Guide to Functional Mushrooms and Their Potential Mental Health Benefits
The term “functional mushroom” may sound strange to some, there is growing evidence that specific types of fungi offer unique health benefits. While many types of mushrooms offer nutritional value, some have shown potential to actually improve health.
Do they work? Are the mental health benefits real? These questions merit exploration.
What Are Functional Mushrooms?
Mushrooms of all types have long been considered a healthy addition to the diet. Many have excellent flavor and offer nutritional value. Some varieties are even hearty enough to replace proteins in various dishes. Functional mushrooms are a bit different.
There are two forms of functional mushrooms: medicinal mushrooms and adaptogenic mushrooms.
Medicinal mushrooms have compounds in them – which differ based on the specific species – that provide health benefits. This may include antioxidative properties or cytotoxic properties.
These benefits may help in repairing damage brought on by oxidation or stress on the body’s cells. There is some evidence that these mushrooms can also help kill off harmful cells, therefore working as a type of healing tool as well. Keep in mind that these are not medications and should not be treated as such. Rather, they have medicinal properties that may enhance health in some people. Consider them a type of supplemental product.
Adaptogenic mushrooms have adaptogens in them. These are compounds that are noted for their ability to help the body to adapt to various stressors, including chemical, biological, and physical stress. That is an important difference. For example, using the right adaptogenic mushrooms may allow your body to better fight off that illness. They do not try to get rid of the inflammation that may be causing the problem. Rather, they help support the body’s natural ability to fight off that ailment.
How can this help you? Just like other dietary supplements, choosing the best type of functional mushroom to add to your diet provides your body with more of the support it needs to work in the optimal fashion.
What Are the Benefits of Functional Mushrooms?
Functional medicine may prove to be valuable in a number of ways. From a mental health focus, these mushroom benefits may help to boost cognitive function. They have been shown to offer benefits related to alleviating depression and anxiety symptoms. They may also promote stress relief and relaxation, according to studies reported by the National Library of Medicine. Studies propose that functional mushrooms may contribute to a number of health improvements, including the following, according to Real Mushrooms:
- Improving the symptoms of anxiety
- Improving or “lifting” mood
- Development of new brain cells, a process called neurogenesis
- Supporting healing after brain injury (which may indirectly support mental health function)
Also notable, mushrooms seem to play a role in the function of neurotransmitters. Many of the mental health disorders individuals struggle with are related directly or indirectly to a chemical imbalance. However, the more accurate statement is that the brain’s neurotransmitters are impacted. These are the most important chemical messengers in the brain that send messages to each other so that tasks can be achieved. There are hundreds of types of neurotransmitters in the brain, all working together.
One particular type of neurotransmitter is called neurotransmitter y-aminobutyric acid, commonly referred to as GABA. Other neurotransmitters include oxytocin, serotonin, dopamine, opioid peptides, and acetylcholine.
Considering this, it is evident that the onset of anxiety is not an indication that something is wrong with the brain. Rather, the brain has the capability of producing anxiety symptoms due to the presence of these neurotransmitters. When there is too little or too much of the presence of chemical neurotransmitters, then that can create the feelings of anxiety that you may feel.
How does this relate, then, to the use of functional mushrooms? In short, adaptogens, like those found in functional mushrooms, can work to regulate those symptoms. Thus, they may work to balance and improve communications between the chemical transmitters while also balancing the symptoms of anxiety that a person may experience.
While mental health may be your focus for using functional mushrooms, there are potential other benefits as well. Functional mushrooms have been shown to work as an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antidiabetic, immunomodulatory, and antitumor, according to students reported by the National Institutes of Health.
Types of Functional Mushrooms
Several types of functional mushrooms exist, each offering various potential benefits. These are some of the most common.
Ganoderma lucidum, more commonly known as reishi, is a valuable functional mushroom. Some studies have shown it can help with reducing obesity in some people. Additionally, some research found that the use of reishi mushrooms may also help to improve overall mood. It can help to reduce feelings of depression and may help to protect cognitive function. These studies also found that the use of these mushroom compounds may help fight off fatigue brought on by depressive or low mood symptoms.
The Ganoderic acid in this type of mushroom works to provide cell detoxification throughout the body. They also help to soothe a person, aiding in encouraging sleep. They can be used as a mood enhancement for those who are very anxious as a result.
Inonotus obliquus, or Chaga mushrooms, are another type of functional mushroom that may help to provide a range of health benefits, according to some research, including working as an antioxidant, anti-viral, and hypolipidemic. It also works to prevent and slow tumor growth and, in some situations, may help protect brain cells allowing them to operate properly. They help to support the brain’s ability to handle mental stressors, as well, often providing support for fighting off depression and anxiety.
The cytokines, or proteins, found in Chaga mushrooms help white blood cells to function better, reducing inflammation throughout the body. It may also help to reduce diabetes-like symptoms, including those that impact the brain’s function and health.
Lion’s mane, or hericium erinaceus or yamabushitake, has been noted for its ability to inhibit the growth of some types of cancer cells. In addition to this, science shows that it may also help to protect the brain by minimizing the risk of neurodegeneration. It may also help to stimulate the production of nerve growth factors, which could help in the maintenance of healthy neurons, which means that communication pathways in the brain can be adequately maintained.
Trametes versicolor, more commonly known as turkey tail, is another functional mushroom that can support the immune system as an anti-inflammatory treatment. It’s been studied for its benefits in working to fight off tumor growth while also working to reduce cancer development. In the brain, it seems to help with slowing degenerative processes that impact neurotransmitters. It does this by helping to remove free radicals from the body.
This type of mushroom is noted for its anti-cancer abilities and is heavily used in Chinese and ancient Japanese medicine as such thanks to its ability to boost white blood cell formation and function. They can also boost gut health because they have a prebiotic within them.
Cordyceps, which include cordyceps sinensis and cordyceps militaris, are an excellent choice for stress reduction. They also act as a boost for the immune system. It is an excellent tool for maintaining energy and stamina, both at the physical and mental levels, which is why it is often used in combination with protein products. This is one of the more recommended functional mushrooms for athletic performance improvement because it boosts the lactate threshold while also stimulating muscle function.
Cordyceps are also excellent at boosting libido and fighting fatigue. That helps them to support the function of the brain as well as the immune system.
Tips for Incorporating Functional Mushrooms Into Your Diet
Incorporating functional mushrooms into the diet can be an exceptional way to get the full benefits they may offer. It is possible to purchase supplemental products, but those may contain some level of other compounds in them, and since there is no regulation at the highest level in the U.S. for supplements, it may be better to focus on other methods.
Functional mushrooms are rather easy to add to the diet. Ground, high-quality, dried versions can be added to coffee first thing in the morning. They can also be added to recipes for protein balls or any type of peanut-butter bar that allows the dried form to meld into the substance. It is also possible to add them to virtually any meal, and, in some cases, they can be used in a smoothie.
Safety and Side Effects of Functional Mushrooms
Like all mushrooms, functional mushrooms should always be carefully considered before use. The first step is to ensure the mushroom is safe to consume, especially if found in the wild. Numerous apps can help with this, like ShroomID or Rogers Mushroom App.
Some types of mushrooms can have side effects. For example, Adaptogenic mushrooms, like lion’s mane and reishi, can be very safe for most people (unless you have an allergy to them). However, some people may experience dizziness or a headache when using supplements containing functional mushrooms. In addition, there are some situations where those who have bleeding disorders should not use them. They can also cause liver toxicity in higher doses, according to one study in PubMed. If you have any concerns about using functional mushrooms, speak to your healthcare provider before adding them to your diet.
Scientific Articles and Research Papers on Functional Mushrooms
Consider these scientific studies and articles that have been done on functional mushrooms and what they may mean.
Take a closer look at some of the scientific studies that have been done on functional mushrooms that showcase their potential benefits.
Medicinal Mushrooms: Bioactive Compounds, Use, and Clinical Trials
This study, done through the University of Palermo in Italy and published on PubMed, provides some valuable insight into the medicinal benefits of functional mushrooms. That includes its antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antiallergic benefits, as well as how it works as an antidepressant and neuroprotective tool.
A Critical Review on the Health Promoting Effects of Mushrooms Nutraceuticals
This study is very in-depth, pinpointing the benefits of functional mushrooms and other mushrooms as well, based on the type. It looks at the nutritional properties as well as the various ways it can help with health and mental wellbeing. Published by ScienceDirect and completed by researchers at Nanjing Agricultural University, it offers a comprehensive look at the value of mushrooms.
Learning as much as you can about functional mushrooms, including what they are and how they work, can prepare you to make better decisions about what to include in your diet. Here are some resources to focus on.
National Institutes of Health
- Read through the studies and informational guides at the National Institutes of Health for more insight into what these mushrooms can do.
Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts
- The Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts offers an in-depth look at functional mushrooms and how they are being incorporated into the American diet. They break down several times and offer some tips on how to use them in the kitchen.
Functional mushrooms are likely to be considered a superfood simply because of the nutritional value they provide. Yet, incorporating them into your diet or using a high-quality supplement or dried product may also make this a tool for improving mental health and overall wellbeing.
Like many of these holistic treatments, further scientific research is necessary, and in many situations, there will be limited improvement and some side effects for individuals. Yet, for others, functional mushrooms are a must to include in the diet of most people.