With numerous medicinal mushroom products flooding my social media feed for the past 5 months, I thought it would be worth investigating what they are and, most importantly, do they provide all of the benefits brands claim.
The article is quite long, so here are my 3 takeaways:
- Medicinal mushrooms offer diverse health benefits: Medicinal mushrooms offer a wide range of health benefits. They contain bioactive compounds like polysaccharides and triterpenes, which can positively impact the immune system, reduce inflammation, support brain health, and potentially influence hormonal health.
- Research-backed: There is growing scientific interest and emerging research supporting the use of medicinal mushrooms in healthcare. Studies suggest potential roles in managing conditions like PCOS, menopause symptoms, and overall hormonal regulation. While more research is needed to fully understand their mechanisms and efficacy, current findings are promising.
(You can find links to the available research under each section of the article)
- Incorporate medicinal mushrooms in your diet: For instance, you can add Shiitake mushrooms to meals. Whilst mushrooms not typically used in cooking, like Reishi or Cordyceps, you can consider teas, and broths. Remember to start with small doses (3-5g) to gauge your body's response and consult a healthcare professional, especially if you have specific health conditions or are taking medications.
I've included an example weekly meal plan created by out nutritionist at the end of this post for a practical way of incorporating these mushrooms.
What Are Medicinal Mushrooms?
Medicinal mushrooms differ from the types of mushrooms we commonly add to our dishes. They are fungi known for their healing properties and are often used in supplements, teas, and extracts. They have been a cornerstone in Eastern medicine, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurveda, and have been utilized for their therapeutic properties across various cultures for thousands of years.
Types of Medicinal Mushrooms
Reishi Mushrooms (Ganoderma Lucidum)
Also known as the "mushroom of immortality," Reishi is well known for its immune-boosting and stress-reducing effects. It also has a therapeutic effect on insulin resistance, reduces the risk of prostate cancer, and can help treat a variety of conditions associated with metabolic syndrome.
Cordyceps (Cordyceps Sinensis)
Famous for its energy-enhancing and anti-fatigue properties. Cordyceps is a mushroom used in Traditional Chinese Medicine that is touted to be anti-aging and pro-vitality. However, these claims are vague, and direct evidence of the benefits to female hormonal balance is sparse.
Lion's Mane Mushroom
Lion’s mane mushroom has garnered most of ts attention for its potential neuroprotective and antioxidant properties, which might benefit cognitive function and symptoms related to neurodegenerative diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s. However, clinical evidence supporting these benefits is still limited.
Chaga Mushrooms (Inonotus Obliquus)
Chaga is a mushroom commonly used as a dietary supplement. There are claims that it has beneficial effects on immune function and cancer prevention. However, these claims are limited to in vitro (studies done in petri dishes or test tubes) and animal studies, as there is only one study in humans.
Turkey Tail (Trametes Versicolor):
Turkey Tail Mushroom is a mushroom that is a source of a polysaccharide, known as polysaccharide K, that is established as a cancer adjunct therapy for the immune system.
Shiitake Mushrooms (Lentinula Edodes):
A dual-purpose mushroom is used both in cooking and for its health-promoting properties, particularly in supporting cardiovascular health.
Active Compounds and Properties of Medicinal Mushrooms
The magic of these mushrooms lies in their complex chemistry:
- Polysaccharides, like Beta-glucans: These are known for their immune-modulating effects.
- Triterpenes in Reishi: Support liver health and help reduce stress.
- Antioxidants: Help combat oxidative stress and may reduce inflammation.
- Vitamins and Minerals: Mushrooms are a natural source of B vitamins, vitamin D, selenium, and other essential nutrients.
The scientific community is increasingly interested in the therapeutic potential of medicinal mushrooms. Research is exploring their roles in immune support, cancer therapy, hormonal balance, and cognitive health. However, research at this stage is scarce.
Understanding Hormones and Their Functions
Hormones are the body's chemical messengers, playing a pivotal role in regulating various bodily functions. They are especially crucial in managing the intricate workings of the female reproductive system. Female hormones include estrogen, progesterone, and others that regulate menstrual cycles, fertility, and even mood.
Hormonal Cycles in Women
The female body goes through a monthly hormonal cycle known as the menstrual cycle. This cycle involves a complex interplay of hormones that prepare the body for potential pregnancy. It's characterized by phases like menstruation, the follicular phase, ovulation, and the luteal phase, each governed by specific hormonal changes.
Common Hormonal Imbalances and Disorders
Many women experience hormonal imbalances, which can manifest as conditions like premenstrual syndrome (PMS), polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), menopausal symptoms, and thyroid disorders. These imbalances can significantly impact a woman's quality of life, affecting physical health, emotional well-being, and fertility.
Mushrooms Known for Influencing Hormonal Balance
Medicinal mushrooms have been used for centuries in various cultures to support hormonal health. Let's look at some of these key players:
Reishi Mushrooms and Hormone Balance
Reishi mushroom is celebrated for its calming properties and is primarily recognized for its immune-modulating, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidative properties. Though direct evidence that it supports hormone balance is sparse at best, some aspects of its broad health benefits could indirectly affect hormonal health:
- Stress Reduction and Adrenal Support: Reishi is known for its adaptogenic properties, which help the body manage stress. Since stress can significantly impact hormonal balance, reducing stress levels through adaptogens like Reishi could indirectly support hormonal health.
- Immune System Support: Reishi’s ability to modulate the immune system might also play a role in overall hormonal health. A well-functioning immune system is crucial for maintaining balance in the body, including hormonal regulation.
- Liver Support: The liver is vital in regulating hormones, particularly in the metabolism of estrogen. Reishi's hepatoprotective properties might support liver function, potentially influencing hormonal balance.
- Antioxidant Properties: Reishi's antioxidants can combat oxidative stress, which is linked to various health issues, including hormonal imbalances.
Cordyceps and female hormone balance
Cordyceps is renowned for its energy-boosting properties. It's also believed to have a balancing effect on hormones, particularly in supporting adrenal function and combating fatigue, which is often linked to hormonal imbalances. However, these claims are vague, and direct evidence of the benefits to female hormonal balance is sparse.
The potential benefits for hormonal health might be more indirect, stemming from its overall health-promoting properties. For instance:
- Stress Reduction: Cordyceps might help in managing stress, which can indirectly affect hormonal balance. Chronic stress is known to disrupt hormonal equilibrium, particularly cortisol levels, which can impact other hormones.
- Adrenal Support: It's believed to support adrenal gland function, which plays a crucial role in hormone production and regulation.
- Energy and Vitality: By potentially enhancing energy levels and reducing fatigue, Cordyceps might indirectly influence hormonal health, as fatigue and low energy are sometimes linked with hormonal imbalances.
Other Relevant Varieties
Other mushrooms like Shiitake and Turkey Tail also offer health benefits that may influence hormonal health, though more research is needed to fully understand their specific roles.
Chemical Composition of Medicinal Mushrooms
Medicinal mushrooms are rich in a variety of bioactive compounds. These include polysaccharides like beta-glucans, triterpenoids, sterols, and phenolic compounds. Each of these compounds plays a role in the mushrooms' therapeutic properties, from immune modulation to anti-inflammatory effects.
Active Compounds and Their Effects
- Beta-Glucans: Known for their immune-enhancing properties, these polysaccharides also appear to have a balancing effect on the immune system, which can indirectly influence hormonal health.
- Triterpenoids (in Reishi): These compounds are thought to support liver health and aid in detoxification, which is crucial for hormonal balance.
- Phenolic Compounds: With their antioxidant properties, these compounds help combat oxidative stress, a factor that can influence hormonal disorders.
Research on Mushrooms and Estrogen
Some studies suggest that certain mushrooms may influence estrogen levels in the body. For instance, Maitake has shown potential in modulating estrogen, which could be beneficial in conditions like PCOS and menopause. White button mushrooms, more commonly and consumed in our kitchens have also reported some interesting properties for supporting estrogen breakdown and reducing the risk of breast cancer.
Maitake Mushrooms and Estrogen:
- Potential Influence on Estrogen: One of the interesting areas of research surrounding Maitake mushrooms is their potential impact on estrogen levels. Estrogen is a crucial hormone in female health, playing a significant role in various bodily functions, including the reproductive system. It's also a key factor in certain health conditions, like breast cancer and hormonal imbalances.
- Maitake in Conditions Like PCOS and Menopause: Maitake mushrooms contain bioactive compounds that may influence hormonal balance. This is particularly relevant for conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and menopause, where estrogen plays a critical role. PCOS is characterized by hormonal imbalances that can lead to various symptoms, and menopause marks the end of a woman's reproductive years, accompanied by a decrease in estrogen levels.
- Research and Clinical Studies: While the exact mechanisms by which Maitake mushrooms affect estrogen are not fully understood, some studies suggest that they might help in modulating hormonal levels. This could be due to their potential effects on enzymes involved in estrogen synthesis or their influence on the overall endocrine system.
- Implications for Health and Wellness: The interest in Maitake mushrooms as a natural approach to managing hormonal health is part of a broader trend toward using functional foods and natural supplements for wellness. However, it's important to approach their use with caution, as more research is needed to fully understand their effects, optimal dosages, and potential interactions with other medications or health conditions.
White Button Mushrooms and Estrogen
- Anti-Aromatase Activity: Research has found that white button mushrooms can suppress aromatase activity. Aromatase is an enzyme that plays a crucial role in the synthesis of estrogen. By inhibiting this enzyme, these mushrooms may help reduce estrogen production.
- Breast Cancer Prevention Potential: The anti-aromatase activity of white button mushrooms suggests they might be useful in breast cancer chemoprevention, especially in postmenopausal women. This is because they could reduce the in situ (local) production of estrogen in the body, which is often implicated in breast cancer development.
- Study on Korean Women: A study among Korean women showed that a higher intake of white button mushrooms was associated with a lower risk of breast cancer in premenopausal women. This effect was more pronounced in women with hormone receptor-positive tumors.
- General Observations: While traditionally white button mushrooms are not categorized as medicinal mushrooms, these findings indicate that they have health-promoting properties beyond their nutritional value. The research is part of a growing field that looks at the potential health benefits of various types of mushrooms, including their impact on hormonal health.
Studies and Clinical Trials
While research in this field is still emerging, several studies have highlighted the potential benefits of medicinal mushrooms in hormonal health:
- A study on Reishi mushrooms indicated its potential to reduce fatigue in breast cancer patients, suggesting a link to hormonal balance.
- Cordyceps has been studied for its effects on adrenal function and its potential benefits in reducing stress and fatigue, which are often linked to hormonal imbalances.
Here are references we have used for this article:
- Medicinal Mushrooms: Their Bioactive Components, Nutritional Value and Application in Functional Food Production-A Review - July 2023
- Nutritional and medicinal importance of mushrooms - September 2010
Using Mushrooms for Hormonal Health
How to incorporate medicinal mushrooms in your diet
Incorporating medicinal mushrooms into your weekly diet can be a great way of tapping into their benefits. Shiitake, for example, can be easily added to meals, offering both flavor and health benefits. For other types, such as Reishi or Cordyceps, which are not typically used in cooking, you can use them in teas, and broths.
The most challenging part of incoirproating them into your diet is finding a source where you can buy them whole, as most of Google search results are of supplements. I'll be embarking on a journey of growing my own, so if you are interested to learn how - feel free to follow us on on our social media (TikTok and Instagram)
Supplements and Dosage
Supplements offer a concentrated (and convenient) way to consume medicinal mushrooms. They are available in various forms, including capsules, powders, and tinctures. Dosage is crucial and can vary depending on the type of mushroom and the form of the supplement.
We will not be recommending any supplements in this article as we have not tried any in a controlled manner to assess whether they provide the benefits they claim.
How to Assess the Quality and Sources of Mushrooms Supplements
The quality and source of mushroom supplements are paramount. Not all supplements are created equal, and the market varies widely in terms of quality and purity. Here is what you need to look for:
- the products that specify the type of mushroom
- the part of the mushroom used (fruiting body or mycelium)
- that have transparent sourcing and production practices
- third-party testing for contaminants can also be a sign of a high-quality supplement
Safety, Side Effects, and Considerations
Interaction with Medications and Health Conditions
While medicinal mushrooms offer numerous health benefits, they can interact with certain medications and may not be suitable for everyone. For instance, some mushrooms might interact with blood thinners or affect blood sugar levels, which is particularly important for individuals with diabetes or those on anticoagulant therapy. Always discuss with a healthcare provider before starting any new supplement, especially if you have underlying health conditions or are taking medication.
You should consult wth a health care professional if you suffer from:
- are taking anticoagulant therapy
Immune System Support
One of the most celebrated properties of medicinal mushrooms is their ability to support the immune system. Mushrooms like Reishi, Turkey Tail, and Shiitake contain high levels of polysaccharides, particularly beta-glucans, which are known for their immune-modulating effects. These compounds help strengthen the body's defense mechanisms, making it more efficient at fighting off infections and diseases.
How They Work:
- Stimulating Immune Cells: Beta-glucans and other compounds can stimulate the activity of immune cells like macrophages and natural killer cells.
- Balancing Immune Response: Some mushrooms have the ability to modulate the immune system, meaning they can help boost underperforming immune responses and, conversely, calm overactive ones.
Chronic inflammation is a root cause of many diseases, and medicinal mushrooms offer natural anti-inflammatory properties. For instance, Chaga is renowned for its high antioxidant content, which can help reduce inflammation and combat oxidative stress in the body.
- Antioxidants in mushrooms: These help neutralize free radicals, reducing oxidative stress and inflammation.
- Triterpenes in Reishi: Known for their anti-inflammatory and liver-protective properties.
Nootropic Effects of Mushrooms
While our main focus has been on hormonal health, it's worth noting that studies suggest that Lion's Mane may offer benefits for cognitive health, including memory and concentration, and could potentially be beneficial in neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's.
Weekly meal plan incorporating medicinal mushrooms
Here's a practical weekly meal plan incorporating Lion's Mane, Cordyceps, Reishi, and White Button mushrooms, following the optimal frequency and application guidelines:
- Breakfast: Oatmeal with a teaspoon of Cordyceps powder.
- Lunch: Grilled chicken salad with sliced White Button mushrooms.
- Dinner: Stir-fried vegetables with Lion's Mane mushrooms.
- Evening Beverage: Reishi tea.
- Breakfast: Smoothie with banana, spinach, and a teaspoon of Cordyceps powder.
- Lunch: Whole-grain pasta with White Button mushrooms and marinara sauce.
- Dinner: Baked fish with a side of steamed broccoli.
- Evening Beverage: Reishi tea.
- Breakfast: Greek yogurt with fresh berries and a sprinkle of Cordyceps powder.
- Lunch: White Button mushroom and spinach quiche.
- Dinner: Grilled steak with sautéed Lion's Mane mushrooms.
- Evening Beverage: Reishi tea.
- Breakfast: Cordyceps-infused tea and a slice of whole-grain toast with avocado.
- Lunch: Caesar salad with grilled chicken and White Button mushrooms.
- Dinner: Vegetarian stir-fry with tofu and mixed vegetables.
- Evening Beverage: Reishi tea.
- Breakfast: Omelette with Lion's Mane mushrooms and herbs.
- Lunch: Whole-grain sandwich with roast beef and White Button mushrooms.
- Dinner: Baked salmon with a side of quinoa and asparagus.
- Evening Beverage: Reishi tea.
- Breakfast: Pancakes topped with fresh fruits and a teaspoon of Cordyceps powder.
- Lunch: White Button mushroom risotto.
- Dinner: Chicken curry with mixed vegetables.
- Evening Beverage: Reishi tea.
- Breakfast: Cordyceps tea with a side of fresh fruit salad.
- Lunch: Grilled cheese sandwich with White Button mushrooms.
- Dinner: Roasted pork loin with Lion's Mane mushrooms and green beans.
- Evening Beverage: Reishi tea.