Functional mushrooms, otherwise referred to as medicinal mushrooms, are edible fungi that have proven medicinal benefits. In traditional Chinese Medicine the use of functional mushrooms to treat illness dates back thousands of years to some of the first medical texts on record.
A decade ago, you would have only heard about medicinal mushrooms in the context of traditional Chinese or Alternative Medicine. But in recent years, with the help of scientific research, functional mushrooms have infiltrated the mainstream supplement space and are now being recognized for their benefits in health, fitness, and performance.
What makes functional fungi so fantastic?
More than 2000 species of edible and/or medicinal mushrooms have been identified. Among the various bioactive constituents found in these different species, polysaccharides (mainly beta-glucans) are the most common components responsible for many of their health and performance benefits. Beyond polysaccharides, other unique bioactive components like peptides, adenosines, triterpenoids, polyphenols, and flavonoids, have been scientifically proven to improve our health and fitness through their positive influence on antioxidant status, the cardiovascular system, brain function, hormonal regulation, and immune system function.
Each functional mushroom species has their own spectrum of medicinal compounds and benefits to go along with them. In terms of the species of mushrooms most noted for their fitness benefits, let me introduce you to 3 fun-guys… Lion’s Mane, Cordyceps, and Red Reishi.
LION’S MANE (Hericium erinaceus or Yamabushitake)
The erinacines and hericenones from Lion’s Mane are powerful antioxidants that are small enough to cross the blood brain barrier to target and protect brain neurons from inflammation and cell death. They also enhance the synthesis and actions of nerve growth factor (NGF) in the brain to improve cognitive health. In the fitness industry, Lion’s Mane is best known for its cognitive, focus, and mood enhancing effects.
It is suggested to improve exercise performance and fitness by promoting:
- Increased focus and mental energy
- Optimized immune function
- Enhanced nervous system recovery
- Improved digestive health
- Reduced levels of metabolic by-products during exercise (e.g., blood lactic acid, urea nitrogen, and malondialdehyde)
- Improved muscle glycogen recovery after training
- Decreased neuropathic pain
- Decreased anxiety and depressive symptoms
How to use Lion’s Mane
Look for certified organic Lion’s Mane fermented mycelium extract that has been standardized for its medicinal compounds, including beta-glucans (min. 2%), terpenoids (min. 6%), erinacines (min. 3%), and polyphenols (min. 1%). Steer clear of brands that don’t list their standardized medicinal compounds and potencies.
Use 1 to 3 grams daily (generally 1/2 tsp per gram), taken all at once in the morning. If you use 3g daily, you can split it into 3 x 1-gram doses and take throughout the day. Mix directly into your coffee, tea, yogurt, greens, or smoothies.
RED REISHI (Ganoderma lucidum)
The mycochemicals isolated from Red Reishi have been reported to treat inflammation, depression, anxiety, bone disorders, cancer, epilepsy, diabetes, dyslipidemia, cardiovascular problems, and immune-related disorders. Red Reishi is known to be very high in beta-d-glucans and ganoderic acids, which provide several reported fitness benefits, including:
- Nootropic actions
- Improved physical fitness in women with fibromyalgia
- Improved lower body flexibility in women
- Improved aerobic endurance in women
- Improved fatigue recovery
- Blood glucose regulation
- Anti-inflammatory actions
- Neuroprotection and immune system optimization
- Increased motivation (through decreases in anxiety and depressive symptoms)
How to use Red Reishi
Look for certified organic Red Reishi fruiting body extract that has been standardized for its medicinal compounds, including beta-glucans (min. 35%), triterpenoids (min. 7%), ganoderic acids (min. 4%), and polyphenols (min. 1%). Steer clear of brands that don’t list their standardized medicinal compounds and potencies.
Use 1 to 3 grams daily (1/2 tsp per gram), taken all at once in the morning. If you use 3 g daily, you can split it into 3 x 1-gram doses and take throughout the day. Mix directly into your coffee, tea, yogurt, greens, or smoothies. High potency Red Reishi tastes bitter (due to the ganoderic acids), I suggest splitting doses if you find the bitterness too intense.
Cordyceps has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat an assortment of conditions including fatigue, respiratory and kidney diseases, renal dysfunction, and cardiac dysfunction. Described as a natural exercise mimetic, cordyceps is thought to improve performance by increasing blood flow, enhancing oxygen utilization, and acting as an antioxidant. It’s known to be very high in beta-d-glucans, contains adenosine, and its own unique bioactive mycochemical called cordycepin, all of which provide the following performance benefits:
- Improved aerobic performance (VO2max and ventilatory threshold)
- Enhanced lactate clearance
- Enhanced oxygen utilization in high intensity exercise
- Delayed fatigue during intense exercise
- Increased libido/sex-drive in women (and men)
- Increased ATP (energy) production during exercise
How to use Cordyceps
Look for a certified organic Cordyceps militaris fruiting body extract that has been standardized for its medicinal compounds, including beta-glucans (min. 25%), cordycepin (min. 1%), adenosine (min. 0.5%), and polyphenols (min. 1%). Steer clear of brands that don’t list their standardized medicinal compounds and potencies.
Use 1 to 3 grams daily (1/2 tsp per gram), taken all at once in the morning. If you use 3g daily, you can split it into 3 x 1-gram doses and take throughout the day. Mix directly into your coffee, tea, yogurt, greens, or smoothies.
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