushroom blend that contains many of the best medicinal mushrooms. Options like mushroom powders and mushroom beverages make it super easy to reap the benefits of beta-glucan packed mushrooms, but there are some quality standards and you need to abide by to ensure that you're getting a biologically active product.
Supplemental Mushroom Quality
When buying a supplemental mushroom product intended for therapeutic use, look for a product that:
- is made from mushroom extract, not whole mushroom powder
- is extracted from fruiting bodies and not mycelial biomass
- is made using a single hot water extraction process
- is organically sourced
- has a suitable, verifiable beta-glucan content
- has additional ingredients that are also clean and aligned with your needs
To learn more about how to choose a high-quality mushroom product, read “What to Look for When Buying Mushroom Coffee: The Health-Conscious Consumer’s Guide.”
Are Mushrooms Safe?
One of the most important questions you can ask about any product or supplement you plan to add to your wellness routine is "is it safe?"
Luckily, with most medicinal and edible mushrooms, the answer is yes!
Some mushrooms do have potential side effects, but they are overall recognized as safe when used responsibly. The most common causes of adverse reactions are poor product quality and allergic reactions. Let's discuss some reactions that have occured:
Potential Mushroom Side Effects
In rare cases, mushrooms may cause nausea, especially when taken in large doses or for those with sensitive stomachs.
Because mushrooms are rich in fiber, they can cause digestive upset in some people. This is more common when consuming mushrooms in large doses. This may include an upset stomach, gas, diarrhea, or nausea.
Some medicinal mushrooms may interact with certain medications, especially those known for thinning blood or altering blood pressure. Some antidepressants or antianxiety medications may also interact with mushroom supplements. Check with your doctor before you take medicinal mushrooms alongside other medications.
Although it is rare, some people experience a mushroom allergy. Symptoms of an allergic reaction to mushrooms may include:
- Swelling of the lips, mouth, and airways
- Difficulty breathing
- Skin rashes or hives
- Runny nose
- Watery eyes
- Nausea and vomiting
- Stomach cramping
- Loose stools
Conclusion: Are Mushrooms Really Good for You?
To sum it up–some mushrooms are toxic and should be avoided, but many mushrooms are a delicious and healthy addition to your regular diet. Many even carry significant therapeutic benefits and can be used supplementally.
If you’re looking to incorporate nutritional or medicinal mushrooms into your wellness routine, consider a mushroom blend. This is the best way to reap the diverse benefits of the fungi kingdom without having to consume piles of mushrooms.
Lucid beverages contain a premium mushroom extract–a blend of four different medicinal mushrooms, including lion’s mane, cordyceps, tremella, and maitake, plus a handful of other brain and body-boosting nootropics designed to help you breeze through your day. Try Lucid and unlock your full potential.
Read more about our ingredients, or check out one of our three flavor varieties: