There seems to be more and more chatter about the health benefits of mushrooms lately. And I have no problem with the additional interest in mushrooms!

As long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with these phenomenal fungi!!

I can also guarantee my Mom will cringe when reading this article. Sadly, she’s not a fan…

It’s already established mushrooms are good for you. And additional health benefits of mushrooms that are coming to light are piling up!

It’s very exciting (to me)! So let’s take a closer look and determine just how good mushrooms are for us.

Glynn’s Guide:
Takeaways That Won’t Fail You

  • When shopping for powdered mushroom supplements, make sure it contains both the fruiting body and the mycelium.
  • Most gourmet and medicinal mushrooms need to be cooked before consumption.
  • The indigestible fiber makeup of the cell walls, (chitin and beta-glucan) have positive benefits for both our health and the health of our gut’s microbiota.
  • The common theme I found that continued to surface was the use of medicinal mushrooms as cancer prevention and as part of a cancer treatment arsenal.
  • Unless you’re an expert in mushrooms, DON’T consume mushrooms you find in the wild.
  • If you haven’t explored gourmet mushrooms, you owe it to yourself to try them with an open mind. They’re all very different.

Nutritional Makeup of Mushrooms

Nutrition Benefits Mushrooms

First, it’s worthwhile to mention that most mushrooms are high in protein. In fact, most are a great source of all essential amino acids.

They’re also a great source of complex carbohydrates. In other words, they will not spike your insulin.

Also, of importance is their indigestible fiber makeup. A lot of the research on this aspect of mushrooms led to the reinforcement of their medicinal value. Their cell walls are made up of chitin and Beta-Glucans. More on that further down the article.

Peter Cheung included the following table in his paper “Mini-review on edible mushrooms as a source of dietary fiber: Preparation and health benefits.” All data is in percentages.

SpeciesCommon NameCrude ProteinCrude FatCarbsCrude FiberAsh
Agaricus BisporusButton Mushroom23.9-34.8%1.7-8.0%51.3-62.5%8.0-10.4%7.7-12.0%
Auricularia Aauricula-JudaeBlack Fungus8.1%1.5%81.0%6.9%9.4%
Boletus EdulisCep29.7%3.1%58.8%10.1%7.0%
Cantharellus CibariusChanterelle21.5%5.0%64.9%11.2%8.6%
Grifola FrondosaMaitake21.1%3.1%58.8%10.1%7.0%
Hericium ErinaceusMonkeyhead22.3%3.5%57.0%7.8%9.4%
Lentinus EdodesShiitake13.4-17.5%4.9-8.0%67.5-78.0%7.3-8.0%3.7-7.0%
Pleurotus OstreatusOyster Mushroom10.5-30.4%1.6-2.2%57.6-81.8%7.5-8.7%6.1-9.8%
Tremella FuciformisWhite Jelly Fungus4.6%0.2%94.8%1.4%0.4%
Tricholoma GiganteumMatsutake16.1%4.3%70.1%4.5%5.0%
Tuber MelanosporumBlack Truffle23.3%2.2%66.2%27.9%8.3%
Vovariella VolvaceaStraw Mushroom30.1%6.4%50.9%11.9%12.6%

A quick review discloses that the different variations of mushrooms are all very different in their protein, fat, carbohydrate and fiber makeup. Again, these numbers are percentages.

mushrooms nutrition

But there are a few important takeaways on the health benefits of mushrooms:

You can obtain a decent amount of protein from mushrooms. In fact, oyster mushrooms are high in BCAA’s.

Daily consumption of mushrooms can provide up to 25% of your daily fiber needs.

So, to recap, mushrooms are high in:

  • Protein
  • Fiber
  • B vitamins
  • Antioxidants
  • Many unique compounds that have medicinal value. We’ll discuss those further down the article.

Are all mushrooms edible?

mushroom edible

Not all medicinal mushrooms are edible.

Some of the medicinal mushrooms require the extraction of key components for use. And some medicinal mushrooms can be cooked and eaten. There’s a far larger variety of this wonderful fungus than most people realize.

Some of the medicinal properties lie within the mycelium (root system). And you certainly wouldn’t add mycelium to your stir fry!

Then there are the poisonous mushrooms that can cause a range of severe GI disorders to death. So, if you’re not an expert on mushrooms, simply DON’T consume wild mushrooms.

Can you eat raw mushrooms?

Health Benefits of Mushrooms

Some mushrooms are edible raw, but most should be cooked. Some of the more common mushrooms you find in the grocery store (Portabella, button, and Crimini to name a few) can be eaten raw. But, I caution you if you do not eat a lot of mushrooms. Start with just a few raw or you’ll end up with some GI distress.

As previously discussed, the cell walls contain chitin. And chitin cannot be digested by most humans. Too much and you may experience some diarrhea or GI pain.

So, when in doubt, cook your mushrooms. Besides, many of the flavors are enhanced through cooking.

Two of the easiest and tastiest ways to prepare mushrooms is to either stir fry or roast them. There are more than enough recipes available in the internet universe to quench your palette.

What are the most beneficial mushrooms (that you’ve heard of)?

This is not a complete list. Only the more common mushrooms.

The following fungi show promise (in no particular order):

  1. Maitake (Grifola Frondosa)
  2. Cordyceps (Cordyceps Militaris)
  3. Lion’s mane (Hericium Erinaceus)
  4. Shiitake (Lentinula Edodes)
  5. Reishi (Ganoderma Lucidum)
  6. Coriolus, aka Turkey tail (Trametes Versicolor)
  7. Chaga (Inonotus Obliquus)

What are the beneficial claims of medicinal mushrooms?

There is a growing list of claims to the health benefits of mushrooms. And each variety of mushrooms comes with slightly different claims.

Let’s look at each mushroom individually with its potential or claimed benefits.

Maitake Mushroom Health Benefits

Maitake Mushroom Health Benefits

It has been stated that it improves type 2 diabetes by lowering blood sugar levels. But there are a lot of ways to improve blood sugar levels. It shows more promise working synergistically with pharmacological cancer treatments.

Cordyceps Mushroom Health Benefits

Cordyceps Mushroom Health Benefits

The list is long, but it can be summarized as a mushroom that improves energy levels. It may also assist with asthma. I found mixed results in the literature about asthma. Again, a few connections to help mitigate the effects of pharmacological cancer treatments.

Lion’s mane Mushroom Health Benefits

lion's Mane Mushroom Health Benefits

This particular mushroom is said to help stimulate nerve growth factor. It’s this particular aspect that is placing it in the spotlight of dementia and Alzheimer’s research. Lion’s mane contains erinacines and hericenones. We’ll discuss those below.

Shiitake Mushroom Health Benefits

shiitake mushroom health benefits

It has long been used as a cancer treatment in Asian countries. It may also help control cholesterol levels.

Reishi Mushroom Health Benefits

reishi mushroom health benefits

The two most popular species of this mushroom are black and red reishi. They may assist with chemotherapy in cancer treatment. It’s also been shown to help with insomnia, allergies and auto-immune diseases.

Turkey Tail or Coriolus Mushroom Health Benefits

turkey tail mushroom health benefits

It’s shown to aid in the treatment of cancer. It also has antiviral and anti-fungal properties.

Chaga Mushroom Health Benefits

chaga mushroom health benefits

It too aids in the treatment of cancer. It’s also shown to help with psoriasis.

There’s certainly a common theme in cancer treatment or prevention with mushrooms. Whether it helps or not, I think they’re a great addition to one’s diet or supplement arsenal.

Are some of the health benefits of mushrooms real?

They have unique dietary fiber make-up different from many fibrous foods. And they include some trace nutrients that we’re still learning about.

After a thorough literature review, I have to say there’s enough evidence to both:

  1. Further the research and
  2. Add them to your diet or supplement arsenal

So, yes, based on the peer-reviewed research, some of the health claims are real.

Now, let’s get back to the structural differences that have an impact on our health.

What is chitin?

Chitin makes up a portion of the cell wall in fungus (mushrooms). It’s one of the components of the indigestible fiber in mushrooms. It also makes up the exoskeleton of insects and other types of marine life.

As a side note, the chitin that makes up the exoskeleton in insects is a little different than the chitin in mushrooms. And there is less chitin in mushrooms than the exoskeleton in insects.

For our concerns, we’ll only discuss its effect on our gut and immune system. In the gut, it is responsible for activating several immune receptors. This triggers leukocyte recruitment, cytokine production, and macrophage activation. Huh???

Just know that it acts as a way to help restore a healthy immune function. I know, that’s a broad statement, but it has merit.

What are beta-glucans?

Beta-glucans are a polysaccharideA polysaccharide is a complex carbohydrate composed of either straight or branched chain monosaccharides that is part of the cell walls in mushrooms. They activate several of our immune responses (in a good way).

Beta-Glucans have been shown to enhance macrophages and natural killer cell function.

Beta-glucans have also been shown to be anticarcinogenic by preventing the development of tumors. Okay, anytime I see statements like this, I become skeptical. But there’s sufficient evidence to make mushrooms a worthwhile addition to your arsenal if dealing with cancer (I hope you’re not in this situation). In other words, it can’t hurt.

Beta-glucans may also assist in the metabolism of fats, improving total cholesterol levels.

And I’ll say it multiple times. There is a common theme in the literature related to cancer prevention and treatment with mushrooms. The consistent reemergence in itself makes a strong statement.

What are erinacines?

Erinacines stimulate nerve growth factorNGF has neuroprotective and repair functions synthesis. In other words, they facilitate the regrowth and repair of neurons. To what degree, I’m not sure. But enough evidence exists to make it a viable addition to your arsenal.

Erinacines and hericenones (discussed below) are the two primary components in Lion’s Mane that may help with Alzheimer’s.

The mycelium (root system) is the primary location for erinacines in Lion’s Mane. So, when buying a powdered or extracted form, it should contain both the fruiting body and the mycelium mass.

What are hericenones?

The fruiting body of Lion’s Mane is the primary location of hericenones. And much like erinacines, hericenones have also been shown to stimulate the synthesis of nerve growth factor.

A few of the studies have shown that the combination of erinacines and hericenones can potentially reduce depression. Again, a strong statement that requires more research.

Are powdered mushrooms as a supplement or nutraceutical effective?

Powdered Mushroom Supplement

Yes. I was curious about the same thing. And my literature review confirmed that powdered mushrooms are in fact, just as effective as whole mushrooms.

I also found that the fruiting body (the mushroom you know) and the mycelium (the root system) contain different medicinal compounds. So, with that knowledge, it’s a good idea if you’re supplementing, to buy a mixture of the two.

Is mushroom coffee beneficial?

Mushroom Coffee Benefits

Mushroom coffee is simply coffee either infused or blended with medicinal mushroom powder. It’s no different than supplementing with one of the varieties of mushrooms. But for those of you who love coffee, it’s not a bad way to incorporate mushrooms. But, keep in mind it’s a low amount of supplemented mushroom added to each serving.

My suggestion is to buy your mushroom supplements separately and then mix them into your favorite coffee brew. Since mushrooms already have an earthy flavor, they mix well. And you’ll spend a lot less money overall.

So, yes, there are beneficial aspects to mushroom coffee. But it’s not the best bang for the buck.

Does it matter where mushrooms are grown?

Mushroom Farm

Originally, after visiting the mushroom capital of the east (US) in Kennett Square, PA, I believed they needed to be grown locally. Then it occurred to me that the origins of mushrooms as medicine began in the Asian countries.

As far as I’m concerned, as long as they’re grown under clean rural conditions, anywhere is fine.

Of course, if you’re buying fresh mushrooms, keep it local. The supplemental form is a different story. Opinions may differ. Supplemental forms are available grown all over the world, so it’s up to you.

What are some concerns about eating mushrooms?

Some people may have an allergy or sensitivity to chitin (part of the mushroom’s cell walls). We lack the enzymes to fully digest chitin. So, it’s therefore classified as a dietary fiber.

If you do not currently eat mushrooms, but decide to start, eating a lot of raw mushrooms initially may cause some gut distress. So, go easy.

Mushrooms and candida

Candida is a yeast-like fungus that is present in parts of our body. If allowed to “take over,” it can lead to thrush and yeast infections. But there has been an ongoing myth that one should avoid mushrooms if they are experiencing Candida (or any fungal infection). This simply is not the case.

In fact, mushrooms improve the immune system’s ability to deal with Candida. So, if you’re dealing with Candida, mushrooms could help because they contain antifungal compounds.

It’s in the mushroom’s best interest to produce antifungal compounds, preventing other fungi from taking over.

Mushrooms and our gut microbiome

Mushroom Gut Microbiome

Mushrooms of all varieties act as a great prebiotic for our gut microbiota.

In one study, a simulated gut microbiome (common in pretrials) showed a restoration to a normal microbiota after the use of bioactive extracts from mushrooms.

Another study states that it’s the beta-glucans that act as “prebiotics” improving the symbiotic bacteria.

In other words, mushrooms are fantastic for your gut microbiota’s health!

What about poisonous mushrooms?

Poisonous Mushrooms

Unless you are a seasoned mycologist, I do not suggest foraging for your own mushrooms. Many wild mushrooms are “lookalikes” and can be deadly. Stick to a reputable supplier for your mushrooms and you’ll always be safe.

Psilocybin and anxiety, depression and PTSD

I feel compelled to mention this particular strain of mushroom due to the amount of work accumulating from some prestigious universities and the Heffter Research Institute.

I’m paying close attention to the use of psilocybin mushrooms as a treatment for depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Whether it’s micro-dosing or higher doses in addition to psychological therapy.

I’m not advocating anything, just suggesting an open mind to what’s proving to be successful alternatives.

Conclusion on the Health Benefits of Mushrooms

The piles of peer-reviewed research make a strong statement advocating for the addition of mushrooms to your diet. In addition, the ancient history of mushroom used as medicine carries merit too.

Each mushroom has different compounds pertaining to different benefits. So pay close attention to the type of mushroom if you decide to consume or supplement it. Also, when in doubt, buy a supplemental version that includes both the fruiting body and mycelium.

The benefits of chitin and beta-glucans are universal to most mushrooms. But erinacines and hericenones are limited to Lion’s Mane. So, again, know your mushroom’s properties.

The 3 major health benefits of mushrooms that stand out are:

  1. Immune support
  2. Cancer defense
  3. Alzheimer’s and dementia defense

There are others, but those three seem to define the research.

And remember, when in doubt, cook your mushrooms. Besides, they are far more palatable when cooked with other foods.

I hope you decide to make mushrooms a regular part of your dietary regimen.

Do you have a favorite mushroom or mushroom supplement?

Health Benefits of Mushrooms FAQs

What mushrooms are good for cancer?

The six that stand out the most are: Maitake, Cordyceps, Shiitake, Reishi, Coriolus, and Chaga

Are mushrooms fungi?

Yes

Are mushrooms high in fiber?

Yes, the cell walls contain chitin, which is a type of fiber that is not digestible by us humans. Therefore it’s considered insoluble fiber and feeds our good gut microbiota.

Comparing mushrooms vs meat?

Because mushrooms are high in protein and have a quality amino acid profile, they can make a fine replacement for some meat dishes.

References and Rousources

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Victoria Bell, Jorge Ferrão, Eusébio Chaquisse, and Tito Fernandes, “Host-Microbial GutInteractions and Mushroom Nutrition.” Journal of Food and Nutrition Research, vol. 6, no. 9 (2018): 576-583.

Aritson Cruz, Lígia Pimentel, Luis M. Rodríguez-Alcalá, Tito Fernandes, and Manuela
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The Health Benefits of Mushrooms [A Definitive Guide]

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