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6 Medicinal Mushrooms For Boosting Your Immune System

Mother Nature provides plenty of solutions for improving your overall health and supporting your immune system. Although modern scientific research has only recently started to catch up, cultures around the world have known about the benefits of medicinal mushrooms for immunity and general health for centuries. We know that the fabulous world of fungi is kind of intimidating when you don’t know where to start. And that's why we put together this list of the top six mushrooms (and a few bonus varieties) for boosting the immune system.

What are Beta Glucans and How Do They Support the Immune System?

Beta glucans are sugars found in a broad range of foods and plants including mushrooms, yeasts, algae, oats, and barley. In fungi, they’re present in the fruiting body of mushrooms. Beta glucans provide powerful support for moderating your immune response and improving immune function. For this reason, healthcare workers often administer beta glucans through IV or other methods to patients with HIV, cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, hepatitis, the flu, and many other conditions. (1) Patients with autoimmune or inflammatory conditions such as lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Lyme disease, asthma, allergies, ulcerative colitis, and skin conditions like eczema can benefit from the regulating properties of beta glucans. Beta glucans support the immune system by stimulating your Natural Killer (NK) cells. (2) These cells are powerful “natural killers” for combating all types of infections from HIV to common colds. In foods, beta glucans are soluble in hot water. When it comes to mushrooms, you can extract the beta glucans using hot water and increase bioavailability (the available amount of a substance for your body to process and use).
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6 Mushrooms for Boosting the Immune System

You don’t need to head to the hospital for an IV to reap the benefits of beta glucans. Nature has an interesting way of providing the substances we need to survive and thrive. These six mushrooms for immunity have plenty of benefits that go far beyond defending against illness.
  • Mix them into your smoothies.
  • Use powders as a base for soups and stews.
  • Create your own mushroom capsules to take on-the-go.
The possibilities are endless!

1. Reishi Mushroom

Reishi mushrooms have caused quite a stir in wellness circles recently as the “mushroom of immortality.” Scientifically, the potent Reishi goes by Ganoderma lucidum and has been touted throughout traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. People often say Reishi is particularly beneficial for improving longevity but what does that mean? Well, studies show that properties in reishi can stimulate Natural Killer cells for destroying cancer cells. (3) Reishi also has an interesting effect on white blood cells for reducing inflammation. (4)

2. Turkey Tail Mushroom

Turkey tail mushroom goes by many names including cloud mushroom as well as its scientific names Trametes versicolor and Coriolis versicolor. When it comes to mushrooms for immunity, it’s hard to find anything as powerful as turkey tail. For starters, turkey tail contains polysaccharide peptides and krestin (PSK) which perfectly stimulate and repress different immune responses in unique ways. For this reason, turkey tail is an excellent choice for regulating immune systems and reducing inflammation. Both PSK and PSP are under evaluation in clinical studies and used in practice throughout China and Japan for fighting cancer cells. Many dog owners turn to turkey tail mushroom to fight cancer in their best friends. Plus, turkey tail is a potent source of beta glucans. Paul Stamets, a world-renowned American-based mycologist, tours the world preaching the benefits of turkey tail mushroom which he says helped his mother dramatically recover from breast cancer.

3. Maitake

Maitake mushroom aka “hen of the woods” or its scientific name, Grifola frondosa, is a gourmet mushroom used throughout Asia and the rest of the world as a succulent meat replacement. Maitake is a powerful adaptogen and shows significant promise for protecting against disease and illness. Adaptogens are a specific type of plant that improve the body’s response to stress, support the immune system, and defend against disease. Maitake provides an excellent source of beta glucans for supporting the immune system. Further, studies suggest that Maitake may be effective for fighting against cancer cells. (5) On top of that, research suggests that Maitake can help regulate blood sugar and cholesterol levels so eat up! (6, 7)

4. Chaga

You may have heard chaga called the “king of mushrooms” but it’s actually not a mushroom at all. Chaga is actually a sclerotium which is technically a combination of mushroom mycelium and birchwood. Despite this technicality, we can still say that chaga is a powerful mushroom for immunity. Research shows that chaga has specific anti-cancer qualities and is especially effective for reducing inflammation, blood sugar, and cholesterol. (8)

5. Lion's Mane

Lion’s mane is yet another mushroom with high levels of beta glucan which makes this fungus a powerful solution for supporting the immune system. If that wasn’t enough, lion’s mane is also a particularly potent solution for improving cognitive function as a nootropic. Studies show that lion’s mane stimulates something called nerve growth factor (NGF) which plays a special role in moderating symptoms of dementia, depression, autism, multiple sclerosis, and several other nervous system conditions. (9)

6. Cordyceps

Cordyceps is well known among athletes thanks to its benefits for improving energy, physical stamina, and endurance. Like most medicinal mushrooms, Cordyceps provides powerful immune system benefits as well. Studies show that this fungus is beneficial for fighting cancerous tumors, supporting kidney function, regulating the immune system, and even boosting libido. (10) To top it off, cordyceps also contains plenty of antioxidants for defending against free radical damage and effects of aging.

Other Mushrooms for Immunity

Although the mushrooms listed above are the best solutions for protecting your immune system, they aren’t the only choices you have at your disposal. Let’s take a look at two of the runners-up. Shiitake You can easily find shiitake mushrooms at almost any grocery store. They’re cultivated around the world and make tasty additions to plenty of dishes. Shiitake don’t just offer great flavor as a meat substitute: they also have powerful immune-supporting properties. Tremella Mushroom Tremella mushrooms also go by snow fungus. If you see them in the wild, you may even mistake them for ice due to their bright white and translucent appearance. These mushrooms are well known for their immune system support and gut health benefits. Not only that, but Tremella mushrooms are a powerful skincare solution that encourages a healthy glow.

Additional Health Benefits of Mushrooms

Mushrooms are good for so much more than just supporting your immune system. For starters, mushrooms contain powerful antioxidants for defending against free radical damage and oxidative stress. Antioxidant properties make mushrooms particularly beneficial for combatting the negative effects of aging. The antioxidants and other nutrients in mushrooms help reduce inflammation as well. Studies show that various mushroom varieties make excellent alternatives to NSAIDs like Motrin. Many over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen have negative effects on the liver and stomach so mushrooms offer a less risky solution for chronic pain. (11) To top it off, studies show that substances in medicinal mushrooms may help improve symptoms of anxiety and depression. Although magic mushrooms have gotten most of the attention, you can reap the mental health benefits of several non-psychedelic mushrooms such as lion’s mane. Finally, plenty of varieties of medicinal mushrooms also boast antiviral qualities and can support athletic performance. With so many options and unique flavors (and lack of flavor), there’s no reason not to add more mushrooms to your diet.

What to Watch Out For

As you browse mushroom extracts and powders, look for products made from the “whole fruiting body.” Doing this will ensure that your product contains the highest levels of beta-glucan for optimal immune and anti-inflammatory benefits. Generally, you want to avoid extracts and powders made from “mycelium on grain.” With mushroom products made from mycelium on grain, there’s a good chance your powder will contain mostly rice or the grain it was grown on rather than whole mushroom goodness. As always, avoid mushroom products that aren’t organic or haven’t been tested for contaminants.

The Bottom Line

Nature offers us plenty of solutions for supporting our immune systems and improving overall health. Mushrooms are some of the best natural sources of powerful beta glucans for stimulating Natural Killer cells, defending against free radical damage, and reducing inflammation. Mushroom powders and extracts generally have a very mild flavor so it’s extremely easy to include them in your favorite recipes and smoothies. Grab some powerful mushrooms today and enjoy the benefits!
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