Medicinal Mushrooms: A Supplement For The 21st Century
Mushrooms have been used throughout history as medicine, renowned for their immune supportive, anti-inflammatory and curative properties. There are many varieties of medicinal mushroom that are used in any number of combinations for their effects on stress, immunity, gut health, cognitive function and more. Some even boast claims of possessing anti-tumor effects, mitigating the growth of cancer cells. While there is some work to be done in validating a lot of the clinical benefits of medicinal mushrooms, their use as dietary supplements is widespread, increasing in popularity year-on-year - and for good reason.
Nutrient Dense Superfood...
...is a term that gets thrown around a lot these days, but in the case of mushrooms, it is undoubtedly true. Mushrooms are used in cooking throughout the globe for their unique flavor. They are also extremely low in calories and contain some important carbohydrates, which we will talk about shortly, as well as selenium, riboflavin, niacin, potassium, fiber, vitamin D and sodium. These are crucial micronutrients and make mushrooms a valuable food source in any healthy human diet.
A Powerful Trio: β-glucans, Triterpenoids and Ergosterol
β-glucans, triterpenoids and ergosterol are the compounds responsible for most of what we know and love about medicinal mushrooms. β-glucans are a type of complex carbohydrate, or polysaccharide, that stimulate the immune system and act as the primary source of medicinal activity in mushrooms. Triterpenoids, also found in cannabis, are powerful antioxidants, that protect various biological systems and organs from oxidative stress. Ergosterol is present in all fungi, and is similar to cholesterol in humans. Recently, ergosterol has been shown to have immunomodulating and antioxidant properties.
Mushrooms Are Highly Sustainable
Mushroom growers are often referred to as the “ultimate recyclers” for their ability to use what is considered waste in other sectors of agriculture as fertilizer to grow their crop. As much as 1 million pounds (with an “M”) of mushrooms can be harvested annually from just one acre of land, with each pound only requiring approximately 7 liters of water to produce. Compare that to avocados, which require approximately 128 liters of water per pound, or potatoes, which require approximately 136 liters of water per pound, and we see another major benefit of using both dietary and medicinal mushrooms.
Although mushrooms have been worshipped (metaphorically and literally) by numerous ancient civilizations, only recently has modern science begun to recognize what these cultures knew all along. Looking to all parts of the natural world for both medicine and food may provide answers to some of the biggest challenges we face as a society today. Our ignorance around the value of medicinal mushrooms is changing rapidly and as we continue to explore we continue to reaffirm the need for such exploration.