The Skinny on Mushrooms

Your first thought now that you have read the title of my article is, “Oh gosh, Dr. Meg is writing about those magic mushrooms and how they get you feeling groovy”. FALSE.  


Then what?

Now your next thought is “Well then it must be about the grocery store mushrooms”. BETTER! This is your first excellent thought since you started reading this article. Now, I am going to tell you that we are going to go past the American grocery store mushrooms in this article and explore some medicinal mushrooms such as Reishi, Cordyceps, Turkey Tail, and Chaga. These are mushrooms we find locally as well as all over the world with serious health benefits.


So you are probably wondering why mushrooms are becoming one of the most popular buzz words around the natural medicine world these days and I am here to give you a quick scoop so you are in the know! First and foremost, they are so cool. Second, more people are spending money on the research since results from people taking them for various ailments have been so positive.

What is also special about mushrooms is that they contain natural compounds that are not found in any other supplement or pharmaceutical on earth and everyone wants to know more about these compounds. 


Why Mushrooms are Special


There are over 1.5 million different varieties of fungi and still more being discovered daily. Mushrooms have been around since our earth started going around. Geological research shows that these little guys date back to before plants inhabited our planet. They are everywhere all over the earth and even in more uninhabitable climates.


Let’s start with what a mushroom is. Mushrooms are a fungus, not a plant. Fungi grow and feed on dying or dead plant material as well as inorganic materials thus they are our creators of soil. They are composed of three major parts and the most important is the fruiting body. The fruiting body is the part we consider the ‘mushroom’ and contains most of the active constituents that we cultivate and use in medicine. 


Medicinal mushrooms have been part of medicine for thousands of years particularly in Chinese Medicine. Did you know that penicillin is derived from mushrooms? 


To get a little more into the science of it all, some of the key components in these mushrooms include polyphenols, polysaccharides such as Beta-glucan, terpenoids, and phytosterols. 

  •  Polyphenols, or phenolics, contribute to the color, taste, and flavor of many herbs, foods, and mushrooms. Phenolics include flavonoids. Phenolics have anti-inflammation effects, antioxidant activity, and are studied more recently for their antitumor effects.

  • Polysaccharides are complex sugars that immune modulate, regulate blood sugars, and have antitumor effects. Immune modulators are things that help balance a system for optimal performance; whether it be an increase or decrease in activity, it will modulate it in the direction it needs to go. 

  •  Terpenoids are derived from terpenes and are commonly the compounds that give plants their scent of flavor and have a very wide range of actions. In the mushroom world, they predominantly contribute to anti-inflammatory and anti-viral effects, as well as, immune modulation. 

  •  Phytosterols are found predominantly in plant oils extracted from plant cell membranes and are known for their cholesterol-lowering and anti-inflammation effects for cardiovascular health.


Now on to some of our mushrooms that are most talked about!



First on the list is Reishi, Ganoderma lucidum. Reishi has been used as medicine for centuries particularly in Asia. This is the herb for you if you feel worn out, stressed like you have burned the candle at both ends and getting sick a lot. It is considered the “mushroom of immortality” and can benefit the body with its immune modulation, liver detoxification, anti-histamine effects as well as cholesterol and blood sugar regulating effects. This mushroom also helps treat nervous exhaustion and adrenal fatigue, as it is calming to the nervous system.

The next mushroom is Chaga, Inonotus obliquusThis beauty is called the “king of all mushrooms” and is the mushroom for you when you have a viral infection such as a cold or flu or experiencing weak hair, nails, and skin. This mushroom has a lot of minerals that help replenish your cells and heal your digestive system so your whole body gains optimal performance.

Next up is Cordyceps, Cordyceps sinensis. This mushroom is the one for you if you are looking for a sports performance boost, adrenal boost, or looking to improve your blood circulation. Bonus, this mushroom is also a natural aphrodisiac. Cordyceps improves the bodies ability to take in oxygen as well as pro-circulatory effects. 


Lion’s mane, Hericium erinaceus, is very unique. It has high amounts of polysaccharides known for its immune support but also for its ability to create nerve growth factors. This is the mushroom for you if you suffer from cognitive decline or poor memory. More recent research is diving deeper into its anti-metastatic effects for cancer treatment. Lion’s mane does so much more such as blood sugar regulation for diabetics, protects the liver, activate the immune system and the list goes on. 


Lastly, I want to talk about turkey tail, Trametes versicolor. Turkey tail is well known for its polysaccharide krestin and polysaccharide peptide which are showing positive results in the world of cancer. This mushroom is also great during a time of cold or flu due to its ability to regenerate your white blood cells quicker which are your bodies soldiers against infection.  

Many of the products on the market will contain a combination of mushrooms or a combination of mushrooms with other herbs or plants to treat a specific condition which is awesome because it utilizes the power of other treatment modalities into one special blend.

There are a number of other wonderful medicinal mushrooms out there such as Maitake, Shiitake, Oyster, Enoki, Tramella and many others that have some awesome health benefits and are also big shining stars in the most recent research being conducted in the world of medicinal mushrooms. So do not let your learning of medicinal mushrooms stop here! 


Below are a few mushroom resources and companies I recommend when purchasing mushrooms. Like always, quality matters so make sure your source is clean, high quality, and environmentally sound.

Good, Quality Brands include, but are not limited to: Four SigmaticMushroom Wisdom, Inc, and Host Defense Mushrooms



Books used in this article: 

Gaby. M.D. A. Nutritional Medicine. 2nd ed.; 2017.

Hoffmann D. Medical Herbalism. Rochester, Vt.: Healing Arts Press; 2003.

Research accessed for this article:

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Kanmatsuse, K., Kajiwara, N., Hayashi, K., Shimogaichi, S., Fukinbara, I., Ishikawa, H., and Tamura, T. [Studies on Ganoderma lucidum. I. Efficacy against hypertension and side effects]. Yakugaku Zasshi 1985;105(10):942-947

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Iwatsuki, K., Akihisa, T., Tokuda, H., Ukiya, M., Oshikubo, M., Kimura, Y., Asano, T., Nomura, A., and Nishino, H. Lucidenic acids P and Q, methyl lucidenate P, and other triterpenoids from the fungus Ganoderma lucidum and their inhibitory effects on Epstein-Barr virus activation. J.Nat.Prod. 2003;66(12):1582-1585

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Park YM, Won JH, Kim YH, et al. In vivo and in vitro anti-inflammatory and anti-nociceptive effects of the methanol extract of Inonotus obliquus. J Ethnopharmacol 2005;101(1-3):120-8

Chiu JH, Ju CH, Wu LH, et al. Cordyceps sinensis increases the expression of major histocompatibility complex class II antigens on human hepatoma cell line HA22T/VGH cells. Am J Chin Med 1998;26:159-70

Chen YJ, Shiao MS, Lee SS, Wang SY. Effect of Cordyceps sinensis on the proliferation and differentiation of human leukemic U937 cells. Life Sci 1997;60:2349-59

Chang HC, Yang HL, Pan JH, et al. Hericium erinaceus Inhibits TNF-a-Induced Angiogenesis and ROS Generation through Suppression of MMP-9/NF-?B Signaling and Activation of Nrf2-Mediated Antioxidant Genes in Human EA.hy926 Endothelial Cells. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2016;2016:8257238

Tsai-Teng T, Chin-Chu C, Li-Ya L, et al. Erinacine A-enriched Hericium erinaceus mycelium ameliorates Alzheimer's disease-related pathologies in APPswe/PS1dE9 transgenic mice. J Biomed Sci. 2016;23(1):49

Ng TB. A review of research on the protein-bound polysaccharide (polysaccharopeptide, PSP) from the mushroom Coriolus versicolor (Basidiomycetes: Polyporaceae). Gen Pharmacol 1998;30:1-4

Mizutani Y, Yoshida O. Activation by the protein-bound polysaccharide PSK (krestin) of cytotoxic lymphocytes that act on fresh autologous tumor cells and T24 human urinary bladder transitional carcinoma cell line in patients with urinary bladder cancer. J Urol 1991;145:1082-7

Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. There are no financial ties to any supplement companies, pharmaceutical companies, or to any of the products mentioned in this post. This post is not meant to treat, cure, prevent, or diagnose conditions or diseases and is meant for educational purposes. As always, please consult your doctor before trying any new treatments or supplements. 

Meghan Holpuch