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The ultimate guide to medicinal mushrooms

Medicinal mushrooms have long been used in Eastern medicine to promote healing, enhance immunity, and aid in digestion, but just how effective are they? From chaga to reishi, here’s how you can get in tune with the power of mushrooms.

Medicinal mushrooms have been making waves lately, but if the thought of using mushrooms turns you off, science may be enough to change your mind. These fungi have incredible health benefits beyond reducing stress levels, and while they aren’t a cure-all for what ails you, they might be a supportive sidekick for your immune system. But what are medicinal mushrooms, where can you find them, and do they live up to the hype? From health benefits to dosing recommendations and precautions, here’s everything you need to know about medicinal mushrooms.

What are medicinal mushrooms?

Medicinal mushrooms are fungi that offer powerful health benefits, such as improved cognition, better sleep quality, reduced inflammation, and lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. They have been used in Eastern medicine for centuries but have gained popularity in Western culture in recent years [1]. 

Where to find medicinal mushrooms

Medicinal mushrooms can be taken as a powder, an extract, or in their natural state. While many people enjoy adding them to beverages (like tea, juice, smoothies, or coffee), you can also mix them into stir-fries, soups, ice cream, or yogurt. 
Additionally, you can consume these fungi through supplements. While you can purchase them individually, navigating the supplement aisle can be tricky as there are numerous types of medicinal mushrooms, each with its unique benefits. At Elo Health, we take the guesswork out of the equation by overlaying your blood biomarker results, wearable data, and questionnaire answers to recommend the right nutrition and supplements for you.
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While medicinal mushrooms may provide benefits, they aren’t a magic cure-all for your ailments and should be used under supervision from a healthcare professional (especially if you’re pregnant or taking other medications).

Types of medicinal mushrooms

Whether you’re looking to improve sleep, boost mental health, reduce inflammation, or enhance athletic performance, research suggests that medicinal mushrooms can offer some impressive benefits. From maitake to turkey tail, here’s everything you need to know about the most common types of medicinal mushrooms. 
reishi mushrooms

Reishi

Found in various humid locations throughout Asia, the reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum) has long been used in Eastern medicine to promote health and longevity [2]. 

Benefits of reishi mushroom

Reishi mushrooms have a compound called triterpene that has been found to improve sleep, reduce stress, alleviate anxiety, and ease depression [3,4]. Other evidence shows that reishi mushrooms may also boost the immune system, fight cancer, increase HDL cholesterol, and decrease glucose levels [5,6,7,8]. 

Dosage recommendations

The amount you take will depend on the form you choose, so you should check the label of each product for the recommended dose [9,10]. 
There is no specific dosing information for this fungi, so talk with your healthcare provider to find which dose works best for you and your needs.

Precautions

Despite reishi’s popularity, the powdered form comes with a caution sign, as a major side effect includes liver toxicity [11]. Other potential side effects include nausea, insomnia, upset stomach, itchiness, chronic diarrhea, and dry mouth [12]. 
You should also avoid taking reishi if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, have a blood disorder, will be undergoing surgery or have low blood pressure [13]. 
maitake mushrooms

Maitake

Maitake mushrooms (Grifola frondose) naturally grow in parts of Japan, China, and North America during the autumn months. This fungus has been used for centuries in Eastern medicine to promote immune function, aid digestion, and facilitate weight management, but it’s only become popular in the United States over the past few decades. 

Maitake mushroom benefits

Research suggests that maitake mushrooms might play a role in a healthy immune function, cancer prevention, stress levels, lowered cholesterol levels, and improved blood sugar levels [14,15,16,17].
Moreover, maitake mushrooms are rich in antioxidants, beta-glucans, amino acids, and a plethora of vitamins and minerals (like vitamins B and C, copper, potassium, and fiber) [18]. 

Dosing recommendations

You can find maitake mushrooms in their natural state and liquid concentrate or capsule form. If you settle on a supplement, look for maitake D-fraction, an extract of the fungi. 
The dosage depends on your age, weight, height, and strength of the supplement. As such, you should carefully read the label instructions before taking it. 

Precautions

Studies show that maitake mushroom extracts may interact with warfarin and should be taken with caution [19]. 
Additionally, this fungi hasn't been shown to be fully safe for those who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or have diabetes, an autoimmune disease, or mold sensitivity, so it’s recommended that you check with a doctor before use. 
turkey tail mushrooms

Turkey tail

Turkey tail mushrooms (Coriolus versicolor) is a multicolored fungus that grows on tree trunks and fallen trees in wooded areas worldwide. It’s been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat lung diseases and has steadily gained popularity in the United States [31]. 

Turkey tail mushroom benefits

Thanks to the compound polysaccharide-K (PSK), turkey tail mushrooms have a high antioxidant content, offer anti-cancer properties, and may improve the immune system of those receiving chemotherapy [20]. 
Studies have also shown it to balance gut bacteria, improve insulin resistance, reduce inflammation, and even boost athletic performance [21,22,23,24]. 

Dosing recommendations

Turkey tail extract is available in powder or tea, but additional research is needed to determine dosage. If you choose to take this fungus, follow the dosage instructions on the product label and do not take more than it recommends.

Precautions

While severe side effects haven’t been associated with turkey tail, some have reported mild effects like heartburn, constipation, nausea, or flu-like symptoms. If you have a mushroom or mold allergy, you should not take turkey tail, as this may cause a severe reaction. Talk with your healthcare provider before adding turkey tail into your supplement routine. 
chaga mushroom tea

Chaga

Chaga mushrooms (Inonotus obliquus) mainly grow on the bark of birch trees in cold climates and have long been used in Siberia and other parts of Asia to boost immunity and improve overall health [24].

Chaga mushroom benefits

Studies show that chaga mushrooms are packed full of antioxidants that can help with oxidative stress and inflammation [25,26]. One study in rats suggests it may also have a beneficial effect on cholesterol and triglyceride levels [27]. 
Additionally, these fungi may play a role in cancer prevention. For example, researchers have found that people who took a chaga supplement experienced a 60% reduction in tumor size compared to those who didn’t take chaga [28]. Chaga may also help prevent the growth of cancer cells, specifically in the liver. Still, more research is needed to determine if this will be a viable treatment option for other forms of cancer in the future [29]. 

Dosing recommendations

You can find this fungus in chaga mushroom tea or in supplement form, but more research is needed to determine the optimal dosage. As such, it’s recommended to follow dosing instructions on the product label.

Precautions

Studies show that chaga contains a protein that might prevent blood clotting. If you are on blood thinners, have a bleeding disorder, or are preparing for surgery, consult with your healthcare provider before taking this supplement [30]. 
Chaga may also pose a risk to those who take insulin or have diabetes. Since there is no research on pregnant or breastfeeding women, it’s recommended for this population to avoid supplementation. 
cordyceps mushrooms

Cordyceps

There are over 400 cordyceps species, many of which are native to China, Korea, Nepal, Thailand, and Vietnam. The most well-known medicinal species is Cordyceps sinensis, which has long been used in Eastern medicine to improve appetite, stamina, libido, endurance, and sleep [32].

Cordyceps mushroom benefits

Research shows that Cordyceps sinensis can boost energy, help enhance blood and oxygen flow, increase ATP (energy) production, and improve post-workout recovery [33,34]. For instance, one study found that athletes who took 3 g/day of CS-4 (a synthetic strain of cordyceps) experienced a 7% increase in VO2 max, whereas those who took a placebo experienced no changes [35]. 
Additionally, Cordyceps sinensis may potentially treat certain cancers, manage type 2 diabetes, and reduce inflammation, but more research is needed to determine this [36,37,38].

Dosing recommendations

You can find this fungus as a cordyceps supplement (via capsule, tablet, or powder formulations), or in its dried, whole form with tinctures and extracts. 
While there are no dosing recommendations, it’s suggested to take the amount specified on the product label. 

Precautions

Even though cordyceps are generally considered safe for short-term use, mild side effects like stomach ache, nausea, diarrhea, or dry mouth have been reported, but this usually resolves once supplementation stops [39]. 
Those who have diabetes, bleeding disorders, take blood thinners, are pregnant or breastfeeding, or have a mold or yeast allergy should avoid cordyceps.
shiitake mushrooms

Shiitake

Shiitake mushrooms are one of the most popular varieties worldwide and can be enjoyed fresh, dried, or in various supplement forms. Interestingly, these mushrooms contain many of the same amino acids as meat, making them a popular choice for vegetarians and vegans alike [40]. 
Shiitake mushrooms are also rich in vitamins and minerals, including copper (an essential mineral needed for iron metabolism, bones, and immune support) [43]. In fact, ½ cup of fresh shiitake mushrooms provides 33% and 72% of the DV for selenium and copper, respectively.

Shiitake mushroom benefits

Research shows that shiitake mushrooms may offer major heart health benefits, as they can help lower LDL cholesterol, improve circulation, reduce inflammation, and prevent plaque buildup in the arteries [41]. 
They may also play a role in immunity, as one study found that people who consumed two dried shiitakes each day experienced a decrease in inflammation and an increase in immune markers [42]. 

Dosing recommendations

While you can enjoy shiitake mushrooms as fresh or dried, they’re also available as a supplement in capsule or powder form, which you can add to teas, smoothies, or soup broth. A supplement can contain the equivalent of 3 to 8 mushrooms, which may sound like a lot, but it’s generally considered safe in this amount. However, it’s recommended to talk with a healthcare professional to determine an appropriate dose. 

Precautions

Shiitake mushrooms are generally well-tolerated, but some have reported skin rashes, digestive problems, and increased sensitivity to sunlight [44,45].
lion's mane mushroom

Lion's mane

Lion’s mane (Yamabushitake) gets its name from the white, shaggy hairs that grow on the mushroom. Countries throughout Asia have used lion’s mane mushroom for culinary and medicinal purposes since it’s thought to benefit the brain, gut, and heart.  

Lion's mane benefits

Science suggests that lion’s mane may be beneficial for mental clarity, thanks to its positive impact on cognition, memory, and concentration [46,47]. One study found that older adults with mild cognitive impairment who took 3 g of powdered lion’s mane mushroom each day for 4 months experienced significant improvements in mental function [46]. Other studies done in mice show positive improvements in memory, but more research is needed.
Additionally, lion’s mane mushroom has been shown to protect against ulcers, reduce the risk of heart disease, manage diabetes symptoms, and reduce inflammation [48,49,50,51].

Dosing recommendations

Lion’s mane mushrooms can be enjoyed raw, dried, or steeped in tea. You can also find a lion's mane supplement, lion’s mane coffee, and lion’s mane powder sold in many stores. Lion’s mane supplements vary in potency so check the label for product-specific dosing recommendations before taking.

Precautions

Lion’s mane mushroom appears to be relatively safe with little to no side effects, but those who are allergic or sensitive to mushrooms should steer clear to avoid unwanted reactions.

Summary

Medicinal mushrooms have been used in Eastern medicine for centuries. Emerging research suggests that these fungi might live up to the hype as they become more mainstream in Western society. Studies show that medicinal mushrooms can greatly benefit sleep, mental health, blood sugar levels, athletic performance, and cancer prevention. While they aren’t a cure-all for what ails you, they might be a nice sidekick for your immune system. However, they may have some unwanted side effects, so talk with a healthcare provider before taking medicinal mushrooms to determine what dosage (if any) works best for you.
Disclaimer: The text, images, videos, and other media on this page are provided for informational purposes only and are not intended to treat, diagnose or replace personalized medical care.

Key takeaways

  • Medicinal mushrooms are fungi that offer powerful health benefits, such as improved cognition, better sleep quality, reduced inflammation, and lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.
  • Medicinal mushrooms can be found as a powder, an extract, or in their natural state.
  • Reishi, chaga, shiitake, lion’s man, cordyceps, maitake, and turkey tail are some of the most common types of medicinal mushrooms. 
  • Medicinal mushrooms may have some unwanted side effects, so it’s recommended to talk with a healthcare provider before taking them to determine what dosage (if any) works best for you.

References:

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