Typically when you think of fungus or the plural fungi, mushrooms may not be a connection that is top of mind. There are times when fungus can cause real problems for health, but on the flip side, they also have incredible health benefits for the skin, your brain, your bones, your immune system, your gut health and microbiome, and therefore your mental health. Yep, those are fungi with benefits. Would you believe me if I told you that mushrooms have some medicinal effects and can mimic actual drugs – as in medicine for your health? Mushrooms can be poisonous, edible, psychedelic, or medicinal which is also known as functional and what we are talking about here. Knowing what these fungi can do for your health is yet another way to take back your power and get your health closer to where you want it to be, naturally. There are times when things aren’t going to plan, and you’re sick again or achy, forgetful, not sleeping, or have just received a diagnosis that you never wanted to be on the receiving end of; diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, or cancer. What can you do for yourself to feel like you’re back in control? One of the many things I talk about on this show and podcast can be helpful, but today let’s dig right into mushrooms because they too can help. This fungal kingdom could be part of your puzzle of health. After dabbling in conversation with Bridgitte Longshore, founder, and CEO of Giddy Yo in episode 113 about her mushroom tinctures and adaptogens and with Dr. Davis Brockenshire in the recent episode 127 about Pain, it’s time for more. Medicinal mushrooms, which are the class of fungi that I’m talking about today, don’t have psychoactive effects, although there is emerging science and use of those types of mushrooms, today on EAT THIS with Lianne, let’s talk about the health benefits of medicinal mushrooms in this part 1, and why to go the mile to get some and consume them each and every day.
To say they are good for you would be an understatement. While I’m normally steering you away from white foods, mushrooms are an exception to that recommendation as mushrooms of all varieties have an element of whiteness to them. Lions Mane, for instance, looks as white as the driven snow and yet helps to improve your brain functions and productivity. White button mushrooms are the supermarket standard and most commonly eaten ones. Crimini looks like the brown rice version of its white rice’s less nutrient-packed version, but brown button or crimini mushrooms are actually similar in nutrition. Mushrooms of various varieties offer health benefits that fill books and research papers and are available to consume as a supplement, usually as a tincture; the liquid form of an extract, and you can buy them fresh from your local market or grocery store, You’ll also find dried mushrooms that you can rehydrate and add to soups, omelets, throw on a pizza or add to a sauce or risotto. Some are easy to find and others need a bit more looking around for. I’m blessed to have our mushroom man at the Brickworks market in the east end of Toronto that I go to every Saturday for my weekly shop and top of whatever mushrooms he has foraged for that week. I have tinctures that I’ve used off and on from Giddy Yo who we talked with in episode 113, and yes I did feel better for it. Use promo code EATTHIS at giddyyo.com for 20% off their tinctures at the end of the show and episode so you can try out what I have.
This is part one of two episodes, and I might sneak in another with an interview of a couple of smart people who specialize in this, but our schedules didn’t align to include them here.
There are now hundreds of studies that support the use of mushrooms medicinally to help improve our overall wellness, improve energy and endurance, fight depression and anxiety, rebalance the gut microbiome, lower inflammation, boost memory, productivity, and concentration, support immunity, promote longevity, and so much more.
Let’s dig into some specifics:
Mushrooms pack a potent punch because of their bioactive compounds, mostly the polysaccharides which is a slow carbohydrate that takes a long time for your body to break down and digest. Depending on their structure, polysaccharides can store energy, send cellular messages, and support cells and tissues. A specific powerful polysaccharide is really what’s worth highlighting, called βeta-glucans. It’s often found in fungi, bacteria, yeast, and algae and that’s where the immune stimulation comes from. Studies have found mushroom β-glucans are linked as anticancer, cardioprotective, hepatoprotective, antioxidative, antimicrobial activities, and modulates or balances the immune system – which means it stimulates or suppresses the immune system depending on what the body needs to fight infections and cancers), and also has antibiotic properties.
Let’s talk about the specific benefits of mushrooms and what they do for your health:
- First up is they can help in the prevention of prostate and breast cancer- Because of fat called Linoleic Acid as well as that polysaccharide Beta-Glucans, mushrooms have an anti-carcinogenic effect and help in the prevention of prostate and breast cancer, in particular. Beta-Glucans prevent the growth of cancerous cells in prostate cancer. An increase in the estrogen level in women after menopause can lead to breast cancer and linoleic acid is helpful in suppressing the estrogen’s harmful effect.
- I’ve mentioned immunity already. According to a study, white button mushrooms may boost immunity by increasing the level of antiviral and other proteins in the body. The beta-glucans present in the mushroom protects against flu, cold and other viruses and also help in the maturation of dendritic or nerve cells, and immune system cells and boost immunity.
- They can positively impact anemia as mushrooms are rich in iron. Patients with anemia have lower levels of iron in the blood and it leads to digestive problems, decreased neural function, headaches, and fatigue. Iron, along with antioxidants, help fight free radicals, which seems odd for these mostly white fungi. Although we associate colorful vegetables with antioxidants, the oxygen radical absorbance capacity, which is a measure of a food’s total antioxidants, of mushrooms is almost the same as for red peppers.
- Worried about cholesterol? Some enzymes and fiber in mushrooms can help in decreasing cholesterol levels. They’re low in carbohydrates and rich in lean protein.
- It’s not all the big stuff that mushrooms can help, they also strengthen teeth, nails, and hair as they are a great source of selenium which is an essential element for the durability and strength of bones, healthy teeth, hair, and nails. Selenium impacts your body as it’s a powerful antioxidant, fighting free radicals and oxidative stress and strengthening immunity.
- Lowers blood pressure – further to what we talked about in episode 114, some mushroom varieties like maitake and shiitake, contain a higher content of potassium, which act as a vasodilator. Potassium relaxes the blood vessels and lowers blood pressure. Studies also talk about increased potassium levels improving knowledge retention and memory.
- Helps you lose weight. With their meaty texture and taste, mushrooms are the perfect substitute for meat. Swapping your red meat with mushrooms will help you to shed some extra kilos. Replacing mushrooms with mushrooms for just one meal a day can lead to significant weight loss.
- Keeps the brain healthy. Mushrooms are loaded with copper and niacin, which promote the function of nerves and nervous system. Vitamin B5 present in the food item plays an important role in the normal functioning of the brain.
Let’s talk about a few specific mushrooms that I eat every week, and I’ll share more of the most powerful kinds in part 2.
- Lion’s mane. It’s a rare find in a grocery store, so you need to source this one. and known as a brain-busting mushroom, repairing the myelin sheath that’s found in the brain and spinal cord. Two compounds found in this help promote nerve growth factors in the brain. If we lack it, it can lead to Alzheimer’s and dementia. focus, concentration, and memory, because it can increase the cell growth in the hippocampus where your memory is found. Increasingly low B1, zinc, or high carb diets all contribute to the deterioration of the hippocampus, which can regenerate when given the right nutrients and lion’s mane. is loaded with beneficial compounds that your brain, nervous system, and immune system love. It also has anti-inflammatory effects that can reduce feelings of anxiety or depression. And it may also boost immunity through beneficial changes in the gut microbiome. Traditionally, lion’s mane has been used to treat gastritis, stomach ulcers, reflux, and general digestive disturbances.
- Turkey tail is common in North America, especially in the east. It’s one of the most used in ancient Asian medicine. Turkey tail is one of the most well-documented and studied mushrooms. Treating various forms of cancer, antimicrobial properties, anti-diabetic effects, and improving gut health. All of that as well as support for strong immune health. Polysaccharide from this is used in Japan and has little to no side effects as it’s used in the treatment of cancer. Increases monocytes and phagocytes that help to clean up your system, and kill off microbes. Turkey tails also perform well when it comes to warding off fatigue. That’s because fatigue is a common symptom of a weak immune system. Traditionally, turkey tails are also used to help treat jaundice, hypochondriac pain, chronic coughing, asthma, joint inflammation, hepatitis, nephritis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
- Chaga grows on birch trees, it’s a hardened mass of birchwood and mycelium. A super powerful antioxidant, some say the highest of all antioxidants. It helps digestive health and antioxidant boost. Antiviral, anti bacterial and anticancer. Exercise endurance, help you cope with stress. Chronic kidney disease. Prevent arrhythmias.
If you’ve ever heard anyone say that mushrooms are a good source of vitamin D, think again. Mushrooms are a course of D2, which is inferior to D3 in its ability to be used in the body. My Take This by Lianne Sunshine D3+K2 liposome spray supplement is what I recommend way more than mushrooms, as the yield of D2-rich mushrooms, takes approximately seven cups, to consume about 5,000 I.U. or a healthy daily dose. But since vitamin D2 is two to three times less effective than vitamin D3, you actually need 14 to 21 cups of mushrooms. Yep, get my Sunshine D3+K2 and get spraying.
Next week, I’ll get into cleaning mushrooms and finish off my list of specific mushrooms with their health benefits, as it’s too much to cram into one show and podcast.
How to incorporate mushrooms into your diet:
Mushrooms aren’t difficult to cook but know that they can give off a lot of water as they are cooked. Some of my favorite ways to use them include:
- Beef wellington
- Sub for beef in chili
- Bake a portobello with a drizzle of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, crushed garlic, any herbs that you like, and even a sprinkle of grated parmesan or pecorino cheese. They make a meaty side dish or a plant-based burger option. I’ve also blended up mushrooms in my food processor for speed and found a great recipe for half mushrooms, half grass-fed beef that came out beautifully – the New York Times recipe has become a staple now.
- Cook up your mushrooms in butter and add to an omelet, quiche, scrambled eggs, or a frittata. Throw them on pizza, or use a portobello as a plant-based pizza base. Add them to pasta sauce with or without meat, or use the cream as a carbonara add and one of my favourite meals is mushroom soup. Cook up some onions, add in as many varieties of fresh or find a dried mix and rehydrate, keeping the mushroom water and throwing it in a saucepan adding thyme, a splash of wine, and either cream or coconut milk. Blend and have a smoother soup or leave it chunky. It’s an easy option. I have a speedy broth-based recipe in my book Sprout Right Family Food that can do with any mushroom, but I prefer shitake for its immune-boosting benefits.
- Lately, I fry up a bunch, add in black garlic from the market and pile on top of a bunch of greens like arugula and spinach, and top with a fried or poached egg.