There’s a new fun-guy on the street these days that celebs from Gwyneth Paltrow to Mischa Barton are touting as a superfood to treat everything from inflammation and fatigue to cancer—and it couldn’t be more natural. (Although she’s not otherwise known for the most natural beautifying methods, Kim Kardashian is apparently a fan of medicinal mushrooms, too.)
Mushrooms, those sometimes-poisonous, mostly unattractive, forest growths are actually much more human-friendly than they may seem at first glance. They’ve been used by indigenous cultures for centuries, and the savvy twenty-first-century woman is now turning her head backward to see what nature can provide us in terms of holistic, whole-body healing.
To get this out of the way, there’s an obvious non-medicinal use of mushrooms that has been circulating for decades in popular culture and even longer in human history. Hallucinogenic mushrooms, known as psilocybin, come in 180 different species, and they’re traditionally sought after for a high or “trip.” Although they’re illegal in the US, studies do show that they are a relatively safe “drug,” in that they’re non-addictive, hard to overdose on, and easy to grow yourself without toxic chemicals like another home-grown drug, meth.
Now, back to the non-recreational point. The reason that mushrooms are so beneficial to humans (even when sought after for a high) is cellular: we share more DNA with mushrooms than other plants, which means the chemical compounds in their cells are simpatico with every system of our bodies. Primarily they offer a huge boost of immune support, and when you’re able to fight off disease, you’re naturally a healthier overall—it’s less likely that one system shut-down will spiral into others. Mushrooms are thereby part of a holistic preventative medicine routine, as opposed to the symptom-based medicine that’s primarily practiced (and taught) in the West.
Here’s how it works. Mushrooms have a compound called beta-glucans that when ingested, the body recognizes as an invader (like a virus). Our immune systems thus stand at the ready to protect us internally, and just as when we exercise a muscle repeatedly and get stronger, regular exposure to this tiny invader makes the immune system stronger. Different mushrooms also have other chemical constituents that are useful for more specific ailments or conditions. Here are the top six mushrooms you could try depending on your desired benefit:
Chaga: Grown on birch trees, this panacea mushroom works at the DNA-level for overall immune and antioxidant support (see more in-depth info about chaga here).
Cordyceps: If you’re looking for an energy boost, turn to this ‘shroom that was traditionally used for high-altitude respiratory support. Athletes now use it for improved endurance, and it also boost libido. Great for those suffering from lung-related diseases or common colds, etc.
Lion’s Mane: Form follows function here, for this lovely pouf-like mushroom supports brain function and mental clarity, making it great for those with memory-related conditions or those simply wanting to improve cognition.
Maitake: Improves blood sugar levels and metabolic function, in addition to overall immunity
Reishi: Known as “the mushroom of immortality,” this is one of the better-known mushrooms today and the top-selling around the world. Why? Because of its high bioavailability, its chemicals are able to tap into circulatory and immune support to also relieve stress and improve energy (it also falls into the “adaptogen” category as such).
When looking for a medicinal mushroom brand, you want to be sure that their extract process preserves the bioavailability of the beneficial compounds. Host Defense is one great resource, because they cultivate their mushrooms in controlled environments right here in Washington State on brown rice (!) and wood—so there isn’t even the sacrifice of an innocent tree in the forest in the process, which is common when a mushroom species (especially chaga) takes over its host organism and basically consumes it from the inside out (cordyceps is even worse, which burrows itself into insects…). For the more glam among us, Moon Juice likewise offers an array of health-boosting powders and supplements including mushrooms.
Medicinal mushrooms, like all natural remedies, shouldn’t be taken to treat serious conditions without consulting with a doctor. A holistic doctor may be more open to experimenting with you, but make sure he or she is credentialed.
How will you incorporate medicinal mushrooms into your lifestyle?
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Photo: Pexels.com; Moonjuice.com