Medicinal Mushrooms 101

Mushrooms aren’t just a great addition to risotto and stir fry—many of them have serious health-boosting properties too. From sleep support to stress relief to strengthening immunity, the benefits of medicinal mushrooms are endless…and have been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years. We spoke with Jerry Angelini, head of science education at Host Defense, to learn more about these unique nutrients.

How have medicinal mushrooms been used in traditional medicine?

Mushrooms have a number of uses in traditional approaches to health and wellness. Their main use has been as restorative tonics—not just as immune boosters, which is what most people think of when they consider mushrooms. But each mushroom has its own specific pattern of support associated with it. This means that each one was used to help people function better in a number of different ways.

Here are some examples. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, reishi was used to restore “Kidney Yin.” Kidney Yin is not associated with kidney function, but rather an underlying constitutional strength related to adaptation to stress and endurance.

Cordyceps was used to support ‘Kidney Yang and Lung Yin.” Kidney Yang is representative of the spark of life, so cordyceps energizes our body and libido. Lung Yin is representative of oxygenation, and cordyceps has been shown to support graceful lung function and increased oxygenation.

What are the key components in mushrooms that have health benefits?  

There are a number of compounds found in the whole mushroom that support different aspects of our bodies. The first set includes complex polysaccharide compounds that engage our immune systems.

Another very different set of compounds called terpenes helps engage the checks and balances of our immune systems. These compounds keep our immune systems in a “Goldilocks Zone”—not too hot, not too cold, but just right.

Still other compounds have been shown to support nerve and brain functioning. Others support adaptation to stress, liver health, cardiovascular functioning and antioxidant activity.

What’s the difference between mycelium and fruitbodies? Is it beneficial to have all of the components?

Mycelium is the root structure and “body” of the mushroom that grows underground; the fruitbody is akin to the fruit/flower of a plant—what you see above ground (including the stem, cap and gills). Mushroom spores are like seeds. Based on research from peer-reviewed journal articles, both the mycelium and the fruitbody provide important compounds for health and wellness. But research has also found that mycelium provide a wide range of compounds not found in fruitbodies—such as enzymes, antioxidant compounds and ferment metabolites—that support a host of systems in the body.

Which mushrooms are especially helpful for boosting immunity?

Every mushroom in the Host Defense line supports a balanced immune response. Some seem to be stronger at engaging the immune cells we depend upon for daily health and longevity, and other mushrooms balance immune function more strongly.

  • Turkey Tail is recognized for strongly engaging immune cells to help them fight harder.
  • Reishi is one of the strongest modulators that helps to rein in immune over-reactivity without undermining immune strength.
  • Preliminary research on Stamets 7, a seven-mushroom formula, and MyCommunity, a 17-mushroom formula, suggests they have a synergistic impact on immune function, so may be stronger than a single mushroom species at the same serving size.

You offer capsule, liquid and now powder formulas. Is there an ideal way to take them? 

The different delivery methods cater to individual preferences. Capsules are convenient, but if people have difficulty swallowing them, they may prefer liquids or powders they can add to smoothies, yogurt or oatmeal.

It’s good to note that the liquids offer more rapid absorption, which can be particularly helpful when someone wants a rapid response. An example: If someone is struggling with breathing, the liquid Breathe extract absorbs almost immediately—and people report feeling beneficial results within 3–5 minutes. This can help the body reduce over-reactive immune responses to environmental triggers like pollen or animal dander. But for people who don’t like the taste of mushrooms, they might prefer the capsules or powder.