Lion's Mane, Reishi, Chaga, and More: All About Functional Mushrooms
If you're here, you probably want to understand functional mushrooms a bit better, get some idea of whether or not they really work, or just boost your trivia night skills on the subject. Great! Read on, we're sure you'll learn something as we go through different kinds of mushrooms in general, different functional mushrooms and their uses, the science, and some history.
QUICK LINKS (Click to skip to that section)
Food vs. Hallucinogenic vs. Functional Mushrooms
Benefits of Functional Mushrooms
Quality vs. Quantity
Side Effects and Safety
Food vs. Hallucinogen vs. Functional Mushrooms: What are the differences?
Let’s start off with a clarification about the category of mushrooms we call functional mushrooms. Functional mushrooms are not usually what we’d call food mushrooms, and they’re not hallucinogenic mushrooms.
Here’s a brief overview of each of the categories:
There are 12,000 species of mushrooms worldwide, and a whopping 2,000 of those species are edible. When used for nutrition or flavor, we’d call those food mushrooms.
Maybe you’ve dabbled with different food mushrooms in your culinary pursuits. Popular varieties like portobello, chanterelle, or oyster mushrooms are common additions in cuisine due to their umami flavor profile. Even if you don’t like the taste, a naturopath, nutritionist, or another expert may recommend food mushrooms due to their fiber, vitamin, and mineral content. While not as potent in health benefits as functional mushrooms, the whole-body wellness properties of food mushrooms are highly revered and scientifically proven.
Though most popular mushrooms in this category are chosen for their nutritional and culinary uses, we can see our friend Maitake pop up in this Epicurious list of the 14 most popular mushrooms for recipes. So there’s definitely room for overlap between food and functional mushrooms, even if we consider them as different categories.
Hallucinogenic (Magic) Mushrooms:
These mushrooms are the kind that is typically not legal to sell in most places. None of Love Mushrooms’ supplements contain any psilocybin, the compound that creates a mind-altering effect in this class of mushrooms.
Functional Mushrooms - a quick overview:
Functional mushrooms are our specialty here at Love Mushrooms. We’re on a mission to help people function better without constantly needing to reach for pharmaceuticals or harsh stimulants, and that’s where functional mushrooms are so powerful.
Our favorite functional mushrooms are:
- Lion’s Mane,
- Turkey Tail,
- Cordyceps, and
These mushrooms are typically consumed for their health benefits beyond nutrition, helping you ensure your body functions to its highest potential.
You can look to Lion’s Mane for brain health, Reishi for all things calming, Chaga for inflammation, Turkey Tail for immune system support, Cordyceps for an energy boost, or Maitake for blood sugar regulation. And those are just a few of the many positive effects of each species.
If you’re skeptical, that’s great. We are too. The great news is that you don’t have to take our word for it.
The health benefits of these mushrooms are wide-ranging and have been studied critically. Studies have even shown that some functional mushrooms could prevent or reverse disease.
The bad news is that you can’t just run to the vegetable section of your local grocery store to get the benefits of functional mushrooms.
It’s important to consume functional mushrooms in a form where their beneficial bioactive compounds, such as beta-d glucans, can be more easily absorbed and used by the body. For the greatest benefit, functional mushrooms need to go through an extraction process where those active compounds are made accessible and transformed into a pure mushroom extract powder that’s easily added to capsules, foods, or drinks. (We prefer capsules for the ease of consumption for those on the go and those who don’t like the taste).
The bottom line here: Quality, effectiveness and ease of use all come into play to ensure you’re getting the maximum benefit from functional mushroom supplements.
There’s our crash course on functional mushrooms and what sets them apart. If you’re ready to get the benefits of these excellent supplements, you can click here. If you’d like to learn more by taking a deeper dive, that’s great! Just keep on reading.
Functional Mushrooms Research - What's Science Say?
The healing capabilities of mushrooms have been well documented in history for thousands of years. But now, as functional mushrooms claim superfood status, there’s been an uptake in scientific studies to back their touted health benefits. This move from ancient wisdom to applied therapeutic benefits has been easy for functional mushrooms because of their availability and vast pharmacological properties with few side effects.
Most research revolves around functional mushrooms’ bioactive beta-d glucans component, which has led experts to study and develop mushroom extract-based treatments for many conditions, including:
- cardiovascular disease,
- autoimmune diseases,
- viruses, and
- Alzheimer’s disease.
With their therapeutic properties both overarching to the entire category and individualized to certain species, functional mushrooms now have the evidence-based research needed to merge tradition with modern-day science.
These studies highlight quality production and extraction as critical aspects to ensure that the therapeutic benefits of mushroom extracts are reached. If this is done right, experts are hopeful functional mushrooms will soon become a base for less toxic pharmaceuticals — and reduce the number of negative side effects experienced. Until then, quality functional mushroom extracts are supported as a low-risk, high potential upside way to supplement one’s daily health and wellness regimen.
Benefits of Functional Mushrooms
As noted above, one of the most attractive qualities of functional mushrooms is their ability to provide whole-body support without side effects. Just like pharmaceutical medications, pure mushroom extract can have multiple impacts on your body. But, unlike those pharmaceuticals, functional mushrooms have fewer adverse side effects reported — making them a lower-risk option for improving health outcomes.
As part of an overall attempt at improving one’s health, various functional mushrooms have been shown to be mood-boosting, cancer-fighting, and immune-strengthening powerhouses. These qualities, in tandem with a growing awareness of how pharmaceuticals and stimulants can pose risks, have fueled the rise in popularity of functional mushroom products. While we recommend that everyone take medications prescribed by their doctors (we were founded by a doctor, after all), we believe that if a natural cure is just as effective as a pharmaceutical, it’s the better bet.
For some benefits of functional mushrooms — like decreasing overall inflammation or turning back the clock on aging — it’s important to take a high-quality supplement every day. Many users report the need to take functional mushrooms for a while to pass through a ‘build-up’ period before the full effects become obvious. (One of the reasons we have a 30-day guarantee.)
For other applications, you can use functional mushrooms as needed. You can try a functional mushroom like Reishi when you need to get a good night’s sleep, increasing your energy the next day to close all the rings on your Apple Watch.
Quality Mushrooms: What’s the difference?
Some functional mushrooms, like Lion’s Mane, can be consumed in their natural form. But to get the highest doses of the beneficial compounds in functional mushrooms — beta-d glucans, triterpenes, and sterols — to be absorbed by our bodies, they must first be extracted from the mushroom’s cell walls. Without this purposeful extraction, our body’s natural processes aren’t able to process this tough material and reap the maximum health benefits.
When choosing a quality functional mushroom supplement, it’s important to understand how the mushrooms were produced, what extraction method was used, and how you’ll be ingesting them.
(Interested in our extraction process and the quality of Love Mushrooms? Dive into our quality guarantee here.)
Mushrooms have two main parts:
- The whole fruiting body
- The mycelium.
The whole fruiting body refers to the visible mushroom that grows out of a tree, fallen logs, or on the ground. It’s where the highest concentrations of active compounds are found, and this fruiting body has historically been used for therapeutic health benefits. Think of the whole fruiting body as the blossoming part of a flower.
The mycelium is a mushroom’s root system, and it’s not visible from the surface. While the mycelium root systems are intricate and valuable, they’re easier and cheaper to produce than the whole fruiting body.
It’s the production equivalent of growing a flower stem then harvesting it, but not waiting patiently for the flower to blossom.
This is why some manufacturers choose to grow mass quantities of mycelium on wheat, oats, brown rice, or other grains rather than waiting on the fruiting body to blossom. When you see “mycelium on grain” or “myceliated brown rice” as an ingredient on functional mushroom supplements, it means the product contains extracts from mycelium grown out of grains and no actual mushrooms were brought to fruit. These supplements will all taste and smell the same, contain very few beneficial active compounds, and do not reveal levels of beta-d glucans on labels.
Once the whole fruiting body has been collected, extraction processes can begin.
There are three main types of extraction methods: Hot water, alcohol, and dual extraction using both methods. Hot water extraction is the preferred method for both quality functional mushroom supplements and scientific studies as it gets the most beneficial compounds out of the mushroom as possible. Alcohol and dual extraction methods are not recommended as they can alter and lessen the amount of the bio-available compounds available in mushroom extracts.
In hot water extraction, mushroom fruit bodies are simmered for a few hours and then the liquid is spray-dried into a finely milled powder. This adaptable mushroom extract powder can then be encapsulated or added to foods, teas, coffees, or other drinks. Capsules are the easiest way to ingest pure functional mushroom extracts and avoid tasting the bitter earthiness some mushroom species have. Quality mushroom extract supplements should always list the percentage of active compounds (beta-d glucans and triterpenes) available after extraction on a product’s label.
Lion’s Mane, Reishi, Chaga, and More: Most Popular Functional Mushrooms
Need help focusing? A jolt of creativity? Lion’s Mane is your go-to for all things brain health. This rare mushroom has been used by Buddhist monks for millennia to increase mental clarity during meditation. Today’s research has taken the Lion’s Mane’s history of brain-boosting powers and applied it to neurological conditions.
Scientists have discovered Lion’s Mane can positively influence the body’s production of its nerve growth factor (NGF), which has applications in treating neurodegenerative diseases like dementia. Lion’s Mane has also been explored as a treatment for depression, minus the often-debilitating side effects of antidepressants. While this refers to daily use, Lion’s Mane can just as easily be tried on an acute basis to help you gain the concentration and clarity to finish a big project. While the intake frequency that works best for you might differ, the science of this powerhouse brain mushroom doesn’t change.
Reishi is one of the most popular and most-studied functional mushrooms. In Asia, it’s highly respected for its spiritual, body health, and longevity benefits. Reishi’s health benefits were first mentioned in a Chinese book of herbs dating back to 200 AD. Today’s research has focused on Reishi’s impressive abilities to boost your immune system, fight cancer cells, and reduce inflammation. More recently, you may have heard of Reishi’s abilities to help you sleep, relax, and reduce anxiety. This is because Reishi is an adaptogen — a substance that helps your body to adapt to stress and become more resilient. Try taking it in the evening to promote a good night’s rest without inflicting any drowsiness in the morning.
Chaga is a functional mushroom on the rise. The list of Chaga’s benefits is ever-growing because it is an excellent source of antioxidants — maybe this is one of the reasons it was traditionally brewed as a tea. Currently, Chaga is known for slowing the aging process, lowering inflammation, and slowing the growth of certain types of tumorous cancers. It is also being studied as a helpful tool in digestive health, especially with assisting your liver in processing cholesterol.
Turkey Tail is a functional mushroom with an upgrade. It gets an advantage because it produces a powerful compound called polysaccharide-K (PSK), which stimulates the immune system. This has led Turkey Tail to become one of the most-researched functional mushrooms as a potential cancer treatment. In fact, it’s already being used in Japan to help patients live longer when combined with chemotherapy. This is the kind of approach we love at Love Mushrooms - combining holistic, natural treatment options with the best, most-studied practices in modern medicine.
Need a performance boost? Cordyceps is your answer to help stimulate your energy, athletic performance and libido. It helps your body use oxygen more efficiently and enhances blood flow, which is good for all kinds of endurance workouts. Cordyceps has been used in Chinese and Tibetan medicine as a “longevity-promoting herb”. Because of its energizing nature (some people say it’s similar to caffeine), you might want to avoid taking Cordyceps at night.
Maitake translates to “dancing mushroom” in Japanese and has been traditionally used to support digestion. This unique mushroom can help to regulate your gut’s microflora. This makes sense, as Maitake is packed full beta-d glucans, which hold incredible immune system-enhancing properties. Remember: Emerging research shows the gut is an important part of your immune system and is even increasingly linked with mental health. Maitake has also been shown to benefit blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels.
Side Effects and Safety of Functional Mushroom Supplements
Most side effects reported are normal for any natural health product: mushrooms may interact with medication you're taking, and there could be the chance of allergic reaction.
Here are some general quotes from research about the side effects of our mushrooms.
Lion's Mane: “Lastly, except for four subjects who dropped out of the study due to abdominal discomfort, nausea, and skin rash, no other adverse events were reported.”
This quote is from a study over over 60 seniors, and the year-long study leaves a good amount of room for these symptoms to come from other sources. But we're noting it.
We were also able to dig up a single report that purported an allergic reaction to Lion's Mane required a hospital visit.
Cordyceps: In several studies of Cordyceps, no adverse reactions were noted. Some studies noted a small portion of the study groups experiencing nausea, rash, headache, or throat discomfort.
“Eight studies [21, 23–28, 35] reported on adverse events. One study  reported that two patients who received CS treatment had dry mouth and slightly abdominal distension, and one patient in the control group had loss of appetite. Another study  reported that two patients who received CS treatment had headache, abdominal distension, and felt uncomfortable in throat, and two patients in control group had abdominal distension and rash. No causality assessment was made for the adverse events. In the other studies, no adverse events were found.”
Reishi: ”After more than forty years of clinical use, (Reishi's) efficacy, safety and long‐term tolerability have been recognized by neurologists.” Source.
Also noted: “One study recorded minimal side effects, including nausea and insomnia. No significant haematological or hepatological toxicity was reported.”
Chaga: In some publications, it's suggested that Chaga not be experimented with by those who have blood sugar complications or autoimmune diseases, due to its anti-inflammatory and blood sugar-affecting properties.
Maitake: Generally well-tolerated. Minimal reports of side effects, and those minimal reports seem to be allergic reaction or an upset stomach.
Turkey Tail: Some minimal reports of bloat or stomach issues when taking Turkey Tail. As this mushroom has been used and studied in relation to cancer, there's a lot of research to pull from.
“Those taking (Turkey Tail) report few side effects. It is safe to use in conjunction with chemotherapy agents, radiation, and other supplements. Since this is a member of the fungus family anyone with a mold or allergy to mushrooms should use caution with this supplement." Source.
There you have it, folks
Functional mushrooms are a low-risk, scientifically proven alternative or addition to pharmaceuticals and traditional wellness treatments — all while providing additional health benefits. Using functional mushrooms is an easy, low-downside way to support your daily wellness routine and get the most of life.
And that’s why we created Love Mushrooms: To help you function better.
Questions? Comments? Concerns? We’re here to chat!
Email Carla, our friendly-as-heck head of customer service: firstname.lastname@example.org.