Mushrooms have been a much-loved food for centuries. All around the world, mushrooms are considered an essential food group. Many people do not realize that there are hundreds of different types of mushrooms, and the ones we find in supermarkets are just a limited selection.
Most people are familiar with the traditional edible mushrooms that conform to the cap and stem appearance. These types of mushrooms are often used as tasty side dishes to bulk out a meal while adding some extra protein.
Mushrooms are much more than just food. Many species have been found to have positive effects on health that go beyond what we expect from other foods. Supplements such as mushroom capsules are becoming increasingly common. Such products provide a way to enjoy the benefits of mushrooms without having to eat them every day.
Why Have Medicinal Mushroom Supplements Become So Popular?
Mushrooms are known for their fantastic range of healthy minerals, vitamins, proteins, and other nutrients. This is partly why mushrooms have been eaten for thousands of years all around the world.
While mushrooms have been used for centuries for their nutritional value, it is only in recent decades that focus has been placed on the complex carbohydrates that many contain. One type of carbohydrate, in particular, polysaccharides, has caught researchers’ attention. Polysaccharides are thought to be responsible for many of the health benefits associated with mushrooms.
Mushrooms that contain a high ratio of polysaccharides have been categorized as functional foods. The term refers to the established fact that many of these mushrooms are enjoyable and nutrient-dense supplements.
Medicinal mushrooms are believed to have a number of positive effects on a person’s health. These include supporting the immune system, promoting good cognitive function and memory, enhancing energy levels, and aiding physical recovery.
Science Behind the Medicinal Mushroom Trend
As the idea of using mushrooms as a health supplement becomes ever more popular in the western world, scientists are investing more into researching exactly how mushrooms can affect a person’s health.
One area that has been researched in detail is how certain mushrooms can be used to improve cognitive ability. A study in 2009 found that when participants were given the mushroom Yamabushitake for a prolonged period, their cognitive function improved. This was supported by a further study in 2019 that found very similar results.
The study carried out in 2019 also found some evidence that particular mushrooms can be used to improve a person’s short-term memory. This is still an area that is being researched, but one that shows a great deal of promise.
Some fungi have been found to support the digestive system and are thought to be useful for people who suffer from stomach ailments. The antibacterial properties located within some mushrooms are able to keep good gut health. Using mushrooms for digestive health is not a new idea and is perhaps one of the ways ancient civilisations used them.
Different Types of Medicinal Mushrooms
Many of the mushrooms categorized as functional foods do not conform to what most people think of when they picture mushrooms. Many have a woody texture and a slightly bitter taste, which is one reason they are often sold as capsules and powders, making them more appealing to consume regularly.
A few functional mushrooms have been enjoyed for centuries because of their meaty texture and delicious flavor profile. Lion’s mane mushrooms are a great example of this, providing a number of health benefits while also being a wonderfully tasty meat substitute.
On the other hand, cordyceps is less appealing both in terms of its appearance and flavor profile. Cordyceps have a worm-like appearance, which can quickly put people off at first. Despite their less than appealing appearance, cordyceps are extremely popular in East Asia and have been over-harvested to the point that it is almost impossible to find them in the wild.
Other popular medicinal mushrooms include turkey tail, chaga, reishi, and maitake. Each type of mushroom provides slightly different benefits, while all contain a rich combination of proteins and polysaccharides. Chaga, for example, is known for its antioxidants properties and is often used as an antiviral and immune-boosting supplement.
How to Use Medicinal Mushrooms
Medicinal mushrooms can be used in a few different ways. Being an edible supplement, many mushrooms can be eaten as part of a balanced meal. To make the most of the health benefits that mushrooms have to offer, they need to be regularly consumed.
Trying to work particular mushrooms into at least one meal a day is challenging, but luckily, there are other ways to experience the benefits of medicinal mushrooms. Fungi powders and mushroom capsules are sold in most health food stores and pharmacies and provide all of the nutrients found in mushrooms without eating them.
The majority of mushroom powders are designed similarly to other protein powders, making them extremely easy to work in everyday life. Equally, capsules are a simple yet effective way to enjoy healthy fungi.