Change is one of those things you either welcome, or resist. Usually marked by a beginning and an end, change comes to every area of your life. A new job, a new house, a new relationship… and all of these can bring about stress.
It’s not just emotional stress. There’s the physical stress of moving boxes from one apartment to another. There’s the mental stress of trying to learn all the new programming at work. There’s also the emotional stress of starting all over at a new school.
You already know that long-term stress on the body and mind do not-so-great things. You’ve done some research and discovered there are natural herbs you can take to help your body deal with stress in a more optimal way.
But did you know mushrooms bring something unique to the table?
Similar to our perception of change, mushrooms can also be quite polarizing. You either love them or you hate them. A pretty easy-going fungus that doesn’t ask for much: a little soil here, a little moisture there. Unlike plants, they don’t need sunlight in order to grow. And if found in the wild, they can easily get the nutrients they need from organic material (1).
Mushrooms have a long history of being used in foods, as well as for their medicinal properties. In eastern medicine, mushrooms have been used to support cognitive performance. They've even been used for hormone balancing and anti-aging.
You may have heard of people who have “used shrooms” to go on psychedelic trips. While there are certain types of mushrooms that will give you this experience, for purposes of this discussion we’re going to look at a different group. This group is becoming more popular as the western world recognizes their overall physical and mental health benefits.
Behold, the adaptogenic mushroom.
What’s an Adaptogenic Mushroom?
The idea behind what makes a mushroom “adaptogenic” is whether there are compounds present that help your body better cope with stress. So what are adaptogens?
According to Very Well Health (1), adaptogens are “components of herbal medicines that are said to help the body's resilience in dealing with physical and emotional stresses.”
How do Adaptogens Work?
When you choose herbs that are known for their adaptogenic properties, you’re allowing nature to help you cope with the worries of life.
Some scientists have found that adaptogens release certain hormones, such as different levels of estrogen. Other times, they’ve observed how different stress chemicals were altered. What they’ve found is that some mushrooms affect the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA axis). This part of the brain participates in controlling the release of stress-fighting hormones like cortisol.
How is this helpful? Depending on what hormones and chemicals your body is releasing in response to stress, you can incorporate different herbs to help balance and aid in well-being.
The same principle applies to certain mushrooms. Which ones are the best for this kind of therapy?
Are all mushrooms adaptogenic? No, and it’s important to know which ones are your friends and which are your foes. Let’s look at the types of mushrooms that will help calm your body and mind:
Reishi: This mushroom has been used in ancient Chinese medicine for thousands of years. It has been used to help strengthen the immune system, balance your blood sugar levels, and lower LDL cholesterol levels. It can also support proper liver function, along with potentially reducing stress responses in the body.
Maitake: Packed with B vitamins, this medicinal mushroom shares many of the other common features in the adaptogenic circle. Some studies suggest they contain powerful anti-diabetic properties (8), including the regulation of blood sugars.
Cordyceps: This fungus grows on caterpillars (3) – that’s right, caterpillars! Scientists will often grow this one in labs and use in combination with other mushrooms like Rhodiola or reishi. This fungus is great for athletes because it helps maintain energy and oxygen levels throughout the body. It helps fight off fatigue (5) due to the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP).
Shiitake: One of the more well-known mushrooms, shiitake are often added to dishes for their delicious taste. High in vitamins, b, d, and zinc, this fungus packs a punch when it comes to immune health. It’s also known for its anti-aging properties, likely due to its high antioxidant count. Last but certainly not least, shiitake are known to support a healthy liver (7).
Turkey Tail: Considered one of the most powerful adaptogenic mushrooms out there, this mushroom is a must-have. It’s loaded with antioxidants, prebiotics, and polyphenols, giving your body a head-to-toe immunity boost that you’ll feel all over. It’s a great choice in the fight against pain and inflammation as well.
Lion’s Mane: A breathtakingly beautiful fungus that represents its name well, the lion’s mane contains nerve-growth factor (NGF) boosting properties that protect the brain from the damage that’s caused by aging, stress, and other things (4). It has been known to help decrease inflammation and boost cognitive performance – a great mushroom for the creative mind!
Chaga: Need help fighting off infections? Give chaga a try. This mushroom has triterpenes that help hinder cytokines, which can help reduce inflammation in the body. Under certain studies, it also seems to have promising results fighting off certain cancers(6).
It’s pretty incredible to know there are many different mushrooms that can help you not only handle stressful situations well but support your body in other ways too.
So now we know of the different kinds of adaptogenic mushrooms. How else can they help us? Because these fungi combat a wide range of stressors, many people have experienced positive effects such as:
- Improved GI function
- Stronger immune system
- Balanced hormones
- Increased mental performance
- Improved adrenal function
- Less fatigue
- Improved energy and stamina
- Sharper attention span
More research still needs to be done on their effectiveness. Even so, many people who take supplements seem to experience positive results. The FDA deems the above list of mushrooms as generally safe to use.
That being said, there is some caution that Reishi can cause headaches and dizziness (4). It’s not recommended if you’re on blood thinners or other blood pressure medications.
Much of the research done on these fungi has primarily been in a laboratory setting. If you’re diabetic, pregnant, or breastfeeding, talk with your doctor before starting any supplement regimen.
Ways to Take Mushrooms
Mushrooms are becoming more popular. Because of this, companies are finding different ways to maximize their benefits. There are some types that are too bitter to eat directly, so adjustments have to be made.
Mushrooms come in a variety of forms, like:
- Protein powders
- Herbal drinks
Depending on your personal preferences, you can try different methods. Find which ones work best for you.
Mushrooms are an incredible food that you can add into your life to help you process change. Some types contain adaptogenic properties that help your body deal with stress.
Some mushrooms are more famous for their antioxidant levels.
Others help balance your blood sugars. Nearly all of them can work to help boost your immune system. They work in the part of your brain that processes stress, to lessen the effects it has on your hormones, mood, etc.
There are several different types to choose from, and many ways to take them. From capsules to smoothies, it’s easy to get the benefits these fungi provide.
Change can be hard. Have you considered mushrooms to help you manage the stress that tends to come with it? Let us know!