Medicinal mushrooms may seem to be the newest darlings of the health and fitness community, but in reality, humans have been benefiting from their healing qualities for thousands of years! Many of these mushrooms are considered “adaptogens,” which means they can help the body cope with all kinds of stress, both internal and external. In today’s hectic world, we are constantly bounding over hurdles, rising to new challenges and processing information at a faster pace than ever before. (All of these things quite literally in a single boot camp!)
Some medicinal mushrooms can help give the body a push in the right direction. Their adaptogenic qualities influence a state of homeostasis, or balance. Whether too high or too low, medicinal mushrooms can help stabilize hormone levels within the body. It should be noted that while these powders are a great addition to your routine, they are not a replacement for a healthy lifestyle. Proper sleep, real food and self-care practices, such as meditation, will work wonders for maintaining a state of well-being.
With 80% of our immune tissue residing in the digestive tract, maintaining a healthy gut is imperative. When properly sourced, medicinal mushrooms help to create an optimal environment where good bacteria can thrive. The polysaccharides found in several mushrooms alter the bacteria ratio within the gut for the better, facilitating a healthy microbiome.
“Some medicinal mushrooms can help give the body a push in the right direction.”
However, not just any polysaccharide will do; medicinal mushrooms contain beta-glucans, which work as prebiotics that feed the healthy bacteria already existing in the digestive tract. The beta-glucans found in medicinal mushrooms aren’t digestible, and they ferment as they travel through the small intestine. Once fermented, beta-glucans feed the healthy bacteria, allowing them to multiply and cultivate a healthy gut. Fungi and bacteria: the dynamic duo for optimal gut health!
You’ve probably seen health gurus on social media adding these mysterious powders to everything but wondered where and how to start. We’ve got you covered! Let’s take a look at five of the top medicinal mushroom powders to see how they could be benefiting you.
Reishi is often referred to as the “mushroom of immortality,” and for good reason! It boasts numerous benefits to the immune system. As an adaptogen, reishi mushrooms have shown to increase natural killer cells, which are white blood cells that fight infection and disease. Reishi promotes healthy gut bacteria, has a calming effect and can even support weight loss goals. We love this one in a cup of caffeine-free tea before bedtime or stirred into our morning coffee.
Having trouble staying focused throughout the day? Lion’s mane may be the mushroom for you. Lion’s mane has been shown to support cognitive function and clarity, and has mood-boosting properties. Studies have revealed promising benefits for patients with early onset dementia and those suffering from post-concussion syndrome, which demonstrates just how powerful this natural remedy can be for healthy brain function.
Memory loss and lack of clarity are often symptoms that we attribute to aging as our cells degenerate. Because lion’s mane is packed with antioxidants, it neutralizes free radicals, which cause inflammation and damage to our cells. Try this one in a green smoothie or with your morning coffee to maintain a clear focus throughout your day!
In all seriousness, the stressors throughout our daily lives can cause a condition known as adrenal fatigue, which manifests in poor sleep, weight gain, food cravings and an overall weakened immune system. Adrenal fatigue refers to the chronic stress in our daily lives affecting our ability to recuperate physically and emotionally.
The adrenal glands are two thumb-sized organs above the kidneys and are an integral part of the endocrine system. They produce more than 50 hormones responsible for almost all bodily functions, including cortisol, adrenaline, estrogen and testosterone. Because many of us are constantly walking around in a state of stress from pressures at work, home and beyond, the adrenals are taxed at levels with which they simply can’t keep up.
A few of the symptoms related to adrenal fatigue include chronic fatigue, brain fog, mood swings, autoimmune disorders and poor sleep. Unfortunately, we can’t simply tune out all the sources of stress in our lives, but medicinal mushrooms have been shown to counter these negative effects in a multitude of positive ways. Because of their adaptogenic properties, mushroom powders can help the body adjust to stress and facilitate a normalizing effect on bodily functions.
Once in a state of adrenal fatigue, the body can be sent into a hormonal tailspin. When in overdrive, stress hormones such as cortisol keep sufferers on a cycle of fight-or-flight, exhaustion and back again. This mismanaged hormone production causes a multitude of symptoms which are difficult to diagnose, such as lack of energy, poor sleep quality and constant cravings of sugary and salty foods for a quick boost of energy. All too often, we dismiss these symptoms simply as “the grind.”
You could say that chaga is the mushroom that wears many “caps.” Chaga is well-known for the healthy boost of antioxidants it provides and, in turn, its anti-inflammatory properties. Researchers are linking inflammation to more and more chronic health issues, so incorporating a powder packed with combative antioxidants is a great step in the right direction.
Chaga reigns supreme for skin health and achieving that sought-after “dewy look” by preventing free radicals from causing damage to skin cells. Also an adaptogen, chaga supports the immune system and even has antiviral properties. Chaga works hand-in-hand with many other varieties and is often found in mushroom powder blends in the largest quantity. Try it in a homemade matcha latte anytime!
While technically in the nightshade family, ashwagandha is often grouped and even combined with mushroom powders. As another adaptogen, it stimulates those natural killer cells to fight infection and reduce inflammation. This ancient remedy also promotes reduced cortisol levels, which is a stress hormone responsible for abdominal fat. But ashwagandha is perhaps best known for its calming effect and powerful ability to reduce stress and insomnia, making it a great addition to a cup of caffeine-free tea at the end of the day.
Cordyceps is known as an immune modulator, which means it goes a step beyond just supporting a healthy immune system. This powerful mushroom can actually balance the ratio of immune cells to help the whole system function optimally! Cordyceps has been shown to increase oxygen intake and give an extra boost of energy. Many cordyceps fans report a strong correlation between consumption and increased athletic performance, making this a great powder to incorporate before your workout in a shake or with some gut-healing bone broth.
What Comes Next?
Because most of us won’t likely be foraging our own wild fungi, it’s fortunate that these mushrooms come in convenient powders. But like with all supplements you choose to incorporate into your routine, quality and sourcing matter!
Always look for mushroom powders that are organic and non-GMO. Be sure to read about the sourcing of the mushrooms. Due to their quick rise in popularity, some powders are full of fillers and use the mycelium (the bottom portion that connects a group of mushrooms), rather than the fruiting body. The potential benefits will be drastically minimized if you don’t choose an optimally sourced product. We’ve included a few of our favorites below.
Like most things that impact overall health and well-being, consistency is key. You simply won’t reap the benefits without consistently incorporating them into your daily routine. Because of their bitter taste, these powders taste best when mixed into beverages. Most people use them by adding them to coffee, tea, smoothies or protein shakes. Mixing them into oatmeal with some nut butter is also a great option.
Because different companies use different ratios when preparing these powders, it’s important to read the packaging for specific dosing instructions. As a general rule of thumb, practitioner of functional medicine Dr. Will Cole recommends ½ teaspoon of each variety daily. Women who are pregnant and breastfeeding should always consult a healthcare provider before adding any supplements to a routine.
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