What are Mushrooms Good For? 8 Ways They Help Your Health
I love mushrooms.
I love them so much that I’ve devoted my life to educating people about the amazing benefits of mushrooms through my company, Four Sigmatic, and my book, Healing Mushrooms: A Practical and Culinary Guide to Using Mushrooms for Whole Body Health.
I’ve been a mushroom fanatic for so long that sometimes I forget the rest of the world isn’t necessarily quite as taken with mushrooms as I am – but that’s been changing. For centuries, mushrooms have been used in kitchens around the world to add flavor and depth to a wide range of dishes.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg: Mushrooms offer a wide range of nutritional, physical, emotional, and environmental benefits that have the potential to transform the wellbeing of both people and the planet on which we rely. If that’s news to you, read on to learn about just eight of the totally awesome things most people don’t know about mushrooms.
Adaptogens are slowly but surely gaining mainstream recognition, and mushrooms are serving as one of the gateway “drugs” (or, rather, whole food sources) for these wonderful substances.
Just what is an adaptogen, you might ask? They’re naturally occurring, non-toxic substances that can help stabilize and optimize a wide range of physiological functions depending on what your body needs at any given time. (That sounds way too good to be true, but there’s a ton of science to back it up.) Among other benefits, adaptogens are especially well known for minimizing fatigue, supporting immune functions, supporting natural energy levels, sustaining focus, protecting the body from the physiological and emotional consequences of stress, and promoting overall wellness.
They can assist with fat loss.
Mushrooms can play a role in fat loss in several ways. For starters, they’re loaded with polysaccharides, a type of carbohydrate that helps lower blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity. Together, these effects make it easier to lose fat, because they facilitate the body’s ability to process carbs (which makes it less likely that these carbs will be stored as fat).
Mushrooms’ fat-fighting abilities don’t stop there. Because they’re adaptogenic, they help minimize the physiological effects of stress. What does this have to do with fat loss? Most people don’t realize this, but subjecting our bodies to constant stress stimulates hunger hormones. This means unchecked stress can lead to eating more calories than we actually need, which results in weight gain. By minimizing the physiological effects of stress, mushrooms can help stave off these belly-enlarging consequences.
They make coffee way better for you.
Coffee is already a great substance in its own right: It contains essential nutrients and high levels of antioxidants and has been shown to uplift the nervous system, assist with weight loss, improve immune functions, and provide cognitive benefits such as improved memory and focus.
Still, coffee isn’t without its downsides. Research suggests it can provoke acidity in the body, cause indigestion, destabilize blood sugar, increase cholesterol, disrupt sleep patterns, and contribute to anxiety.
When you add mushrooms to coffee, you’re able to experience coffee like never before.
They can support your immune functions.
Mushrooms are loaded with polyphenols, polysaccharides, and antioxidants, a variety of compounds that have been shown to regulate and sustain an immune system. But mushrooms don’t just bring greater stability to the immune system; they also increase its activity by stimulating the production of proteins in the body that are responsible for fending off disease-carrying pathogens. Mushrooms have also been shown to lower inflammation throughout the body, which seriously reduces strain on the immune system.
Thanks largely to their immune function supporting effects, functional mushrooms may have a role to play in the prevention and management of a variety of health conditions. Among other physical benefits, they’ve been shown to improve cognitive health, heart health, gut health, and skin health. The benefits of mushrooms are so well recognized that they form the basis of more than 40 percent of all pharmaceutical drugs currently on the market.
They’re potent anxiety fighters.
Rare is the American who doesn’t suffer from bouts of occasional or constant stress and/or anxiety. In fact, a recent survey by the American Psychological Association suggests stress is on the rise across America. The good news is relief may be as close as the nearest container of dual-extracted mushrooms. Mushrooms have been shown to reduce anxiety and its symptoms (such as difficulty concentrating, irritability, and insecurity) in a number of ways:
- As mentioned above, they’re high in B vitamins and vitamin D, all of which help keep the brain and nervous system healthy and contribute to positive mood
- Because mushrooms are adaptogenic, they can help mitigate the consequences of stress in the body.
- Some mushrooms contain compounds that are especially potent mood boosters. For example, black truffles contain amandamide, which goes by the name “bliss molecule” in scientific circles because of its ability to stimulate chemicals in the brain that enhance mood.
They can help combat nutritional deficiencies.
Even in the U.S., nutritional deficiencies are surprisingly common. Mushrooms provide an easy way to fill a variety of nutritional gaps in your diet, including deficiencies in B vitamins, iron, potassium, selenium, and vitamin D. That’s because functional mushrooms are loaded with vitamins and minerals. Take just a few examples:
- Oyster and enoki mushrooms are packed with B vitamins. Oyster mushrooms contain particularly high quantities of B6, while just one cup of enoki mushrooms contains 23 percent of the RDA for the B vitamin niacin
- Across the board, functional mushrooms boast high iron levels that can support immunity, contribute to a more positive mood, and support healthy skin, joints, and muscles
- Mushrooms are filled with potassium, which supports the health of the cardiovascular and digestive systems
- Mushrooms in general are also great sources of selenium. Shiitake mushrooms deserve special accolades for the fact that just ½ cup of shiitake offers 33 percent of the RDA for selenium
- Tremella mushrooms contain more vitamin D than any other known single food source.
They can stave off the effects of aging.
In spite of what cosmetics companies would have you believe, there is no way to prevent getting older. But there are things you can do to help delay or mitigate the effects of aging, such as supporting the immune system, giving your brain a boost, and doing what you can to combat the proliferation of free radicals. And here’s the best part: All of that can be achieved simply by consuming mushrooms.
You see, mushrooms are packed full of antioxidants, which ferret out free radicals and protect the body from much of the wear and tear associated with aging.
They’re good for the environment.
Mushrooms don’t just grow in the environment—they also give back to it. More and more research points to the role mushrooms can play in improving the health of the ecosystems on which all life on earth depends. Among other environmental benefits, mushrooms have been shown to:
- Assist with bioremediation, or the process of breaking down toxic compounds that have infiltrated water or soil. Mushrooms have been shown to break down and help eliminate everything from hydrocarbons and petroleum products (including oil) to PCBs and even nerve gas
- Filter water run-off to remove petroleum products, heavy metals, and other toxins so that these harmful substances are less likely to cause harm to the surrounding ecosystem and the wildlife and humans who rely on said water
- Produce a natural insecticide that allows for nontoxic control of harmful pests without the use of environmentally damaging pesticides
- Help create healthy soil through the process of decomposition. Fungi are some of the world’s most powerful decomposers, and decomposition is an essential process for returning nutrients to the soil in all types of ecosystems and microclimates, from forests to farms. Without fungi playing the role of decomposers in soils across the globe, humanity’s ability to grow food would be severely compromised. With the help of mushrooms, farmers can achieve higher crop yields while reducing their use of environmentally harmful chemicals
- They hold great promise as a biofuel. An increasing body of evidence suggests that mushrooms could be grown as a fuel crop. Not only that, but mushrooms could be converted into biodiesel using far fewer resources than other biodiesel options currently on the market
Each of these benefits conferred by mushrooms is amazing in its own right. But what’s really incredible is that these perks are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all the ways mushrooms can help boost the wellbeing of our bodies, minds, and planet.