A popular phrase that gets thrown around day-in and day-out during the colder seasons and is “Strengthening or boosting your immune system.” But what does that actually mean? And how is it accomplished? The standard answers are pretty simple: reduce stress, drink more water, eat more fruits and vegetables, take your vitamins. But let’s talk about next level nutrition; we are not just talking food but a superfood like a medicinal mushroom.
Move over oregano oil; make way for the powerhouses of immune-boosting super mushrooms. These functional mushrooms not only possess amazing properties that enhance the performance of the immune system but other incredible benefits such as enhancing weight management, boosting immune system, fighting against cancer, and aiding digestion. If you or a loved one have fallen prey to the cold or flu, fear not!
Here are 10 medicinal mushrooms to boost your immune system:
- Lion’s Mane
- Turkey Tail
- King Trumpet
- Agaricus Blazei
Related: Mushrooms: The Healing Fungus
What are Medicinal Mushrooms?
Mushrooms are peculiar life forms. They pop up seemingly overnight out of nowhere. Unlike plants, they don’t have flowers, fruits or seeds. Believe it or not, our genetic composition is closer to mushrooms than plants. For example, when mushrooms are exposed to sunlight, they produce vitamin D - just like us.
The ancient Egyptians believed eating mushrooms brought longevity and enhanced your health. Nowadays, modern scientists are discovering incredible properties and benefits of mushrooms. More than 100 species of mushrooms are now being studied for their healing effects.
Related: Exploring the Existence of Mushrooms
Medicinal mushrooms got their name from the way they were used to prevent and treat diseases. There are more than 2000 edible mushrooms on the planet but we’re going to discuss the most common medicinal mushrooms. Even the humble button mushroom is considered a medicinal mushroom.
Related: The Health Benefits of Mushroom
10 Mushroom Superfoods for Your Immune System
This mushroom contains bio-components whose effects may reverse many factors of immune senescence, which is the gradual deterioration of the immune system due to aging. Reishi enhances the innate immune cells.
It contains constituents such as polysaccharides, which stimulate macrophages (these guys recognize and gobble up foreign invaders like bacteria, viruses, and harmful fungi). They also help reduce the allergic reaction while strengthening digestive organs, protect the gut lining, lower inflammation, inhibit histamine release, and improve oxygen utilization and liver function.
- Prevents abnormal blood vessel formation
- Reduces risk of cognitive disorders (boosts concentration & focus)
- Lowers cholesterol
- Reduces the risk of chronic diseases and premature aging
- Effective in treating arthritis or gout
- Help prevent and treat cancer
- Detoxifies the body and boosts energy levels
- Relieves chronic respiratory conditions
All of the above items are usually associated with a compromised immune system.
(Note: Mushrooms can help boost your immune system but so can Sunwarrior's Immune Shield. Treat and protect your body! Learn more here.)
Much like it’s relative Reishi, Chaga has a plethora of benefits apart from immunity. Due to a number of nutrients, it contains numerous B vitamins, flavonoids, phenols, and enzymes. It is also one of the world’s densest sources of pantothenic acid – a vitamin needed not only by the immune system but by the adrenal glands that help us deal with stress, and shows some love to the digestive organs.
Chaga is high in wild-sourced minerals, particularly copper, calcium, potassium, manganese, zinc, and iron, all of which are necessary for maintaining optimal health. The real star of the show, however, is superoxide dismutase (SOD). Our body naturally produces this antioxidant enzyme which is a free radical scavenger acting as a “bodyguard” protecting against DNA damage and mutation, reducing the work needed from the immune system and therefore indirectly enhancing it.
Although Reishi showed an increased SOD by 1,400 units per gram, Chaga contained a staggering 35,000 units per gram. Take that, free radicals! Additionally, Chaga also helps to directly reduce inflammation in the body.
- Contains Beta D-Glucans (like reishi) – also regulates and enhances the immune system
- Phytosterols – lowers cholesterol
- Melanin – high antioxidant potential
- Polyphenols – reduces free radicals and cardiovascular diseases
- Polysaccharides – anti-viral
This mushroom is great for maintaining optimal immune function, increasing energy throughout the day, and as a pre-workout booster. It has been suggested that Cordyceps stimulates the immune system by increasing the number of white blood cells (WBCs)–the body’s first line of defense against various infections.
Apart from an increase of WBCs, it elevates T-helper cells, those natural killer cells, and macrophages, which we previously said manifest in response to increased cellular immunity fighting against infection, especially viral and fungal.
Cordyceps also have similar polysaccharides that fight against free radicals (remember SOD?) This mushroom also contains the ability to up-regulate the production of this amazing antioxidant along with another one called glutathione, which is also extremely powerful and beneficial against free radical damage as it helps detoxify the body.
- Inhibits growth of cancer cells
- Anti-inflammatory by suppressing the production of COX-2, NFkB, and TNFa (molecules present in cancer)
- Inhibits metastasis and spreading of some cancers
- Helps those who already have cancer and take chemo to have less fatigue and pain
- Anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties which help protect infections in cancer patients and those who recently had surgery
- Effective in relaxing and opening breathing passages and used in the treatment of upper respiratory tracts, such as pneumonia, chronic bronchitis, pulmonary emphysema, and tuberculosis
4. Lion’s Mane
Hericium Erinaceus is commonly known as Lion’s Mane due to its fur-like white appearance. Lion’s Mane is often used for a brain boost to help cognitive function and provide better mental clarity. The mushroom is packed with antioxidants that strengthen the immune system, similar to other medicinal mushrooms.
Lion’s Mane contains a unique property. It stimulates the production of bioprotein nerve growth factor (NFG) and myelin. Myelin is the insulation surrounding nerve fibers. Both myelin and NFG are vital for brain health. Research suggests that an imbalance in them can contribute to brain disorders like Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis.
- Improve memory
- Increase concentration
- Ease anxiety and irritability
5. Oyster Mushrooms
Oyster mushrooms are not only delicious but have a lot of health benefits. The oyster mushroom family contains several species. The traditional oyster mushroom known as Pleurotus ostreatus is the one you’re most likely to find in the grocery store. Other types of oyster mushrooms include king oyster, pink oyster, pearl oyster, and blue oyster.
Initial in-vitro research shows that the polysaccharides in Pleurotus ostreatus mushrooms, a type of oyster mushroom, inhibits natural killer cells in lung and breast cancer cells.
Oyster mushrooms are great for overall health and the immune system as they are packed with antioxidants, vitamin D, and iron. Like other medicinal mushrooms, oyster mushrooms contain beta-glucans which is one of the best foods on the planet for protecting your immune system against both long and short-term illnesses.
- Build strong bones
- Lower blood pressure
- Anti-inflammatory properties
- Protect against cardiovascular disease
Traditionally, shiitake mushrooms have been used to treat ailments like the common cold. A four-week clinical trial found that shiitake mushroom intake was associated with positive changes in various immune compounds. It’s thought that these changes may support improvements in gut health and anti-inflammatory response. As with other medicinal mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms contain anti-cancer properties.
- May support heart health
- Antibacterial and antiviral effects
- Strengthen bones
Maitake is a medicinal and culinary mushroom. Research suggests it has anti-cancer properties and immune-boosting effects. One of the main components of maitake mushrooms, proteoglycan, is associated with immune-stimulating effects.
Maitake mushrooms are a type of adaptogen. Adaptogens help the body to fight any physical or mental difficulties. They also help to rebalance systems in the body that are out of sync. Generally, this type of mushroom has an overall positive effect on the immune system as it is rich in antioxidants, beta-glucans, vitamins B and C, and fiber.
- May lower cholesterol and blood pressure
- May support weight loss
- Combat tumors
8. Turkey Tail
The turkey tail mushroom gets its name from its brown rings on the surface, similar to the tail feathers of a turkey. Traditionally, turkey tail mushrooms have been used to treat fungal infections and cancer. It contains powerful antioxidants that help support the immune system and fight off colds and infection.
Keeping a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut is associated with a strong immune system. Research suggests that turkey tail mushrooms may enhance gut health as it contains prebiotics that feed and nourish the good bacteria in your gut.
Turkey tail mushrooms contain Polysaccharide Peptide (PSP), a type of immune-boosting compound. In an eight-week study, participants consumed 3,600 mg of PSP extracted from turkey tail mushrooms every day. Researchers observed beneficial changes in the gut that suppressed harmful bacteria in the gut like E. coli and Shigella bacteria. These types of bacteria can cause health problems like diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps.
- Reduce inflammation
- May improve athletic performance
- Antibacterial properties
- May improve insulin resistance