Any time a new supplement gets a lot of attention, there’s a reason to explore it and see if it’s hero or hype. Although mushroom powders and mushroom supplements might seem like a new trend, they're actually old (but still really good) news.
Before you head out to the yard to harvest any unintentionally grown fungi, let us explain the differences between functional mushrooms and other types used for cooking. We’ll explain the health benefits of mushroom supplements and give you ways to add them to your daily routine.
What Are Mushroom Supplements?
They’re appearing in greens powders, being added to protein shakes, and getting lots of social media attention. You’d think mushrooms were just hitting the scene, but they’ve been a staple in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for centuries.
There are essentially three different categories of mushrooms: functional, culinary, and psychedelic. There are, of course, other mushrooms, but many of them are toxic and should never be consumed.
Shroomies, magic mushrooms, golden tops, liberty caps — whatever name you’ve heard them called, these are the mushrooms that aren’t exactly street-legal. The official name for these hallucinogens is psilocybin mushrooms, a group of fungi that contain psilocybin, which is converted into psilocin when consumed to produce a psychoactive effect.
Will psilocybin mushrooms make you feel super silly? Probably. They can also have some other interesting effects. Hallucinogenic mushrooms affect all the senses and can cause distortions in time and space — and those are only the beginnings of the side effects.
Of course, it’s important to note that the medicinal properties of psilocybin are still being studied in clinical trials and medical research. While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is considering approval of psilocybin for specific uses and certain states have decriminalized the substance, it is still regulated as a Schedule I controlled substance at the federal level.
White sliced, baby bella, maitake, lion’s mane, and shiitake mushrooms are all included in this class of mushrooms. These mushrooms are edible, safe, and commonly used in salads and other dishes.
Edible mushrooms like these contain vitamins (such as vitamin D) and nutrients that can make them a nutritious part of any meal.
The mushrooms we’ll focus on in this article are classified as functional mushrooms. They may also be referred to as medicinal mushrooms due to their connection with TCM.
These mushrooms are sometimes edible, like culinary mushrooms, but they also contain compounds that extend their benefits beyond simple nutritional value. These compounds can be found in the mushroom’s fruiting body (the part that grows above ground) and mycelium (the below-ground, root-like structure).
Some of the most popular functional mushrooms include:
- Reishi mushroom (Lingzhi)
- Chaga mushrooms
- Cordyceps mushrooms
- Lion’s Mane mushrooms
- Turkey tail mushrooms
- Shiitake mushrooms
- Maitake mushrooms
You’ll notice there are three mushrooms (shiitake, maitake, and lion’s mane) that made both the culinary list and the functional mushroom list. Here’s where shrooming gets a little tricky.
Many of the health benefits that are associated with functional mushrooms get attributed to culinary mushrooms, which can make it confusing to know whether or not you’re getting the benefits you want. Not all types of mushrooms provide every benefit, so we’re here to help you separate the fungi facts from fiction.
It’s also important to note that with functional mushrooms, we often can’t get their beneficial compounds from simply eating them. Simply put, these mushrooms store compounds in a way that makes it hard for our bodies to absorb the traditional way. Instead, these compounds must be extracted from the cell walls of the mushrooms using special solvents like hot water or alcohol.
This is why you’ll most likely see high-quality mushroom supplements in the form of tinctures or extracted powders.
What Are the Health Benefits of Mushroom Supplements?
There are multiple benefits of supplementing with functional mushrooms. We’ll cover six of the most impressive benefits and tell you, specifically, which mushrooms provide them so you can decide which medicinal mushrooms are right for you.
1. Support the Immune System
The way the body responds to illness is controlled by our immune response. When our immune system is functioning in balance, the body can fight off germs, infections, and other foreign invaders, and we experience less sickness.
When it’s weakened or overactive, our body can either fail to respond or experience an immune response even when there’s no threat of invasion by bacteria or a virus. This unhealthy autoimmune response can lead to chronic illness.
Functional mushrooms have been used traditionally to support immunity for centuries. Now, science is finally catching up.
A growing body of evidence suggests that certain functional mushrooms might be able to support the immune system thanks to various compounds, including their beta-glucans (soluble fiber carbohydrate molecules), proteins, triterpenes, and lipids. One of the key effects on the immune system demonstrated by the research is the ability of these compounds to activate various immune cells, such as macrophages and natural killer cells.
Early research shows that the polysaccharides and other compounds found in reishi mushroom, for example, may help support immune function by helping to normalize immune function, expressing antimicrobial activity and even offering antiviral potential.
A growing body of research also demonstrates the role of reishi mushrooms in supporting the treatment of cancer through the regulation of the immune system. Other functional mushrooms that have traditionally been used to support immune function include lion’s mane, turkey tail, and chaga.
2. Promote Focus
For thousands of years, Buddhist monks have relied on lion’s mane mushrooms to support concentration and focus during long periods of meditation. What these monks have known for millennia is now being studied on a larger scale.
While research is still ongoing, the evidence suggests that lion’s mane’s effect on brain function and the nervous system is tied to its ability to stimulate the production of a substance known as nerve growth factor (NGF), a specialized protein required for the development of sensory neurons. Studies suggest that the benefits of lion’s mane mushroom include supporting brain health and cognitive function and improving mild cognitive impairment and recognition memory.
3. Traditionally Used To Support Sexual Function
Ready to get a little racy? If not, cordyceps mushrooms might be able to help you out! In fact, cordyceps have been used traditionally for improving and enhancing sexual function for centuries.
One reason? Early research suggests that cordyceps are thought to increase blood flow, which makes them an obvious candidate for helping encourage healthy sexual function.
4. Support a Healthy Stress Response
Your body’s stress response is directly related to your overall well-being. While some stress is healthy for us — regular mild stress (particularly from stressors such as exercise) creates an “immunity” to more intense stress that we might encounter later — chronic stress is linked to numerous illnesses.
When your body is in a continual state of stress, levels of stress hormones, like cortisol, are chronically elevated. This can have a negative impact on virtually all aspects of our health, including immune function, digestion, mood, energy, blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and even your cholesterol.
Strengthening our body’s resistance to stress is possible with the use of adaptogens. Both cordyceps and reishi mushrooms have adaptogenic effects on the body, helping it to continue functioning normally during stress and adapt to what your body needs — whether it is overactive or underactive — to help bring it back into balance.
5. Support Athletic Performance
Increasing endurance and supporting energy are two factors that can help you get in another set at the gym, hit a PR in your spin class, or dominate the court in a pick-up basketball game.
Cordyceps mushrooms gained the world’s attention when in 1993, members of the Chinese women’s Olympic running team broke three world records at the world championships. After the team was tested for banned substances and none were found, the team revealed that their intense training was supplemented with cordyceps, to which they attributed much of their incredible success.
The good news is that whether you’re an everyday athlete or attempting to make it to the Olympics, you can easily support your athletic performance without taking performance-enhancing drugs.
Cordyceps, a strengthening, energizing herb in TCM, is thought to improve performance by increasing blood flow and promoting cellular energy. Early research demonstrates that supplementation with cordyceps can support maximal oxygen consumption (VO2 max), endurance, and metabolic markers during exercise.
6. Provide Antioxidants
There’s a lot of talk about antioxidants. You probably know that they’re good for you, but if you’re unsure how they work, here’s why you need them.
Your body creates molecules called free radicals as a result of normal metabolic processes, as well as when exposed to certain external stressors from sources like UV rays, cigarette smoke, and pollution. Free radicals damage your cells, and the damage can be replicated in new cells when they proliferate. This condition is called oxidative stress.
Protection from free radicals comes in the form of antioxidants. Antioxidants shield your cells from free radical damage, so it's important that the free radicals and antioxidants in your body be in balance. When there is an imbalance, this condition is called oxidative stress.
Just about every type of mushroom product and mushroom extract provides some level of antioxidant protection. Because of this, you might even hear mushrooms referred to as superfoods.
How Can You Increase Your Mushroom Intake?
It’s worth your effort to increase your amount of these fun little fungi, but who has time to wild-forage for them? Thankfully, you can add these functional foods to your daily health stack with ease. JOYÀ makes it easy to get the benefits you want without the risk of accidentally picking (and consuming) a magic toadstool.
Focus Matcha Superblend
Support your immunity, elevate your productivity, and load up on antioxidants with our Focus Matcha Superblend powder. A blend of complementary adaptogens, functional mushrooms, and tonic herbs (including ashwagandha and lion’s mane), this powder can help support energy levels all day without the jitters and crashes associated with too much coffee consumption.
Defend Vanilla-Maca Superblend
Double down on your defenses with our Defend Vanilla-Maca Superblend. Formulated with both lion’s mane and reishi mushrooms, adding this to your morning coffee, latte, or smoothie is like adding a sword and shield to your immune system.
Calm Cacao Superblend
Level out and feel more relaxed with our Calm Cacao Superblend. This formula features reishi mushroom to meet you where you are (even if that’s hiding under your office desk) and help support a healthier stress response and bring relaxation to your mind and body.
Life is stressful, but you can treat your way to better balance. Our Balance Functional Chocolate is the crave-worthy way to load up on calming reishi mushrooms and help you destress in the middle of a day that feels bigger than you can handle.
Immune defense, but make it chocolate. Done. Our Defend Functional Chocolate gives you the immune-supportive benefits of lion’s mane mushroom in a fudgy chocolate bar that only tastes naughty. At just 180 calories and zero refined sugar, it fits nicely into your weight loss routine and even makes a great pre-workout snack.
Who says you can’t have chocolate before bed? Our Zen Functional Chocolate is loaded with relaxing reishi and calming chamomile. We won’t judge you for getting it on the sheets.
The Bottom Line
There are mushrooms, and then there are functional mushrooms that have some pretty amazing health benefits. We’re big fans of these mushrooms that have been trusted by generations before us to promote wellness and encourage better equilibrium throughout the body.
So go ahead, jump on the mushroom bandwagon — it’s been in motion for thousands of years. JOYÀ’s chef-crafted supplements are a delicious and easy way to add these mushrooms to your health stack.