Updated: Dec 3, 2021
Medicinal mushrooms are powerful tools for optimizing health. Choosing the right mushrooms for you, dosage, and potency are key to making the most of these tools.
Read on for how we use the different medicinal mushroom species based on Traditional Chinese Medicine, modern research, and our personal and clinical experience.
Lion's mane, Hericium erinaceus, an edible and medicinal mushroom. Does its growth pattern remind you of the shape of a brain?
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Lion's Mane is my personal favorite medicinal mushroom. Traditional Chinese Medicine use of Lion's mane focused on improving digestion while modern research and usage has focused on it's chemistry that increases Nerve Growth Factor and it's potential to improve cognition and memory as well as restore damaged nerves. The traditional use to improve digestion may be directly related to improving nerve function in the gut and thereby influencing the migrating motor complex (MMC) of the intestines. Lion's mane is a delicious edible mushroom, and can often be found at the Boise coop and farmers market. Preclinical results suggest that Lion's mane may reduce amyloid plaques in Alzheimers and improve cognition. We recommend the use of Lion's mane for anyone wanting to improve cognitive health and memory, for patients with nerve damage and neuropathy, for patients who have experienced traumatic brain injury (TBI), stroke, Bell's palsy, and any conditions with a neurological component. Dosage: 1-2 grams/day for maintenance and up to 4 grams/day in more severe conditions.
5 Defenders is a combination of Turkey Tail, Shiitake, Reishi, Chaga, and Maitake. What many medicinal mushrooms share are compounds like Beta-Glucans which stimulate immuno-modulation. Beta-Glucans are well known and well researched for their ability to stimulate immune function and increase resistance to infectious diseases as well as promote anti-tumor activity. The anti-tumor effects are the result of an improved immune response. A healthy immune response seeks and destroys abnormal cells including benign and malignant cancer cells. Tumors develop when the healthy immune system clean-up crew is not finding and destroying abnormal cells at an adequate rate. Medicinal mushrooms like Turkey Tail are some of the most researched natural medicines in the fight against cancer, and are useful in prevention, accompanying conventional cancer treatment, and to help prevent recurrence after treatment. Modern research shows increased production of T cells and NK cells with administration of mushrooms like Turkey Tail, Reishi, Chaga, and Shiitake. Immuno-modulation refers to balancing the immune response. In many cases this means turning up the dial on immune activity, but compounds like Beta-Glucans have also been shown to be useful in allergies, asthma, and auto-immune disease where they can also calm down an over-reactive immune response. It seems too good to be true, how can that be? An immunologist could answer better, but I'll say it's the wisdom of nature, and the proof is in the research and clinical outcomes.
Dosage: 1-2 grams/day for maintenance and up to 4 grams/day in more severe conditions.
Note! TCM wisdom and my personal and clinical experience suggest that mushrooms like those in 5 Defenders can be taken consistently and long term to increase immune health, but it's best to pause them during acute colds and flus. When we feel bad during a cold and flu, it's from our immune response fighting a pathogen, and taking these will tend to stimulate more immune activity during acute viral infections, which can make our symptoms more miserable. In this case the immuno-modulation doesn't turn the immune activity down like it can in allergic responses - because the pathogen does need to be destroyed, unlike grass pollens which pose no actual risk to our organism. Chinese Herbal Medicine treatments like Xiao Chai Hu Tang and Ge Gen Tang are more effective at helping our body defeat the pathogen and feel better simultaneously in acute infections.
Cordyceps is a favorite among athletes, asthmatics, and anyone who wants to breathe better. Known as Dong Chong Xia Cao in TCM, Cordyceps tonifies Lung Qi and Kidney Yang and Essence. Modern research has demonstrated significant increases in VO2max among participants taking Cordyceps for 3 weeks or longer. That's a fancy way to say it helps you breathe better and increases cardiorespiratory fitness. Cordyceps is useful for improving lung function as well as sexual function. The TCM categorization as a Kidney Yang and Essence tonic relates to its impact on sexual function (part of the Kidney organ system in TCM). Since we know that Cordyceps improves respiratory function we can see the connection as nitric oxide is produced in the paranasal sinuses and nitric oxide increases blood flow to smooth muscle and erectile tissue in men and women. Like many of the medicinal mushrooms, Cordyceps has also demonstrated anti-tumor and immuno-modulating effects. In chronic lung conditions with the presence of phlegm, Cordyceps should be used along with phlegm resolving Chinese herbs. If improving sexual function is the primary goal, Cordyceps should be combined with a custom Chinese herbal prescription. Dosage: 1-2 grams/day.
Reishi, Ling Zhi, is categorized in TCM as an herb that Calms the Spirit which tonifies Qi and Blood, tonifies Heart Qi and Blood, and tonifies Lung Qi and transforms phlegm. Modern usage focuses on Reishi's ability to help support a healthy stress response, improve sleep, reduce inflammation in the respiratory tract, stabilize blood sugar levels, and for its liver protective effects. Reishi is frequently used in modern TCM formulas for asthma, alongside formulas like Ting Li Da Zao Xie Fei Tang. In my experience, Reishi's ability to gently support energy while maintaining a state of relaxation is unique and especially useful in today's modern tendency towards frenetic, caffeine driven energy expenditure that ultimately results in deep exhaustion and chronic fatigue. Many ancient TCM doctors revered this herb and described its ability to increase intelligence, spiritual capacity, and - basically - make one immortal. If we take their usage of the word immortal to mean "live longer" then I'd say they were spot on. Dosage: 1-2 grams/day. Be aware that higher doses of Reishi in some cases can lower blood sugar levels to uncomfortable ("hangry") levels.
Tremella, Bai Mu Er, is an edible and medicinal mushroom known in TCM for its ability to nourish Lung and Stomach Yin, nourish body fluids, and nourish the skin. Today Tremella is most popularly used as a beauty mushroom for its ability to support healthy skin. Bai Mu Er is used clinically to treat dry cough and coughs to due "consumption" which historically was primarily indicating tuberculosis. It is used in soups and Chinese desert dishes with rock sugar and fruits. Personally, I have not yet used Tremella for its skin rejuvenating properties, but it stands to reason. In TCM, the skin is considered an extension of the Lungs and herbs that nourish Lung fluids will nourish the skin. Living in a hot, dry climate such as Boise is inherently hard on the skin and the Lung Yin and body fluids, so I think this herb has lots of potential here. Research has demonstrated anti-tumor and cholesterol-lowering effects of Tremella. Dosage: 1-2 grams/day and up to 4 grams/day.
Chaga is known, like many of the medicinal mushrooms, for it's anti-tumor and immuno-modulatory effects. Additionally, research and usage of Chaga focus on its potent antioxidant activity and its ability to support digestive health through gastroprotective and inflammation regulating properties. Dosage: 1-2 grams/day.
Still wondering which medicinal mushrooms would be the best fit for you specifically? Ask us at your next visit. Schedule here.
Be well, Sean Dugan L.Ac.