Do Functional Mushrooms Actually Work?
There are a lot of claims made about functional mushrooms. In this industry, it's easy to find brands and influencers making claims that range from curing disease, to instantly killing cancer cells, to making you lift heavier weights more easily. Complicating the matter further is the fact that brands can more-or-less repost any claims their customers make on their behalf without fear of being called out.
This all begs the question: what's the truth? Like, the real truth.
Because while we love hearing user stories and learning more about the millennia-long history of functional mushrooms, we love science way more.
On this comprehensive page, we’ve reviewed claims made and the main questions we receive about functional mushrooms and checked the research to ensure you know exactly how Love Mushrooms can potentially support your health.
The good news is that functional mushrooms show promise and/or effectiveness when studied, with only a few tall tales continuing to make their way into other brands' marketing and let consumers down.
Whether you’re looking for improved focus, mood, sleep, or immune support, there's research out there to prove functional mushrooms are a low-risk, high-potential option to help you function better. Read on to see exactly what that research says (and doesn't say) about each of our six functional mushrooms.
Disclaimers before we start:
- As usual, we're going to note that the below isn't medical advice. Talk to your doctor about your health.
We've leaned towards under-representing the efficacy of functional mushrooms because we try to be as ethical as possible. We're a brand. You're a human. Let's not pretend we don't have something to sell you. So while we aren't discounting millennia of anecdotal evidence and user reports, we can't in good conscience call those claims strong. Where relevant, we've noted that type of thing.
Lion’s Mane (also known as Hericenone Erinaceus or Yamabushitake):
Lion’s Mane has been reported to positively affect a wide range of brain and body functions. If you need help remembering what Lion’s Mane can be helpful for, try rhyming mane and brain. (See, it's already stimulating your brain!)
Reports and claims generally suggest that Lion's Mane can:
- Improve focus, memory, and concentration
- Aid in protecting cognitive function (general brain health/longevity)
- Improve mild depression and anxiety symptoms
- Protect against ulcers and support general gut health
- Potentially reduce heart disease
- Reduce inflammation and oxidative stress
- Kill cancer cells in certain experiments
Read on to learn what research says!
Q: Does Lion’s Mane stimulate the body’s nerve growth factor (NGF)?
A: NGF is responsible for the maintenance of the nervous system, including the growth of new nerve cells and maintaining existing nerve cells. NGF has applications all over the body but largely impacts the brain. Scientific studies have shown “Hericenone E was able to stimulate NGF secretion which was two-fold higher than that of the positive control.” This study was done with rat cells. More research into whether this translates to humans is still needed, but it does give a little extra validity to the potential claim that Lion's Mane can help with brain health.
Q: Can Lion’s Mane boost my short-term memory and help me concentrate?
A: The research says "heck yes!" This is one area where Lion’s Mane’s anecdotal history has led to many double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials. In one study, daily consumption of Lion’s Mane improved the cognitive improvement of dementia patients without any reported side effects. Once the study participants stopped taking Lion’s Mane, their cognitive function decreased again.
Q: Is Lion’s Mane able to treat depression and anxiety?
A: Research has shown that Lion’s Mane has antidepressant-like effects in male mice. For us two-legged, tail-less beings, the scientific research isn’t there to support these claims yet.
P.S. - If you’ve been prescribed medications for depression or anxiety, we always recommend you take them as directed by your physician. Love Mushrooms was founded by a doctor who loves both science and the benefits of functional mushrooms.
Q: Can Lion's Mane help with stomach ulcers, Crohn's, and gut health?
A: Some research suggests this is a strong possibility. While there have been multiple animal trials relevant to the question, human trials are limited. However, those animal trials showed a decrease in both ulcers and ulcer-causing bacteria.
Some studies of mixed-variety functional mushrooms (which included a heavy dose of Lion's Mane) showed a strong reduction in ulcerative colitis symptoms, but a similar study in Crohn's patients did not deliver similar results.
Q: What's up with Lion's Mane and cancer cells?
A: We say this with some degree of hesitancy: the findings of research into Lion's Mane's effects on cancer and cancer cells are pretty interesting. In marketing Lion's Mane, this has previously been sensationalized - the studies often quoted in this regard are test tube and mouse experiments.
Another study didn't show the same results.
If you're looking to add Lion's Mane to your doctor-prescribed cancer treatment regimen, there probably isn't much harm. Love Mushrooms sells organic, high-quality functional mushroom extracts. The odds of negative side effects are super low. But, since we can't call this conclusive, we encourage you to look into it further yourself and talk to a doctor.
Q: Can Lion's Mane reduce inflammation and act as an antioxidant?
A: It seems that way. One experiment found that out of all mushroom types tested, Lion's Mane showed the fourth-best antioxidant properties. (Reishi was #1). So if you're looking strictly for an antioxidant functional mushroom, Reishi may be the one for you. If you'd like an antioxidant that does the other stuff we've talked about above, Lion's Mane may be great.
The evidence for anti-inflammation is pretty strong across many animal experiments. More studies are needed in humans.
Q: Can Lion's Mane reduce the risk of heart disease?
A: This one seems more related to the reduction of factors that can come in tandem with heart disease - like fat levels or the presence of triglycerides. These experiments were animal-only, and we don't feel confident in this arena - so you won't find this claim on our Lion's Mane product page.
Reishi (also known as Ganoderma Lucidum or Lingzhi)
Reishi is a staple in Eastern medicine with a 2,000-plus-year history of promoting longevity and health. Reishi is still prescribed across Asia by physicians to this day.
Reports and claims generally suggest that Reishi can:
- Boost the immune system and improve gut health
- Fight fatigue and improve energy
- Act as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory
- Alleviate stress
- Improve sleep
- Improve focus
- Help boost natural "killer cell" production
- Improve cardiovascular health
- Aid in weight loss and blood sugar management
- Improve mood
Read on to learn what research says!
Q: Is Reishi known to improve the function of the immune system? What about gut health?
A: Much animal, human, and in-vitro (test tube) research has been done to determine Reish’s effect on the immune system. Overall, it’s shown Reishi does positively encourage immune responses with applications in cancer, HIV, and autoimmune disease treatments. But if you’re asking if Reishi will help you fight a cold or flu, the answer lies within Reishi’s ability to function as a prebiotic in the gut. The gut contains 70-80% of your body’s immune cells and Reishi can encourage your gut to have the correct balance of bacterial flora to ensure it’s functioning well.
Q: So does Reishi fight cancer then? Does it help increase natural "killer cells"?
A: So far, research has shown that Reishi has anti-tumor properties. Most studies focus on one component of Reishi — its polysaccharides, as anti-cancer treatments. There have been Reishi studies on advanced-stage cancer patients where improvements in many factors were noted, including natural killer cells. In particular, it’s been used in treatments for breast, prostate, and gastric cancers. It’s safe to say the research is both promising and ongoing, but as with Lion's Mane, we're not willing to call it conclusive.
Q: Can Reishi help me feel less fatigued?
A: 100%. Reishi is known for its ability to help you feel less exhausted. A randomized, double-blind, and placebo-controlled study found that taking a daily oral Reishi supplement for eight weeks significantly reduced fatigue and increased well-being. No side effects were reported, either.
Q: Is Reishi a treatment option for type 2 diabetes?
A: A study of 71 patients with type 2 diabetes showed Reishi “was efficacious and safe in lowering blood glucose concentrations”. This study also noted Reishi was well-tolerated by participants. As always, check with your doctor to see if Reishi is the right treatment option for you.
Q: Is Reishi high in antioxidants? Is it anti-inflammatory?
Q: What about Reishi and sleep?
A: Reishi is super, super commonly reported as having a tranquilizing effect that helps users sleep. WebMD and other well-known publications reference sleep as one of the core use cases for Reishi. Other functional mushrooms brands advertise Reishi's ability to help us sleep.
One article, a mouse study, concluded: "(Reishi) promotes sleep through a gut microbiota-dependent and serotonin-associated pathway in mice."
Is that definitive? No. It's not. However, this is one of those things where 2,000 years of anecdotal evidence, endless user testimonials, continued use of Reishi by physicians, and almost non-existent side effects have led us to leave 'sleep' on our list of Reishi's potential benefits.
Q: Can Reishi improve my mood and mental health? How about depression and anxiety?
A: We actually had this listed as inconclusive until Carla did more digging into the studies. There is actually a great human trial on this. A quote from that trial: "...although a distinct trend of improved levels of happiness and satisfaction with life and reduced depression were evident at the end of treatment compared to the baseline in the GL group."
Additionally, Reishi has been show to reduce stress in studies, another trigger for improving depression.
Q: Can Reishi help me with focus?
A: We don't know. This seems to be one of those things mostly claimed by the supplement companies, including one Gwyneth Paltrow endorses. We aren't going to call that good science, and can't in good conscience claim Reishi will for sure help you focus.
Could the fatigue-reducing effects of Reishi, which are far more documented, help with focus? Maybe. Probably. When you're less fatigued, you can focus more - much like you may feel less depressed and anxious. But as of the time of writing, we've chosen to remove 'improves focus' from our Reishi product description.
Maitake (also known as Grifola Frondosa or Dancing Mushroom)
Maitake grows in the northeastern parts of Japan and the U.S on oak trees. In Japanese, Maitake is called the “dancing mushroom.”
Packed full of incredible immunity-boosting properties, this unique mushroom also helps with the production of important cells that fight bacteria. Reports and claims generally suggest that Maitake can:
- Stimulate the production of T-cells and NK-cells, possibly treating cancer
- Boost the immune system
- Reduce cholesterol
- Help with diabetes via blood sugar management
- Provide anti-inflammatory effects
- Act as a strong antioxidant
Read on to learn what research says!
Q: Is Maitake a cancer treatment?
A: Many studies focus on Maitake as a cancer treatment as it is well-known in the scientific and medical communities for its anti-cancer activity. It has been studied in both mice and human cells, especially concerning breast cancer. Most notably, it is recognized as a supportive natural treatment for cancer patients because of its lack of side effects and positive effect on the immune system.
However, much like with any other mushroom we sell, we're going to direct you straight to your doctor for anything cancer. Because that's the correct thing to do.
Q: Does Maitake help with diabetes?
A: Some animal studies have shown that Maitake can lower blood sugar, an indicator that it could be useful for the same in humans.
Q: Does Maitake help with cholesterol?
A: It very well could. This study on mice found a correlation between reduction in cholesterol/artery health and Maitake.
Q: Is Maitake an antioxidant?
A: The evidence strongly supports this claim. Free radical oxidants are great for the human body, causing all sorts of problems. This very interesting study concluded that: "...various extracts from G. frondosa (Maitake) investigated in this study display potent antioxidative properties."
Q: Is Maitake an anti-inflammatory?
A: The evidence supports this claim. In one animal study that observed multiple different effects of Maitake, including blood pressure and insulin levels, "TNFa levels decreased in all four test groups suggesting a lessening of the inflammatory state."
Turkey Tail (also known as Trametes Versicolor, Yun-Zhi, and Kawaratake)
The people of China have used this legendary mushroom for centuries to improve overall health. It got its name from the tan and brown rings on its surface that look like the tail of a turkey. As one of the more potent antioxidants available on the alternative health market, Turkey Tail is also valued for its polysaccharide-K (PSK) content and capacity to boost immune function.
Reports and claims generally suggest that Turkey Tail can:
- Deliver polysaccharide-K (PSK), a potential anti-cancer compound
- Improve your immune function and gut health
- Act as a powerful antioxidant
Read on to learn what research says!
Q: Is Turkey Tail an antioxidant?
A: Yes, in a study on human white blood cells, Turkey Tail was shown to be a strong antioxidant and support cells' immune function, toxin removal, and strength. It is important to note that in this study, antioxidants were found in the extracts of the mushroom’s fruiting body only — exactly what’s inside of Love Mushroom capsules!
Q: Can Turkey Tail be used as a cancer treatment?
A: Turkey Tail is another functional mushroom known for its potential applications in cancer treatments. Its unique polysaccharide krestin (PSK) has been used in conjunction with anti-tumor medications to treat breast cancer cells in mice. It has also been studied on human breast, cervical, liver, and prostate cancer cells. Turkey Tail is commonly used in cancer treatments in China and Japan where one study showed “there was a 9% absolute reduction in 5-year mortality, resulting in one additional patient alive for every 11 patients treated” when Turkey Tail was used.
Like we've said before: you should talk to your doctor wherever cancer is concerned.
Q: Does Turkey Tail have any gut health benefits?
A: Yes! Turkey Tail, just like Reishi, can function as a prebiotic and enhance gut health. One clinical trial saw that taking Turkey Tail benefitted the gut microbiome of people on antibiotics. As emerging evidence continues to confirm, the gut biome is very connected to the rest of the body and brain, further suggesting overall health benefits could be unlocked with Turkey Tail.
Cordyceps (also known as Cordyceps Militaris)
Cordyceps is known for its capacity to improve energy levels. It can also increase the oxygen levels of the blood, increasing vitality and stamina.
Reports and claims generally suggest that Cordyceps can:
- Improve athletic performance, endurance, and even heavy lifts
- Hasten muscle recovery
- Supercharges your NK-cells
- Enhance your body’s antioxidant system
- Aid in blood sugar health
- Increases your energy levels
- Promote cardiovascular health
- Reduce inflammation
Read on to learn what research says!
Q: Does Cordyceps increase exercise performance?
A: Well, this study in mice seems to think so! It showed that by ingesting Cordyceps, mice were able to swim for longer and have less muscle fatigue. Luckily for us, there have also been studies in humans to prove Cordyceps is a great supplement to improve your exercise performance. A study of 28 adults showed a full-body effect in high-intensity workouts after supplementing with Cordyceps for three weeks.
Additionally, studies have shown that Cordyceps militaris - the type in Love Mushrooms extract capsules - can help with ATP regeneration. If you lift heavy weights, as the co-author of this piece did before he hurt his back lifting heavy weights, you'll know how important ATP is as a quasi 'fuel' source. In the same way your body burns carbohydrates when running sprints, your body uses the ATP pathway when you're trying to deadlift 2x your body weight.
Q: Is Cordyceps known for being anti-aging?
A: Because Cordyceps is well-known in China as a herb of longevity, its anti-aging benefits have been studied by the scientific community. One study on mice found antioxidant effects on the mitochondrial cells after being treated with Cordyceps. More research is needed to fully understand Cordyceps’ anti-aging potential.
Q: What cancer-fighting properties does Cordyceps have?
A: Cordyceps has been investigated as a tumor inhibitor. More research is still needed on how Cordyceps can be used in cancer treatments.
Q: Can Cordyceps be used as a treatment for diabetes?
A: There are some very interesting studies surrounding Cordyceps and the treatment of diabetes in mice. One study found the “fruiting body of Cordyceps has a potential to be the functional food for diabetes” (The fruiting body is what is found in Love Mushrooms' supplements). Another study in mice found Cordyceps able to reduce blood sugar levels and increase insulin sensitivity — without any weight gain.
Q: Does Cordyceps support the cardiovascular system?
A: Although the research is limited, Cordyceps was noted to reduce cholesterol levels in hamsters. High cholesterol is a risk factor for stroke and heart attack in humans, so the potential correlation could prove more concrete with further studies.
Chaga (also known as Inonotus Obliquus, Clinker Polypore, Birch Canker Polypore, Black Mass, or Cinder Conk)
The Chaga mushroom is rapidly becoming a popular health-boosting supplement. This mushroom grows on birch trees in cold climates.
On top of that, reports and claims generally suggest that Chaga can:
- Help reduce “bad”, or LDL, cholesterol
- Provide anti-aging effects
- Fight harmful free radicals and reduce oxidative stress
- Act as an immunity-boosting agent
- Reduce inflammation
- Potentially fight cancer
Read on to learn what research says!
Q: What are Chaga’s cancer-fighting properties?
A: Chaga’s cancer-fighting abilities are two-fold. First, a study in mice revealed Chaga to be a game-changing “immune enhancer during chemotherapy”. Secondly, Chaga has also been studied for its ability to slow the growth of tumors and other cancer cells.
Like we've said any other time cancer has been mentioned in this article: please consult your doctor. Cancer is serious business.
Q: Is Chaga an anti-inflammatory?
A: In general, Chaga is known as an anti-inflammatory. Research is narrow but there is evidence in mice that Chaga could be beneficial in the treatment of inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis.
Q: Is Chaga an antioxidant?
A: The evidence is strong here. Not only is Chaga constantly touted as an antioxidant-rich superfood, studies back this up. Here's a quote from just one of those studies: "Cells pretreated with Chaga extract showed over 40% reduction in DNA fragmentation compared with the positive control (100 micromol H2O2 treatment). Thus, Chaga mushroom treatment affords cellular protection against endogenous DNA damage produced by H2O2."
Q: Does Chaga lower blood sugar levels? What about cholesterol levels?
A: Studies in rats and mice have established the use of Chaga as a potential treatment for diabetes. Treatments with Chaga in mice were shown to reduce body weight, fasting blood glucose, and insulin levels. Overall, the conclusion is Chaga “may provide a valuable therapeutic option against diabetes”.
An additional study on diabetic mice noted that at the same time as reducing blood sugar levels, Chaga also improved the mice’s cholesterol levels.
The biggest takeaway…
After compiling all this research to take the guesswork out of functional mushrooms for you, we noticed one major similarity between Lion’s Mane, Reishi, Maitake, Turkey Tail, Cordyceps, and Chaga — Science shows functional mushrooms are multi-beneficial without harmful side effects… if any side effects are reported at all. We call that a win.
An even bigger win is that we've done our absolute best to price our high-quality functional mushrooms in a way that gives many more people access.