Gut health isn’t simply a trendy buzzword. It refers to the condition of the human gut, which plays a role in virtually every function in your body, including your immunity.
The gut refers primarily to the organs of the digestive tract. Within these organs, vital, healthy bacteria live and thrive. It’s a tiny microbiome of flourishing flora that works to keep your immunity balanced, your skin clear, and even supports your brain health.
Keeping your gut health a top priority will have a trickle-down effect on other areas of your overall health and well-being. Using medicinal mushrooms can work synergistically with your gut bacteria to help promote a healthy gut.
By the time you finish this quick read, you’ll be ready to do ‘shrooms (but maybe not the psychedelic kind).
How Are Mushrooms Beneficial for Gut Health?
The main reason why medicinal mushrooms provide so many gut health benefits is due to their prebiotic content. These mushrooms tend to contain high levels of prebiotics, which are essential for gut health.
The “gut” is made up of healthy levels of good bacteria. If you’ve ever taken a probiotic, you’ve essentially taken a dose of those healthy bacteria to help reinforce your gut’s healthy bacteria levels.
Like probiotics, prebiotics are also necessary for gut health. Prebiotics are fibers that “feed” the healthy levels of gut microbes to keep them strong.
Mushrooms contain high levels of beta-glucans, which early research has shown acts like prebiotic fiber. Prebiotics feed healthy gut flora, so mushrooms give you the double benefit of sending in essential troops and feeding them, too.
How Can Mushrooms Support the Immune System?
You might be surprised to learn that the majority of the body’s immune cells are located in the gut. That means that gut health is essential for ensuring balanced immune health.
Many things affect the gut, including the foods we eat, and the health of our gut directly impacts the health and function of the immune cells living there. Having a healthy gut microbiome can translate into better immune support.
Further, some mushrooms can activate immune cells (like B cells, T cells, and macrophages). These mushrooms also have antimicrobial, antioxidant, and antiviral properties, which can further bolster the immune system and support total wellness.
Which Mushrooms Are Best for Gut Health?
It probably goes without saying that you won’t experience the incredible benefits of mushrooms by simply consuming more dietary mushrooms (we’re looking at you, sliced whites). Although the mushrooms you consume on your salads can have digestive health benefits and contain nutrients, the majority of the mushrooms most beneficial for gut health are usually found in supplement form.
Here, we’ll outline our top five favorite medicinal mushrooms and explain how each of them can help keep your gut healthy.
1. Lion’s Mane
Rich in antioxidants, which keep your cells safe from oxidative stress, lion’s mane mushroom is also a source of fungal polysaccharides, which can support your gut flora.
Early research has also looked at whether or not the polysaccharides (particularly the beta-glucans) in lion’s mane may serve as prebiotic fiber. Beta-glucans are considered an essential food ingredient for maintaining metabolic homeostasis. In studies, dysregulation of metabolic function (including those specifically linked with the digestive tract) is often associated with a lower number of circulating beta-glucans.
2. Reishi Mushroom
Reishi mushroom is an adaptogenic mushroom. This means it actively modulates the body’s stress response, recalibrating it and bringing it back into homeostasis (or balance). Chronic stress can lead to a stress response that invokes the immune system and results in chronic, low-level inflammation. This type of inflammation can contribute to many diseases and illnesses.
Chronic stress has been shown to increase gut permeability, leading to “leaky gut” syndrome. When you have a leaky gut, unhealthy gut bacteria can leak into the bloodstream, causing the body to produce an inflammatory response.
Reishi supports a healthy stress response and works with the gut to help balance immunity, too. This study researched how two compounds in reishi mushroom (polysaccharides and triterpenoids) modulated certain tumor cells. Simultaneously, these compounds activate the immune system, providing antiviral and anti-tumor properties.
Although studies are still very early, promising cell-based studies have shown that reishi can increase levels of healthy gut bacteria like Bifidobacterium and Lactobacilli.
Shiitake mushrooms are one medicinal mushroom that you might have actually consumed in your salad. These mushrooms have been considered medicinal and used for decades in traditional medicine. Shiitake mushrooms have a pleasant flavor, which makes them one of the only mushrooms on this list that are frequently consumed outside of supplement form.
Studies show that shiitake improves gut immunity by altering proinflammatory cytokine levels and C-reactive protein levels.
Cordyceps mushrooms are a type of mushroom that lives on (wait for it) ants. Before you decide to pass on these, you might want to consider their health benefits. Early research shows they could be incredibly effective at protecting the mucosal lining of parts of your gastrointestinal system. Keeping the lining of your gut healthy is essential for proper nutrient absorption and immune function.
Maitake mushrooms, also known as hen-of-the-wood mushrooms, have been trusted for their medicinal properties in Japanese culture for a century. Nutrient-dense and loaded with antioxidants, early research suggests that they may increase levels of gut flora like Bifidobacterium and certain strains of Lactobacillus.
How Can These Mushrooms Be Consumed?
As mentioned earlier, you probably aren’t going to find most of these mushrooms lining the produce shelves of your grocery store. They’re available in different forms, from mushroom powder to mushroom extract and even mushroom supplements.
The best way to consume them is the way that is most convenient and supportive of your lifestyle. For instance, if you love a good smoothie in the morning, you can add a mushroom powder to your mixer. Prefer to get your daily dose of mushrooms in the form of a nightcap? Stir in mushroom extract with herbal tea.
Powders, Extracts, or Supplements?
There are a few key differences between mushroom powders, extracts, and supplements. Here’s what you need to know:
- Extracts. Extracts are taken from the fruiting bodies or mycelium of mushrooms using a solvent or heat. Extracts are quite potent and are available in several formats, including tinctures and mushroom powders.
- Non-extracted powders. Some powders are made by drying and grinding the entire mushroom, even the parts that are less beneficial (like the mycelium).
- Supplements. These may contain extracts or powders, so make sure you pay close attention to the label to find out what you’re really getting.
In general, extracts made using the fruiting body are considered more powerful and more bioavailable because the beneficial ingredients (like polysaccharides) have been extracted from the cell wall.
Just so you know, JOYÀ uses fruiting body mushroom extracts, which are blended into our superfood powders, so you get all the benefits you want in the most bioavailable manner.
You can find gut-healthy mushrooms in JOYÀ’s Focus Matcha Superblend, Defend Vanilla-Maca Superblend, and Calm Cacao Superblend, as well as our Defend Functional Chocolate, Zen Functional Chocolate, and Balance Functional Chocolate. We also offer many ways to get your daily dose of mushrooms in flavorful ways.
Check out these recipes to level up your Superblend game:
- Six Green Smoothies made with Focus Matcha Superblend
- Vanilla Caramel Smoothie with Defend Vanilla-Maca Superblend
- Seven Smoothies with Calm Cacao Superblend
No matter what you choose, you’ll love the flavor, and your gut will love the mushroom benefits.
When you trust JOYÀ’s products to do the job for you, you get the added benefit of complementary adaptogens and ingredients that work alongside the mushrooms we use to help support your total body wellness. In addition, we’re passionate and intentional with our ingredients. If we include it in our functional foods, there’s a well-researched reason.
Are There Any Risks or Side Effects?
Most of the time, consumption and supplementation with the aforementioned mushrooms do not produce notable side effects. However, if you have an allergy to mushrooms or experience side effects, discontinue using your mushroom product immediately and seek medical care.
The Bottom Line
Your gut? It’s more than just that adorable little pooch around your belly button. Gut health is essential to a healthy and balanced life, and it’s also essential for healthy and balanced immunity. For a natural approach to gut health, consider medicinal mushrooms like the ones listed above. These powerhouse mushrooms really are the fun guys (see what we did there?) of wellness, modulating your immunity through your gut.
Our lineup of functional foods makes it easy (and delicious) to get the healthy gut benefits you need. Convenience, ingredient artistry, and superior flavor make our functional blends the perfect complement to your health stack.