What are the benefits of adaptogenic mushrooms?
Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine have been using adaptogenic mushrooms to treat health conditions for thousands of years.
These mushrooms are a class of plants called adaptogens and may help to repair lost connections between the brain and adrenal glands; this may lead to fewer stress responses to non-life-threatening stressors.
You might recognize a few mushroom species, as these adaptogens are commonly used in cooking — especially in Japanese cuisine. Reishi and Shitake mushrooms are the most recognizable, though many health food products have started listing lion’s mane and cordyceps on their ingredient lists, too.
Adaptogenic mushrooms may not only help prevent physiological stress responses, but they may also help to improve sleep, decrease inflammation, aid in recovery, and improve cognitive function.
What are adaptogens?
Adaptogens are a class of plants that include herbs and mushrooms.
When added to your diet, these plants may help your brain and adrenal glands regulate stress and stress responses to non-life-threatening stressors.
They do this by helping to repair the connections between the brain and the adrenal glands so the two systems may communicate more effectively.
How do adaptogens work?
Adaptogens help the body adapt to non-life-threatening stressful situations by repairing the pathways between the brain and adrenal glands.
These pathways are called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis) and carry information between the pituitary, hippocampus, and adrenal glands.
When we’re faced with modern-day stressors (like a long list of to-dos, violent news stories, and nonstop work commitments), our bodies may react as though our lives are in danger. The brain sends signals to the adrenal glands to release cortisol to prepare for fight-or-flight mode.
But we don’t really need that extra boost of cortisol; instead, most modern-day stressors require endorphins, serotonin, or dopamines to help us relax and concentrate. Dopamine in particular is considered the concentration hormone.
When the brain is constantly overreacting to non-life-threatening stressors and sending signals to the adrenal glands to release cortisol, the HPA axis may become damaged. The adrenal glands may not get signals in time and end up releasing cortisol too late or struggle to return to baseline.
Adaptogens simply repair these connections, allowing our bodies to respond more appropriately to modern-day stressors.
What are adaptogenic mushrooms?
Adaptogenic mushrooms are types of mushrooms that may boast health benefits, including reducing physiological stress responses to non-life-threatening stressors.
They are either used as an ingredient in recipes or ground down into a fine powder and added to supplements, drinks, and pantry items. When the mushrooms are ground down into a powder, food scientists can accurately add specific doses to foods and supplements.
These mushrooms are often blended with other adaptogens, like ashwagandha, rhodiola, turmeric, and ginseng for boosted benefits. Most pantry foods that contain these ingredients, such as adaptogenic nut butter, will also boost anti-inflammatory ingredients, such as cocoa, rosemary oil, cinnamon, and nutmeg to target specific health conditions.
Types of Adaptogenic Mushrooms
The most common adaptogenic mushrooms available are reishi, turkey tail, cordyceps, lion’s mane, chaga, and shiitake.
Each of these mushrooms boasts its own benefits in addition to helping the body repair connections between the brain and the adrenal glands. It may take up to three weeks of daily use for the HPA axis to start to repair itself, though you may start to notice other benefits within a few hours of taking adaptogenic mushrooms.
Adaptogenic Mushrooms Benefits
In addition to their adaptogenic properties, these mushrooms may provide a long list of other benefits, too!
Depending on which adaptogenic mushrooms or blends to choose, you may experience increased immune function, anti-aging benefits, enhanced cognitive performance, and deeper sleep.
Eases Stress and Anxiety
Since these mushrooms are adaptogens, one of their main benefits is to ease stress and anxiety.
Taking adaptogenic mushrooms regularly for several weeks may help the HPA axis start to heal.
Since these mushrooms may provide other benefits that aid in stress release (better sleep, higher immune function, enhanced cognitive performance), patients may be able to see results as soon as a few hours after taking them.
Some adaptogenic mushrooms may even help boost the body’s serotonin and dopamine levels, two hormones needed for concentration and mood regulation.
Boosts Immune System & Fights Inflammation
Rishi, chaga, shiitake, and turkey tail may all help increase immune function and fight inflammation.
Chaga is known for its inflammation-fighting properties, as it contains antioxidants — which are needed to fight free radicals. Chaga may have antiviral properties, and it may even be able to inhibit the growth of cancer cells.
Shiitake may also come with cancer-fighting properties and may help fight inflammation. Shiitake also contains antioxidants and may help improve artery health.
Turkey tail’s main function is to work as an antiviral. This mushroom may even prevent or fight the flu and other viruses. Thanks to its polysaccharides compounds, PSP and PSK, turkey tail may also help increase immune function in chemotherapy patients.
Enhances Cognitive Performance
Some adaptogens may also help increase cognitive function and enhance cognitive performance.
Lion’s mane is known for its “brainpower” and may help increase focus and concentration. It may also help increase memory function, too. When combined with other adaptogens that increase focus and concentration, such as rhodiola and ginseng, effects may be boosted.
Some clinical studies are even testing the effect adaptogens have on ADD and ADHD patients. While lion’s mane alone may not be effective at reducing ADHD symptoms, adaptogens such as rhodiola may help improve concentration, especially when combined with adaptogenic mushrooms.
Reverses the Signs of Aging
Cordyceps is an adaptogenic mushroom that is used primarily to increase energy levels (without stimulants, such as caffeine or sugar) and aid in recovery after physical activity.
We need more studies on the performance-enhancing effects of cordyceps before adding them to our pre-and-post workout stacks — but we do know that this adaptogen also boasts anti-aging properties, too.
Thanks to its antioxidants, cordyceps may aid in cell turnover and repair. It may also help prevent collagen breakdown (the protein that gives skin its natural bounce and firmness).
Encourages Deep Sleep
All adaptogens may also help aid in sleep and promote deeper, more restful sleep.
When the body is in fight-or-flight mode, it can’t perform non-essential functions, such as releasing sleep hormones, like melatonin. By repairing the HPA axis, we may experience fewer fight-or-flight responses to non-life-threatening stressors, and our sympathetic nervous systems may continue to perform functions, such as releasing sleep and digestive hormones.
In addition to its adaptogenic benefits, reishi may also help stave off insomnia and provide more deep and restful sleep.
Also known as ganoderma lucidum, this mushroom has been shown to prolong sleep time in rats. Obviously, we need more studies on humans before we can definitively understand reishi’s sleep benefits — though there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that points to reishi’s sleep benefits.
Taking Adaptogenic Mushrooms
Most people take adaptogenic mushrooms in food or as supplements. Many of these mushrooms are available at specialty or health food grocery stores, and we’re starting to see some of these mushrooms at major supermarket chains, too.
When it comes to adaptogenic mushrooms, you should always look for organic and ethically sourced options.
Adaptogenic mushrooms are often ground down into a fine powder, making them easier to take in supplement form. Simply swallow the recommended dosage each day, stay consistent with your adaptogen schedule, and most people will see health benefits within a few weeks.
The biggest downsides to supplements are that you must remember to take them daily to see results, and they usually need to be taken with food for optimal absorption.
Adaptogenic mushrooms are food. This means you can simply eat the mushrooms in their original form. But if you want to use these mushrooms for their health benefits, you may want to find a product that contains specific amounts of them, as you may not be able to consume large enough amounts of reishi, cordyceps, or turkey tail in only three meals.
You can also add mushroom powder to food or buy prepackaged adaptogenic food items, such as Retreat Foods’ adaptogenic nut butter.
In addition to adaptogenic mushrooms, you’ll find other adaptogens, such as ginseng, turmeric, and rhodiola, and ashwagandha for anxiety in Retreat Foods’ nut butter. Anti-inflammatories may include, cardamom, rosemary oil, cinnamon, cacao, and nutmeg.
Retreat also uses sweeteners that are low on the glycemic index, such as Medjool date paste, which may lead to fewer blood sugar spikes and inflammation.
Are adaptogenic mushrooms safe?
Yes! Adaptogenic mushrooms are generally safe when used as directed; however, they’re not appropriate for everyone.
People who are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or are breastfeeding shouldn’t use adaptogens. Anyone with a preexisting condition should check with their doctor before starting any medical or natural treatment.
Some of the side effects of taking certain mushrooms (or taking too much of a supplement) may include gastrointestinal issues, headache, and rashes).
That being said, most adaptogens are safe when they’re sourced from high-quality ingredients.