Today, I’m breaking down the healing properties of three functional mushrooms that I’m continuously blown away by: lion’s mane, reishi, and cordyceps.
Here’s a quick cheat sheet for those who may not have the time to read the full newsletter:
- Lion’s mane: improves cognitive function, mood, and behavior.
- Cordyceps: boosts energy and exercise endurance.
- Reishi: supports immunity, calm mood, and emotional well-being.
I’ve also included the supplement that I personally take that features all three of these functional mushrooms. This product is my absolute go-to, especially when I’m starting to notice I’m feeling a little under the weather.
Let’s jump right into the magical world of fungi!
1. Lion’s Mane
Lion’s mane has both culinary and medicinal uses, but it’s most famous for its positive effects on cognition, mood, and immunity through its strong anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties.
Miracle-Gro for Your Brain?
Research shows that the bioactive compounds in lion’s mane stimulate brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a gene that promotes the growth of new nerve cells (1)(2). Many past podcast guests refer to BDNF as “Miracle-Gro” for your brain without all of the harmful chemicals.
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Now, back to the magical healing power of lion’s mane!
May Slow the Progression of Alzheimer’s Disease
There’s promising research that shows lion’s mane may help delay cognitive decline in older populations.
In a four-month trial, elderly adults with mild cognitive impairment were instructed to take four 250mg lion’s mane supplements three times daily (that’s 3,000mg total per day). After the trial ended, the lion’s mane group scored significantly higher on cognitive performance tests, but this effect was diminished four weeks after stopping the treatment (3).
Another nearly year-long study showed that three 350mg capsules of lion’s mane per day slowed symptoms of cognitive impairment in patients with mild Alzheimer’s disease. These results were significant when compared to the placebo group, whose cognitive decline got worse by the end of the trial (4).
Positive Changes in Mood and Behavior
On top of being a “smart mushroom,” lion’s mane has antioxidant properties that may help improve mood and behavior. It seems that the primary way it does this is by reducing inflammation in the body and the brain (5).
This was displayed in a clinical trial of menopausal women who were told to eat a cookie infused with lion’s mane extract or a regular placebo cookie for four weeks. At the end of the trial, the women eating the lion’s mane cookie reported significantly fewer symptoms of depression, irritability, and anxiousness and notable improvements in concentration (6).
Cordyceps can be used as a culinary mushroom and tastes best when consumed in the form of soups, stews, and teas. It can also be taken in a liquid or capsule form to get its natural energy and immune-supporting benefits.
A Natural Energy Booster
This mushroom is most known for increasing the production of ATP and acts as a natural energy enhancer. Studies show that cordyceps can improve physical stamina and endurance, which could be useful for exercise, athletic performance, and elderly populations.
In a clinical trial, the effectiveness of cordyceps on cycling endurance was studied in a group of healthy young adults. After three weeks, those taking the cordyceps reported significantly greater VO2 max scores (a measure of the max amount of oxygen your body can use during exercise). They could also ride their bikes longer than the placebo group before reaching exhaustion (7).
A similar effect was observed in a clinical trial of elderly individuals taking 330mg of cordyceps or a placebo three times per day for 12 weeks. The cordyceps group could put in more work on a stationary bike with less lactic acid buildup than the placebo group and could ride for longer without getting tired (8).
Cordyceps has been referred to as a longevity mushroom in traditional Chinese medicine for its effects on energy and has also been used to treat a number of different ailments (9). It’s also been shown to boost glutathione levels and has a number of benefits for the immune system (10).
The bioactive molecules in reishi help fight infection, lower inflammation, and have antioxidant, antimicrobial, and anti-cancer properties (11). Unlike lion’s mane and cordyceps, the hard, woody texture of reishi isn’t great for culinary use. The best way to get its immune-supporting benefits is through supplementation.
May Help Fight Cancer When Combined with Conventional Treatments
Japanese and Chinese medicine have studied the use of medicinal mushrooms as an adjunctive treatment with radiation and chemotherapy. Of these, the benefits of reishi in cancer research are pretty well established (12).
The National Cancer Institute is even beginning to recognize the use of cordyceps for strengthening the immune system in lung cancer and colorectal cancer.
Research shows that the active ingredients in reishi mushrooms may beneficially support the immune system in patients with cancer. One study showed that 1,800mg three times per day for 12 weeks increased natural killer-cell activity, which fights infection and cancer in the body (13).
I want to be super clear that reishi is not to be mistaken as a replacement for conventional cancer therapy, as this is currently the gold standard. The research on reishi is still developing, but what the current evidence does suggest is that it could be a useful adjunctive cancer treatment worth asking your doctor about.
Sleep and Relaxation
Reishi may also beneficially impact sleep quality, relieve stress, and promote relaxation and calmness (14).
In a study of people with neurasthenia (a condition characterized by fatigue, headache, and irritability) who were given 1,800mg of reishi extract three times per day, significant improvements in well-being were reported after just eight weeks (15).
Companies like Four Sigmatic have special mushroom teas infused with reishi that can be enjoyed before bed or if you’re stressed to help you chill out!
Who Should Avoid Using Functional Mushrooms?
Lion’s mane, cordyceps, and reishi are considered safe for the general public. That being said, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should always check with their practitioner before making any changes to their diet or supplement regimen.
A few other people who should check with their practitioner are individuals who are on prescription medication for blood thinners or blood pressure or those who are suffering from liver disease. As always, if you have any questions check in with your doctor, ideally a Functional Medicine doctor, before jumping in.
Here are a couple of ways you can start integrating high-quality functional mushrooms into your routine!
- Stamets 7. I was excited to include this supplement because it contains all three of the functional mushrooms we talked about today: lion’s mane, cordyceps, and reishi (and a few others we didn’t cover: chaga, maitake, mesima, and royal sun blazei). This is my go-to functional mushroom supplement for immune support, especially when I feel run down or a little under the weather. You can either take this supplement in pill form (Dr. Hyman Store) or as a liquid extract (Host Defense Store) if you are already taking a bunch of pills. Personally, I use the extract because I take so many supplements that I like to switch it up when I can. I’m just warning you, though, that it does have an intense taste, but I promise you’ll get used to it, and you might even grow to love it.
- Lion’s Mane Mushroom Steaks. For anyone who’s game to experiment in the kitchen a bit, there’s a great recipe for mushroom steaks by Taylor Groff, my cowriter for Try This. Lion’s mane has a savory, umami flavor that can taste similar to a steak if prepared correctly. Here is the recipe, and to quote Taylor, “It may not look the best, but I’m telling you it tastes fantastic!”
Functional mushrooms are the latest frontier in holistic health, and there is a good reason for their explosion in popularity.
Today, we covered three of my favorite functional mushrooms, but there are many others out there that have incredible health benefits.
If you want to learn more about functional mushrooms and how to use them, I highly recommend checking out my dear friend Tero’s new book, Healing Adaptogens: The Definitive Guide to Using Super Herbs and Mushrooms for Your Body’s Restoration, Defense, and Performance.
Here’s to your health,