Medicinal Mushroom Benefits
Medicinal mushrooms offer an array of health benefits. These incredible healers from the fungi kingdom have been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years. Recently, modern science has caught up with ancient wisdom: Clinical studies have demonstrated that the right mushrooms, when cultivated, extracted and taken properly, offer life-enriching gifts that can’t be ignored.
We highlight the top medicinal mushrooms that are supported by scientific research. This is a mush-read for anyone seeking a stronger immune system, healthier gut, happier life, sharper mind, and better overall health. This dietitian-approved article includes the best functional mushrooms that you should be taking.
Make sure to read until the end for a Registered Dietitian’s explanation on how to incorporate science-backed mushrooms into your routine.
Medicinal Mushroom List
Here is a summary of the medicinal mushrooms covered in this guide and their unique health benefits:
- Lion’s Mane (Hericium Erinaceus): May Facilitate Brain Function & Improve Mood
- Reishi (Ganoderma Lucidum): May Combat Stress & Contribute to Better Sleep
- Chaga (Inonotus Obliquus): May Reduce Inflammation & Bolster Immune Function
- Turkey Tail (Trametes Versicolor): May Improve Gut Health & Digestion
- Tremella (Tremella Fuciformis): May Offer Anti-Aging Benefits & Beautify Skin
- Maitake - (Grifola Frondosa): May Modulate Immune System & Healthy Cholesterol
- Shiitake - (Lentinula Edodes): May Help Support Heart Health & Gut Microbiome
- Cordyceps - (Cordyceps Militaris): May Increase VO2 Max & Sex Drive
- King Oyster - (Pleurotus Eryngii): May Decrease Oxidative Stress & Support Weight Management
Lion’s Mane Mushroom
Species: Hericium Erinaceus
Main Lion's Mane Benefits: May support brain function, improve cognition, combat depressive disorders, reduce anxiety, and facilitate neurogenesis.
Science has shown that Lion’s mane extract (hericenones and erinacines) contains neurotrophic properties, such as Nerve Growth Factor (NGF). NGF is essential for maintaining and protecting neurons in the Peripheral Nervous System (PNS) and Central Nervous System (CNS).
In a double-blind placebo controlled study, adults with age-related memory issues who took lion's mane achieved better cognition scores than those were given a placebo. However, after 4 weeks of stopping the lion’s mane supplement, their cognitive abilities decreased again.
“This study suggests the importance of consistently taking the right Lion’s Mane dosage on a regular basis,” says Max Lowenstein, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Masters in Clinical Nutrition.
The most well-researched lion’s mane compound is beta glucans, which is good for your immune system, brain and reduces inflammation. It is also reported to contain properties that can combat stress, reduce fatigue and more.
These studies demonstrate that the right Lion’s Mane extract has a positive impact on your brain, mood and can help combat neurodegenerative disorders.
Lion’s Mane Overview
This ‘miracle for your mind’ mushroom is white and fluffy with long hanging spines that resemble a pom pom or mane of a lion. It is native to North America, Europe and Asia. Hericium (Latin genus name) and erinaceus (species of medical interest) can both be defined as hedgehog in Latin. This lion's mane nootropic mushroom is part of the tooth fungus group. It grows on dead logs or in the wounds of dying and dead hardwood trees. Traditional Chinese and Japanese medicine also used lion’s mane to improve 5 essential organs, including the liver, lung, spleen, heart and kidney.
Species: Ganoderma Lucidum
Main potential Reishi benefits: May support better sleep, reduce stress, and improve immunity
Reishi contains polysaccharides that can help bolster the immune system. There are over 400 bioactive compounds in Reishi lucidum, including triterpenoids, peptides, phenols, and more.
The constituents of Reishi have shown great potential in treating a variety of ailments, such as sleep issues, stress, eating disorders, breathing problems, and several other health challenges.
This research suggests that right reishi powder or extract offers a wide array of healing properties that can promote a healthy immune system, mind and body.
Reishi is often referred to as the mushroom of immortality due to its substantial healing potential and abundance of potentially life-lengthening compounds. It has been used for 2000 years and is revered in traditional Chinese medicine as a mushroom of spirituality and longevity. Reishi is typically found on fallen logs, stumps and the base of trees. They have a reddish brown color and kidney shape. There are 80 known types of ganoderma (reishi), but it is believed that there are over 2000 species in total! The most well-researched type of reishi that you want for medicinal purposes is called Ganoderma Lucidum, which translates to light or brilliant reishi.
Species: Inonotus Obliquus
Main Chaga Mushroom Benefits: Reduce inflammation, protect the skin, and may have potential as an anti-cancer agent
Chaga contains a plethora of vitamins, minerals and nutrients, including vitamin D, magnesium, potassium, and many more. One study showed that Chaga mushrooms may provide a potential anti-cancer agent. In addition, chaga is a rich source of melanin, which is anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory, anti-aging, great for immunity, and protects the skin.
Chaga grows on birch trees in cold areas and is derived from wood fiber. The betulin and betulinic acid from birch offers many beneficial compounds, including melanin that makes its way into the Chaga mushroom. The first medicinal application can be traced back to 16th century Russia, where it was used to improve stomach health. Raw and cooked chaga is extremely difficult to ingest due to its rough texture and bitter taste. That’s why people are turning to chaga extract powder and mushroom tinctures to easily absorb the healthy gifts that this functional fungus offers.
Turkey Tail Mushroom
Species: Trametes Versicolor
Main Turkey Tail Benefits: May improve immunity, gut health and contains a rich source of antioxidants
Trametes research shows that Turkey Tail mushrooms contain a plethora of antioxidants that combat free radicals. A clinical study discovered over 35 phenolic compounds in a sample of turkey tail, which are shown to reduce inflammation and boost immunity.
In addition, the Turkey Tail mushroom contains immune-enhancing polysaccharopeptides, such as Krestin (PSK) and Polysaccharide Peptide (PSP). These protein-bound polysaccharides are supported by science to boost immunity. PSK was shown to protect our bodies against toxins and bacteria by activating specialized white blood cells. A test-tube study demonstrated that PSP increased monocytes, which are white blood cells that fight infections and contribute to better immunity.
Finally, Turkey Tail offers incredible benefits for improving gut microbiome health, a major indicator of overall health. For example, an 8-week study administered 3600mg of a prebiotic derived from turkey tail per day. This led to positive changes in the gut and prevented the growth of damaging bacteria. In addition, a test-tube study suggested that turkey tail extract increased positive bacteria, such as bifidobacterium and lactobacillus. It also reduced negative bacteria, like clostridium and staphylococcus. Beneficial bacteria, including bifidobacterium and lactobacillus, can combat undesirable intestinal issues, such as diarrhea, a common symptom of drinking and other external stimuli that damage the gut microbiome.
Turkey Tail Overview
Turkey Tail mushroom grows on the dead bark of birch trees and can be found all over the world. It resembles a fan or tail of a wild turkey, hence its name. The species name, T. versicolor, translates to of several colors, a fitting description for this extremely colorful polypore mushroom. The fruiting body is too tough to eat and quite bitter, so it’s commonly turned into turkey tail powder and used to make tea or tinctures. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), turkey tail was referred to as yun zhi and was used to strengthen the lungs, enhance chi (life force) and support the liver.
Species: Tremella Fuciformis
Main Tremella Mushroom Benefits: Slows aging of the skin, deeply hydrates inside and out, anti-inflammatory for the skin, and reduces oxidative stress that impacts the skin
In clinical settings, Tremella Fuciformis has been used to alleviate dryness and rehydrate the body’s fluids. Tremella's high-moisture content is a compelling reason to use this mushroom to nourish your skin.
It is bursting with vitamin D, protein, minerals, and polysaccharides.
As is the case with most mushrooms, polysaccharides are the main bioactive compound of scientific interest found in Tremella.
A study in 2017 showed that tremella fuciformis may have potential to alleviate oxidative stress related to certain skin diseases and aging.
Tremella was only harvested in the wild until 1984 because it requires mycoparasites (fungi that eat other fungi) to grow instead of wood. Traditional Chinese Medicine believed that the silver ear mushroom slowed down aging and increased longevity. Yang Guifei, one of the Four Great Beauties of China, attributed her stunning appearance to Tremella. This white jelly mushroom has been utilized since 200 A.D. and was believed to nourish key areas of health, including the brain, lungs, kidneys, and stomach.
Species: Grifola Frondosa
Main Maitake Mushroom Benefits: Potential to modulate the immune system, support healthy cholesterol, and contains compounds that are synergistic with other mushrooms and micronutrients
Maitake offers a variety of beta glucans, including D-Fraction and SX-Fraction. These beta glucans may bolster immunity.
In addition, the bioactive constituents of maitake were shown to promote healthy cholesterol levels in an animal study.
Maitake may have synergistic and immunity-magnifying potential when combined with shiitake mushrooms.
Finally, a study demonstrated that D-Fraction from Maitake combined with Vitamin C can potentially act as a supplemental treatment to enhance immunity in cancer patients.
Maitake polypore mushrooms are native to China, Northeastern Japan, Europe and North America. It is typically found at the trunk of broadleaf trees. In ancient times, people would dance with joy upon finding maitake because of its healing properties. That’s why maitake translates to 'dancing mushroom' in Japanese. In addition, people are always searching for the best maitake mushroom recipe because of its delicious taste, texture and nutritional value.
Species: Lentinula Edodes
Main Shiitake Mushroom Benefits: May help support a healthy heart, prevent unhealthy fat buildup, defog the brain, improve gut microbiome health, and promote better immune function
Shiitake mushrooms contain three compounds that can help promote a healthy heart and cholesterol, including eritadenine, sterols and beta glucans. Shiitake is also rich with B vitamins, which have been shown to decrease brain fog.
An animal study on rats shows that shiitake might have the potential to alter gut microbiome health in a positive way.
Certain studies have even suggested that the properties in shiitake may offer cancer preventative effects. For example, lentinan, a constituent of shiitake, has been shown to potentially inhibit the growth of leukemia cells. Medical facilities in China and Japan are injecting lentinan with other treatments to enhance immunity in patients with certain types of cancer.
Finally, in a study with rats, administering a high-dose of shiitake inhibited weight gain by 35% in rats on a high-fat diet.
Shiitake are light or dark brown mushrooms that originated in East Asia, but they are grown all over the world (primarily in Japan). They can be found on fallen broadleaf trees. Similar to maitake, these mushrooms are extremely tasty and used to enhance many types of culinary dishes. In fact, it’s so tasty that the species name, edodes, translates to edible. Shiitake is the second most-ingested mushroom on the planet behind portobello!
Species: Cordyceps Militaris
Main Cordyceps Mushroom Benefits: May improve exercise performance, offer anti-aging benefits, support a healthy heart, increase sex drive, and contain properties that have anti-aging potential.
Cordyceps mushroom is believed to stimulate the production of a molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which improves your body’s use of oxygen during exercise and other activities. For example, an animal study showed anti-fatigue results in rats that took the polysaccharides from cordyceps militaris for 28 days. In a double-blind placebo study, 30 older adults (ages 50 to 75) were provided with 3 grams of a synthetic form of cordyceps (CS4) for six weeks. The results showed a 7% increase in VO2 max, a measurement of fitness ability. These findings correlate with a more recent study on young adults that showed an 11% VO2 max increase after taking cordyceps militaris versus the placebo.
This meta-analysis mentions that the benefits of cordyeps (to promote aerobic capacity and resistance to fatigue) are best-seen after a month and a half of consistent usage.
Finally, mice and fruit flies that were given cordyceps lived longer lives by inhibiting oxidative stress. That said, there is no research or evidence that cordyceps provide anti-aging effects in humans.
Cordyceps, also known as ‘caterpillar fungus’ is a species of parasitic fungi that takes over the larvae of insects. The fungi attacks the insect host during winter time and replaces its tissue with long, thin and protruding stems. Although there are over 400 known species of cordyceps, only two types have become the main topic of interest in scientific research: cordyceps sinensis and cordyceps militaris. Militaris is the most sought after and used species in mushroom supplements, such as cordyceps extract powder.
King Oyster Mushroom
Species: Pleurotus Eryngii
Main King Oyster Benefits: Contains HIGH amounts of antioxidants, may lower the risk of certain cancers and facilitate weight management
King Oyster Mushroom, often referred to as King Trumpet, contains high levels of ergothioneine. L-ergothioneine is the only antioxidant that has its own cellular transport mechanism – The ‘master’ antioxidant. Unlike many other antioxidants, ergothioneine is not produced internally in our bodies, which means we have to absorb it from external sources. This master antioxidant may have the potential to protect our bodies from oxidative stress caused by free radicals, which is a major cause of chronic illness. Although all medicinal mushrooms have antioxidants, king oyster has extremely high amounts.
In addition, King Trumpet has lovastatin, which has been shown in rat studies to significantly reduce cholesterol levels.
King Oyster Facts
King Oyster (Trumpet) is extremely nutritious and delicious. This royal brown mushroom provides a significant amount of nutritional value, including a rich source of protein, vitamins, potassium, and much more. Although there are many types of oyster mushrooms, King Trumpet wears the crown when it comes to size and weight. It’s the largest oyster mushroom! The edible king of oyster mushrooms is native to Mediterranean parts of Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. It can also be found in many regions of Asia.
How to Take Medicinal Mushrooms
Recommending the right mushrooms for dietary supplements and human consumption is something that only dietitians are qualified to do. Max Lowenstein, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with a Masters in Clinical Nutrition, provides essential tips to help you incorporate the benefits of medicinal mushrooms into your life.
“It’s more important than ever to educate yourself about mushrooms. As more compelling research continues to emerge, companies are flocking to take advantage of the trend with subpar ingredients and fillers that resemble a placebo more than actual mushrooms. Here are suggestions to help you fully harness the health benefits of mushrooms in a safe and practical way” says Max.
- Variety Is Key: It’s always best to introduce a wide variety of healthy properties into your life. No two plants or mushrooms are exactly alike and more research is emerging constantly. For example, if your focus is lion’s mane for cognition, you should still take the other 8 mushrooms mentioned in this article. Everything is connected: Gut health directly affects your brain, stress impacts immunity and so on! That said, you may want to increase or decrease your dose of certain mushrooms depending on your goals. This article is a perfect guide to help inform those decisions. It's the ultimate guide for various functional mushroom types.
- Mushroom Type: So we mentioned the top medicinal mushrooms that you should be taking, but many of these types have several different species. As mentioned earlier, Reishi is believed to have over 2000 different species, but only ONE of those (lucidum) comes with a significant amount of research showing potential benefits. In fact, a USP analysis show that 75% of reishi supplements in America don't even contain authentic Reishi! That’s why you MUSH double-check the exact species before purchasing any mushroom product. Another example is cordyceps. Make sure you’re getting militaris before purchasing. Certain medicinal mushroom powders and supplements are transparent about the species it contains, so you can shop with confidence. "I personally review the lab results of NutroMushroom's reishi powder, cordyceps supplements and all of the mushroom products listed on our site to ensure that they contain clean mushrooms with the maximum amount of healthy properties," says Max.
- Beta-glucans: Beta-glucans are the bioactive compound found in mushrooms with the most scientific research. If you want to capitalize on the health benefits of medicinal mushrooms, make sure the supplement has a sufficient amount of beta glucans. It’s the number one property that a mushroom supplement MUST have. Most mushroom companies don’t list their beta glucan percentage. All of our dietary mushroom supplements have lab results that confirm 30% or more beta glucans, which is an industry-leading amount.
- Fillers & Preservatives: Always check the supplement facts. The first ingredient listed is the MAIN and most prevalent ingredient. It’s also essential to look out for purity. Many companies infuse their products with heavy metals or toxic fillers that end up doing the opposite of what you want. You don’t want to purchase something that seems like medicine, but ends up being poison.
- Where to Buy Medicinal Mushrooms: Mushrooms with benefits are undeniably important for overall health, but how do you choose the right company and supplements? NutroMushroom utilizes mushroom species that are backed by science. In addition, we ensure that our extracts have 30% or more beta glucans from fruiting body mushrooms. Finally, we have a team of experts, including two dietitians, who carefully create and source mushroom products based on purity (no heavy metals or fillers) and potency.
Mushrooms contain healthy compounds that can help us spore into our best selves, mentally and physically. The sheer volume of scientific studies on lion’s mane, reishi and other fruiting bodies from the fungi kingdom may feel overwhelming. You can count on NutroMushroom for the latest clinical research, recommendations from experts, and details about medicinal mushroom benefits.
Scientific research citations supporting the health benefits of functional mushrooms can be found below:
Lion's Mane Scientific Studies:
- Lai, Puei-Lene et al. “Neurotrophic properties of the Lion's mane medicinal mushroom, Hericium erinaceus (Higher Basidiomycetes) from Malaysia.” (2013)
- Hericenones and erinacines: stimulators of nerve growth factor (NGF) biosynthesis in Hericium erinaceus." "(2010)
- Spelman, Kevin & Sutherland, Elizabeth. "Neurological Activity of Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus)." (2017)
- Chong, Pit Shan et al. “Therapeutic Potential of Hericium erinaceus for Depressive Disorder.” (2019)
- Nagano, Mayumi et al. “Reduction of depression and anxiety by 4 weeks Hericium erinaceus intake.” (2010)
Reishi Scientific Studies:
- Batra, Priya et al. “Probing Lingzhi or Reishi medicinal mushroom Ganoderma lucidum (higher Basidiomycetes): a bitter mushroom with amazing health benefits.” (2013)
- Jargalmaa, Suldbold et al. “Taxonomic evaluation of selected Ganoderma species and database sequence validation.” (2017)
Chaga Scientific Studies:
- Youn, Myung-Ja et al. “Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) induces G0/G1 arrest and apoptosis in human hepatoma HepG2 cells.” (2008)
- Yan, Zheng-Fei et al. “Inhibitory and Acceleratory Effects of Inonotus obliquus on Tyrosinase Activity and Melanin Formation in B16 Melanoma Cells.” (2014)
Turkey Tail Scientific Studies:
- Knežević, Aleksandar et al. “Antigenotoxic Effect of Trametes spp. Extracts against DNA Damage on Human Peripheral White Blood Cells.” (2015)
- Pérez-Cano, Francisco J, and Margarida Castell. “Flavonoids, Inflammation and Immune System.” (2016)
- Janjušević, Ljiljana et al. “The lignicolous fungus Trametes versicolor (L.) Lloyd (1920): a promising natural source of antiradical and AChE inhibitory agents.” (2017)
- Habtemariam, Solomon. “Trametes versicolor (Synn. Coriolus versicolor) Polysaccharides in Cancer Therapy: Targets and Efficacy.” (2020)
- Lu, Hailing et al. “TLR2 agonist PSK activates human NK cells and enhances the antitumor effect of HER2-targeted monoclonal antibody therapy.” (2011)
- Sekhon, Bhagwant Kaur et al. “PSP activates monocytes in resting human peripheral blood mononuclear cells: immunomodulatory implications for cancer treatment.” (2013)
- Pallav, Kumar et al. “Effects of polysaccharopeptide from Trametes versicolor and amoxicillin on the gut microbiome of healthy volunteers: a randomized clinical trial.” (2014)
- Eliza, Wong L Y et al. “Efficacy of Yun Zhi (Coriolus versicolor) on survival in cancer patients: systematic review and meta-analysis.” (2012)
- Shi, Lye Huey et al. “Beneficial Properties of Probiotics.” (2016)
Tremella Scientific Studies:
- Mohamad Hesam Shahrajabian, Wenli Sun, Hong Shen, Qi Cheng. "Chemical compounds and health benefits of Tremella, a valued mushroom as both cuisine and medicine in ancient China and modern era." (2020)
- Shen, Tao et al. “Tremella fuciformis polysaccharide suppresses hydrogen peroxide-triggered injury of human skin fibroblasts via upregulation of SIRT1.” (2017)
- Wu, Jian-Yong et al. “Bioactive Ingredients and Medicinal Values of Grifola frondosa (Maitake).” (2021)
- Fukushima, M et al. “Cholesterol-lowering effects of maitake (Grifola frondosa) fiber, shiitake (Lentinus edodes) fiber, and enokitake (Flammulina velutipes) fiber in rats.” (2001)
- Vetvicka, Vaclav, and Jana Vetvickova. “Immune-enhancing effects of Maitake (Grifola frondosa) and Shiitake (Lentinula edodes) extracts.” (2014)
- Konno, Sensuke. “Synergistic potentiation of D-fraction with vitamin C as possible alternative approach for cancer therapy.” (2009)
- Eva Guillamón, Ana García-Lafuente, Miguel Lozano, Matilde D´Arrigo, Mauricio A. Rostagno, Ana Villares, José Alfredo Martínez. "Edible mushrooms: Role in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases" (2010)
- Phillips, Katherine M et al. “Vitamin D and sterol composition of 10 types of mushrooms from retail suppliers in the United States.” (2011)
- Bak, Won Chull et al. “Determination of Glucan Contents in the Fruiting Bodies and Mycelia of Lentinula edodes Cultivars.” (2014)
- Calvaresi, E, and J Bryan. “B vitamins, cognition, and aging: a review.” (2001)
- Anwar, Haseeb et al. “Shiitake Culinary-Medicinal Mushroom, Lentinus edodes (Agaricomycetes), Supplementation Alters Gut Microbiome and Corrects Dyslipidemia in Rats.” (2019)
- Huang, Xiaojun, and Shaoping Nie. “The structure of mushroom polysaccharides and their beneficial role in health.” (2015)
- Xu, Tongtong et al. “The cancer preventive effects of edible mushrooms.” Anti-cancer agents in medicinal chemistry vol. 12,10 (2012)
- Patel, Seema, and Arun Goyal. “Recent developments in mushrooms as anti-cancer therapeutics: a review.” (2012)
- Ina, Kenji et al. “The use of lentinan for treating gastric cancer.” Anti-cancer agents in medicinal chemistry vol. 13,5 (2013)
- Handayani, D et al. “Dietary Shiitake Mushroom (Lentinus edodes) Prevents Fat Deposition and Lowers Triglyceride in Rats Fed a High-Fat Diet.” (2011)
Cordyceps Scientific Studies:
- Ko, Kam Ming, and Hoi Yan Leung. “Enhancement of ATP generation capacity, antioxidant activity and immunomodulatory activities by Chinese Yang and Yin tonifying herbs.” (2007)
- Xu, Yan-Feng. “Effect of Polysaccharide from Cordyceps militaris (Ascomycetes) on Physical Fatigue Induced by Forced Swimming.” (2016)
- Yi, X., Xi-zhen, H. & Jia-shi, Z. "Randomized double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial and assessment of fermentation product of Cordyceps sinensis (Cs-4) in enhancing aerobic capacity and respiratory function of the healthy elderly volunteers." (2004)
- Hawkins, Megan N et al. “Maximal oxygen uptake as a parametric measure of cardiorespiratory capacity.” (2007)
- Hirsch, Katie R et al. “Cordyceps militaris Improves Tolerance to High-Intensity Exercise After Acute and Chronic Supplementation.” (2017)
- Lin, Bao-qin, and Shao-ping Li. “Cordyceps as an Herbal Drug.” Edited by Iris F. F. Benzie et. al., 2nd ed., CRC Press/Taylor & Francis. (2011)
- Li, Xing-Tai et al. “Protective effects on mitochondria and anti-aging activity of polysaccharides from cultivated fruiting bodies of Cordyceps militaris.” (2010)
- Xiao, Jian-Hui et al. “Polysaccharides from the Medicinal Mushroom Cordyceps taii Show Antioxidant and Immunoenhancing Activities in a D-Galactose-Induced Aging Mouse Model.” (2012)
- Zou, Yingxin et al. “Cordyceps sinensis oral liquid prolongs the lifespan of the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, by inhibiting oxidative stress.” (2015)
King Oyster Studies:
- Beelman, Robert B et al. “Is ergothioneine a 'longevity vitamin' limited in the American diet?.” (2020)
- Alam, Nuhu et al. “Dietary effect of Pleurotus eryngii on biochemical function and histology in hypercholesterolemic rats.” (2011)