Here’s Why You Should Eat Way More Mushrooms

Rachel Fournier
Nov 7, 2019 · 7 min read

It’s more than just flavour; mushrooms are the key to a healthy life.

Long before we humans came into existance, mushrooms have been roaming the earth in great expanse. They’ve lived on every continent, in every environment, in every form, for an incredibly long time. Once we came along, they were indoctrinated into our lives in every way imaginable.

In Ancient China, certain types of fungi were revered for their potency and used exclusively by royalty. In other areas of the world, they were used in the treatment of “consumption”, now known to be tuberculosis. Mushrooms were a delicacy in Paris as of 1650, a religious experience for Native Mexicans, Vikings, and Siberian Shamans, and a performance enhancer for group of nine female athletes, who shattered nine world records in the 1993 Chinese National Games.

Heck, the largest known organism on Earth is a mycelial mat of a honey mushroom (Armillaria ostoyae) in eastern Oregon — 890 hectares and more than 2000 years old.

SO. It’s safe to say that fungi aren’t a new discovery.

They’ve been trusted and relied upon to prevent disease, increase overall health and stamina, and add texture and flavour to delicious meals for quite some time.

But just how beneficial are these fungi? Are they all they’re chalked up to be? Or is it just ancient tradition, a timeless placebo effect?

Since medical mycology research really kicked off in the 1960’s, there’s no doubt that mushrooms are one of the best things you can put in your body.

And we’re not just talking about portobello mushrooms, or button mushrooms, likely the only few you’ll find in your grocery store.

We’re talking about Reishi, Turkey Tail, Chaga, Lion’s Mane; mushrooms often overlooked by the average shopper when prepping for a monday-night meal. Mushrooms you might not even know exist, or are maybe a little creeped out or intimidated by, and understandably so.

They’ve got no advertisements, no commercials, no cheerleading squad. They’re strange looking, alien almost. Plus, mom told you to stay away from them while you played outside, so you’ve grown a bit tentative.

Consider this a first date of sorts.

Together, we’ll get to know some mushrooms, their wonderful qualities and misunderstood demeanor. You’ll see them for the fun-gi’s they really are.

By the end of this article, you’ll want to include mushrooms in everything you do; and if that sounds like too much, even just adding a few new strains in a meal a couple times a week is a win. Start slow, and before you know it, you’ll be in love!

Let’s find out how fungi can benefit you?

Mushroom Picking, 1860 By Franciszek Kostrzewski — Unknown, Public Domain

Antioxidant

Antioxidants are chemical compounds that help protect cells in your body from the damaging effects of free radicals. Free radicals, which are powerful, unstable molecules, react very easily with other molecules through a process called oxidation, and will destroy components like DNA, proteins and sugars.

Too many free radicals in the body creates oxidative stress, which is tied to a number of chronic and neurodegenerative diseases, as well as mutations and cancer.

Ladies and gents, our hero has arrived. Cue our friendly fungi entrance.

Mushrooms contain a compound called ergothionein, or ergo, an antioxidant amino acid that our bodies rapidly pull in and send to areas of high oxidative stress. According to a study conducted by Robert Beelman, a professor of food science at Pennsylvania State University, mushrooms have about 10 times the amount of antioxidants as any other food.

Ganoderma Lucidum, better known as Reishi, is known to release antioxidants almost immediately after ingestion. Waxy Cap mushrooms, Ear mushrooms, and plenty of species of Ganoderma mushrooms are also known for their antioxidant effects.

Reishi mushroom- By Eric Steinert — photo taken by Eric Steinert at Paussac, France, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Antiviral and Antibacterial

One of the key areas of research in the field of fungi is the ability of certain species to stop the multiplication of viral and bacterial cells, while leaving normal cells untouched.

The possibility of a resistant or mutant strain of bacteria from the incorrect use of antibiotics is increasing, the need for alternative solutions growing with it.

Mushrooms can help in the treatment of bacterial and viral disease.

Reishi mushrooms are shown to be effective in inhibiting the reproduction of herpes simplex virus type 1 and type 2, vesicular stomatitis virus, HIV, and hepatitis-B viruses, in both human and animal trials.

In one study, Shiitake mushrooms were found to contain powerful antimicrobial compounds.

In another, the Brain Puffball mushroom (Calvatia Craniiformis), Cordyceps mushroom, Veiled lady mushroom (Phallus Indusiata), Honey Fungus (Armillaria mellea), and Porcelain fungus (Oudemansiella mucida) were used effectively to treat E. Coli, and offer promising results in the future of bacterial and viral treatment via mushroom.

Paul Stamets; Image courtesy of Fungi.com

Anti-cancer

If you’re looking for a firm believer in the anti-cancer properties of fungi, look no further than mushroom guru Paul Stamets, award-winning mycologist and founder of Fungi Perfecti, a company dedicated to the scientific research and distribution of medicinal mushrooms. Stamets has been an advocate since the 1980’s, and has numerous stories to tell about his findings.

In one particularly intriguing CNN interview, Stamets discusses how Turkey Tail mushroom affected his mothers stage 4 cancer diagnosis in 2009, after she’d been given less than three months to live. In combination with Taxol and Herceptin, two cancer-fighting drugs, he credits Turkey Tail (researched heavily in use against breast cancer) for allowing his mother to be cancer and tumour-free a year later.

As well as Turkey Tail, Numerous studies have found Reishi mushrooms to be effective in the treatment of different types of cancer. Species like the Agaricusblazei Murill mushroom, the Miatake mushroom, and Lion’s Mane offer promising anti-cancer and antimutaganic properties. According to one scientific review, there are hundreds of mushrooms whose anti-cancer qualities were tested and found to be reliable.

If it isn’t evident already, you can’t go wrong in the world of medicinal mushrooms. Visit www.fungi.com for more information and research studies.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia

Prevention and Regulation of Neurodegenerative Disease

As mentioned in the first section on antioxidants, oxidative stress leads to a cascade of health problems, many of which are neurodegenerative in nature. Once the neurons in the brain begin to deteriorate, the nervous system loses cognitive and intellectual capabilities, resulting in diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer's and dementia.

Traditionally, the aim of treatment is to slow the progress of these diseases, as they are considered irreversable. By 2020, an estimated 42 million cases of dementia and Alzheimer’s will effect the global population.

However, according to the International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms, mushrooms can play a huge role in not only stopping the degeneration of neurons, but in the regrowth and regeneration of them.

Lions Mane mushroom; By Lebrac — eigene arbeit von Lebrac, CC BY-SA 3.0

Lion’s Mane mushrooms and Tiger Milk mushrooms were both found to stimulate neuron growth in the brain, spinal cord and retina cells of chick embryos. Another study conducted in mice found Lion’s Mane to have neuroprotective properties that would do well in treating and preventing neurodegenerative disease.

One study looked at over 20 types of mushrooms, including Reishi, Lion’s Mane, Oyster, Tiger Milk, and Hen-of-the-wood mushrooms. They extracted over 80 brain-improving compounds from them, and found that they reduced beta amyloid-induced neurotoxicity, as well as having anti-acetylcholinesterase, neurite outgrowth stimulation, nerve growth factor (NGF) synthesis, neuroprotective, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory effects.

Not bad for a mushroom, hey?

Edible mushrooms, By George Chernilevsky — Own work, Public Domain

And There’s More…

The list of health benefits from medicinal mushrooms is endless, and each mushroom has tons of benefits to reap. Don’t forget that although certain ones were listed as examples under specific categories, most medicinal mushrooms contain some variation of the same properties. You can’t go wrong with what you choose!

Mushrooms also…

  • increase heart health
  • increase respiratory fuction
  • increase oxygen absorption
  • enhance physical stamina (Especially Cordyceps)
  • improve liver function
  • improve kidney function
  • assist in ageing
  • boost immunity and T-cell production
  • improve sexual function
  • regulate blood-glucose levels
  • And much more!

Who would have thought that fungi could hold so much potential.

So, what’s stopping you? Now is a perfect time to start incorporating mushrooms in a few meals each week. If you’re dealing with health problems, or just want to boost your overall health, take them in pill or tincture form during the day.

Throwing a few new species of mushrooms can’t hurt, and chances are if you do, you’ll feel some amazing effects.

Do you cook with mushrooms at home already? If so, what are your favourite to include in a meal?

Rachel Fournier

Written by

Sustainability and Zero-Waste blogger- with a focus on personal health and environmental and social impact. The 3 Laws of Life: Humour, Paradox, and Change.

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