Mushrooms might taste fantastic in your favorite meal or on a slice of pizza, but people have been consuming them for thousands of years, and not just for their taste. Mushrooms have for a long time been used in a variety of cultures for medicinal purposes. This includes ancient Roman, ancient Greek, ancient Egyptian, Chinese, and Mexican, and ancient South American cultures.
An interesting find made in 1991 showed a 5300-year-old mummified body that was discovered carrying a specific type of fungus, which supposedly has a purgative effect, and is believed to have been used to treat the intestinal parasites of this mummified person. The medicinal use of mushrooms may date back even further than this.
Thanks to a multitude of minerals, vitamins, and other beneficial substances contained in many different mushrooms, there may therefore also be various health benefits, and yes, this includes supporting a healthy immune system.
Today, we want to determine what exactly medicinal mushrooms are, what the health benefits of mushrooms are, and what some of the best mushrooms to support your healthy immune system are. By the end of this article, you should know everything there is to know about how to help improve your immunity using nothing more than mushrooms.
- There are many types of mushrooms in the world, up to 22,000, with many having a variety of potential health benefits, including for your immune system.
- There are many different vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial compounds found in mushrooms that have shown great potential for boosting immune health and fighting disease.
- Some of the most important mushrooms for immune health include reishi, turkey tail, lion’s mane, cordyceps, shiitake, and oyster mushrooms.
What are Medicinal Mushrooms
Medicinal mushrooms are simply edible fungi, otherwise known as macroscopic fungi, which means that they can be seen by our eyes, and they are used for their many possible health benefits.
Various types of fungi, including mushrooms, mold, and yeast, grow on dead plant matter, dead animals, other fungi, and even in nutrient-rich soil.
It is estimated that there are as many as 22,000 different species of mushrooms that can be found across the world, with up to 30 of them being cultivated by humans, and up to another 20 of which are foraged in the wild.
Many people eat mushrooms simply because they make for a good addition to an already tasty meal, but many more take them for their health benefits.
The reason why medicinal mushrooms have such great potential is because they are filled to the brim with various vitamins and minerals. This includes, but is not limited to, vitamins C, D, and E, as well as B1, B2, and B12.
Mushrooms are also very rich in potassium, selenium, fiber, protein, alkaloids, flavonoids, phenolic compounds, terpenes, polysaccharides, and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
All of these compounds come together to provide you with a multitude of possible health benefits. The main benefit that we are here to focus on today is the immune stimulating properties of mushrooms and how they can help strengthen your immune system to better fight off disease.
Health Benefits of Mushrooms
Mushrooms may have up to 130 different therapeutic and medicinal properties that you can benefit from. Mushrooms may be anti-diabetic, antifungal, antibacterial, antiparasitic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, anti-tumor, immunomodulating, and even hepatoprotective.
Although this might sound very fancy, it might not mean all that much to you, which is why we want to take a quick look at some of the biggest health benefits that different mushrooms can provide you with.
1. Weight Loss
One health benefit of mushrooms is that when consumed alongside a healthy diet, they can help you lose weight. Mushrooms are very low in calories and low in fat, plus they contain a lot of water. Mushrooms contain around 3 calories for every half a cup, and roughly 90% of them are water.
They also contain a lot of soluble fiber, which helps slow down digestion and makes you feel fuller for longer periods. Mushrooms also happen to be rich in copper, which is an important mineral for fat metabolization.
2. Immune Boosting
Mushrooms are also rich in a type of fiber known as beta-glucan, which is thought to help boost immunity.
On that note, mushrooms also contain a lot of selenium, a mineral that has also been shown to increase the function of the immune system, so you can better fight off the flu, colds, and other types of infection.
Another reason why mushrooms are thought to be good for the immune system is because they contain vitamin D. Here is one specific study that shows that mushrooms can help support immune health. Here’s another study that indicates that Cordyceps may have immune regulating properties.
There are even studies that show that mushrooms may have antiviral effects, therefore also benefiting your immune system and overall health.
Interestingly enough, other studies show that specific mushroom extracts may serve to suppress the immune system, therefore possibly even having anti-allergy benefits.
Further below, we'll take a closer look at the very best mushrooms to help support your immune system.
3. Energy Production
Mushrooms are also rich in a variety of B vitamins, specifically riboflavin and thymine, as well as pantothenic acid and niacin.
Riboflavin and thiamin are important for helping the body metabolize carbohydrates, with pantothenic acid and niacin being important for converting fat and other nutrients into fuel for your body.
Because the B vitamins contained in mushrooms help improve your metabolism, it also allows for a good energy boost.
4. Skin & Hair Health
The copper content found in most mushrooms may also be beneficial for your skin. Copper is known for increasing the natural production of collagen in your skin, which is one of the most important building blocks of your skin. Collagen keeps your skin strong, firm, and elastic. Closely related, copper is also relatively important for supporting healthy hair growth.
5. Maintaining Good Digestion and Gut Health
Yet another benefit that mushrooms have for you is that they are good for your digestion and gut health, mainly because they contain so much dietary fiber.
Both the insoluble fiber and soluble fiber contained in mushrooms are great for your digestive system and can even help prevent constipation from occurring. Dietary fiber also has many other benefits for your body.
For instance, there is a study that indicates that mushrooms help to control symptoms associated with inflammatory bowel disease by positively affecting gut microbiota as well as the immune system.
6. A Good Source of Protein – Muscle Health
Mushrooms are also fairly rich in protein, with one single serving containing up to 10% of your daily recommended protein intake. On that note, mushrooms are also a great source of various essential amino acids, which are required as building blocks to form protein.
In fact, mushrooms had a complete amino acid profile, almost like meat. Mushrooms are also very rich in iron, a mineral that helps to transport oxygen around your body, which can therefore help with muscle function and recovery.
7. Potential Mental Health Benefits
Mushrooms may also have potential health benefits. There are some studies that have been performed on specific mushrooms that indicate that they may be beneficial for reducing symptoms associated with depression, stress, and anxiety (albeit these tests were performed on psychedelic mushrooms). Mushrooms are also rich in tryptophan, an amino acid that assists with brain function, as well as vitamin B6, which also supports brain function.
8. Anti-inflammatory Properties
Mushrooms are also thought to be highly anti-inflammatory in nature, which is mainly thanks to the beta-glucans compounds found in them. Beta-glucans have great potential to help ward off various diseases such as cancers, heart disease, diabetes, and more. The anti-inflammatory properties of mushrooms may also have more basic benefits, such as a reduction in stiffness, swelling, and localized pain, such as that caused by arthritis.
9. Vision Health
Mushrooms contain beta-carotene, otherwise known as vitamin A, which is a powerful antioxidant with its own set of health benefits, with one being the ability to prevent macular degeneration. Vitamin A is very important for the health of your eyes, as is vitamin B2, which mushrooms are also rich in.
10. Other Possible Health Benefits
There are even more health benefits that mushrooms may have, including the following.
- Mushrooms may have anti-cancer properties, which could be thanks to the beta-glucans contained in them, which are shown to help slow down cell growth and blood flow, therefore slowing down the growth of tumors. The selenium contained in mushrooms may also play an important role in preventing or treating certain cancers.
- There are some studies that indicate that dietary mushrooms may be able to reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. Some mushrooms may also be able to reduce some of the symptoms related to cancer, particularly sweating and insomnia.
- Thanks to the various compounds and minerals contained in mushrooms, such as potassium, your heart health may also benefit, particularly where your blood pressure is concerned.
Which Mushroom is Best for the Immune System?
Now that we know what the most important potential health benefits of mushrooms are, let's take a closer look at some of the best mushrooms for your immune system.
Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus)
Lion’s Mane, as the name implies, looks like long and white fur. Although there is more research required on humans, there are some animal trials that have shown that this mushroom may have beneficial effects on gut microbiota growth, and may also be associated with a reduction in tissue damage in animals that have IBD or inflammatory bowel disease.
Another study indicates that the protein found in these mushrooms may be beneficial for encouraging the growth of gut bacteria, resulting in the strengthening of the immune system.
Chaga (Inonotus obliquus)
Chaga, otherwise known as the birch mushroom, can often be found growing on the bark of Birch trees. This is a dark brown or black mushroom.
Here is an interesting study that was performed on mice, which showed that Chaga extract helped reduce gut damage and inflammation by reducing inflammatory cytokines.
Here is another study that also demonstrated how the chaga mushroom can help reduce the amount of harmful cytokines in the body, therefore also reducing inflammation associated with various diseases.
Furthermore, perhaps the most important study of all, indicates that chaga extract can stimulate white blood cells, with white blood cells being the building blocks of your immune system. White blood cells are required to fight off viruses and bacteria.
Cordyceps (Ophiocordyceps sinensis)
Cordyceps technically are not mushrooms, but rather fungus, a parasitic fungus, which takes over the bodies of its hosts, mainly insects.
There is one study that was performed on healthy Korean adults, which showed that Cordyceps extract supplementation helped to increase immune regulation, and helped increase the activity of NK cells, otherwise known as natural killer immune cells.
There is also evidence that this fungus may be used as a treatment for a variety of autoimmune diseases.
Maitake (Grifola frondosa)
Maitake is a very commonly occurring fungus, otherwise known as hen of the wood. This is considered to be both a culinary mushroom and a medicinal mushroom, as it is quite common to cook with it and to use it for its health benefits.
There are studies that show that one of the main compounds found in these mushrooms, proteoglycan, features immune-stimulating effects, and can even have beneficial effects for people suffering from mammary tumors.
There are other studies that have been performed on animals, which show that the polysaccharides found in these mushrooms have antiviral effects, specifically against HIV or human immunodeficiency virus, as well as hepatitis B.
When it comes to delicious mushrooms that are popular for cooking, the oyster mushroom is always one of the most popular. It's definitely one of the tastiest mushrooms on the list and also has benefits for your immune system.
For instance, this particular study showed that the polysaccharides found in the oyster mushroom can help activate NK cells, specifically against various forms of cancer.
There are also studies that show that various compounds found in the oyster mushroom can have anti-inflammatory properties, which may also be beneficial for your immune health.
Here is yet another study that effectively demonstrates that oyster mushrooms have the ability to help potentiate the immune system. Another study shows how oyster mushrooms may act as an effective treatment against the herpes simplex virus type 1, with a reduction in the duration and severity of symptoms.
Research also shows that children suffering from recurrent respiratory tract infections may benefit from oyster mushrooms. Further research also shows that interferon-y is activated by the oyster mushroom, which is very important in protecting you against infection.
Reishi (Ganoderma lingzhi)
The reishi mushroom has long been used in an attempt to treat a wide variety of conditions and diseases.
One of the biggest potential benefits is its ability to boost the immune system. There is research that indicates that this mushroom indeed can improve your immune function.
There are also studies that show that inflammation pathways in white blood cells may be altered by this mushroom.
Another study performed in 2006 demonstrated that this mushroom can increase the number of white blood cells in people suffering from colorectal cancer.
A much older study also demonstrated that the reishi mushroom has the ability to improve lymphocyte functionality, which in turn helps fight off various infections. Some people may also be interested in taking reishi with CBD, particularly to help with sleep.
Shiitake (Lentinula edodes)
As far as cooking mushrooms go, shiitakes are some of the most delicious of all. These are very tasty and meaty mushrooms, ones which are very popular in Asian cuisine. However, the boosting of your immune system is a big benefit that these mushrooms have, besides their great flavor.
One study that was performed on mice showed that age-related immune function decline was partially reversed or slowed down thanks to the shitake mushroom. It is also thought that the boosting of the immune system might be partly a result of the polysaccharides found in its shiitake mushrooms.
Another very small study performed on just two people showed that the immune markers present in the immune system improved drastically, along with greatly reduced inflammation levels, after taking shiitake mushrooms for a full month.
Turkey Tail (Coriolus versicolor)
The brown and tan rings on the surface of the turkey tail mushroom look exactly like the tail of an actual turkey. This mushroom has for a very long time been used in an attempt to therapeutically treat a variety of infections and diseases.
There are many reasons why the turkey tail mushroom can help boost the immune system, with one of them being that there are two types of polysaccharopeptides found in them. These are both essential for regulating the immune cells and suppressing inflammation.
PSK and PSP (the two types of polysaccharides found in turkey tails) are both in their own ways shown to help improve immunity. Next, turkey tails also contain many different antioxidants and flavonoids, which are both beneficial for the immune system.
Another study demonstrated that PSK, the polysaturated peptide found in these mushrooms, helped to inhibit the spread and growth of human colon cancer cells. There are also other studies that showed that turkey tail extract can reduce tumor size, and this is attributed to an enhanced immune response.
Best Way to Consume Mushrooms
If you're looking for the most enjoyable way to consume mushrooms, we recommend cooking with them. Some of the varieties discussed today, particularly oyster mushrooms and shiitake mushrooms, are very popular to use in various cuisines from around the world.
Just keep in mind that mushrooms only contain so much of the beneficial compounds discussed today, so you might need to eat a whole lot of them.
That said, many people also like to take dried mushrooms as a mushroom immune supplement, or even powdered mushrooms, and turn them into various teas or coffee supplements. Some of these mushroom teas and coffees can actually taste pretty good, plus they may or may not be bulked up with some additional added nutrients. If you're interested in mushroom coffee, check out these options right here.
It is also possible to get mushroom extract in the form of capsules and pills, which is probably your best bet. This is because mushroom extract pills and capsules are generally extremely concentrated, and therefore provide you with the most beneficial substances for the least amount of effort. Whatever way you consume them, mushroom immunity appears to be very real!