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When it comes to brain health, mushrooms probably aren't the first food you think of eating to help improve or protect it. In this article, we explore why you might want to actually consider eating them every day. In this article, we will focus on what studies say are four of the best medicinal mushrooms for brain health:
- Reishi (Ganoderma)
- Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus)
- Chaga (Inonotus obliquus)
Medicinal Mushrooms On The Rise
Fungi are becoming increasingly popular as a star food ingredient in the wellness community. Many different health and wellness gurus consider these “functional” or medicinal mushrooms a cure-all. Not only are they packed with flavor and easy to incorporate, they also contain vitamins and nutrients that offer all kinds of different benefits.
The presence of polysaccharide β-glucans in mushroom extract have great therapeutic applications in human health as they possess many properties such as anti-diabetic, anti-cancerous, anti-obesity, immunomodulatory, hypocholesteremia, hepatoprotective nature along with anti-aging (1). New studies are also pointing to these adaptogenic mushrooms as one of the best supplements for brain health.
1. Reishi Mushroom Benefits
Reishi mushrooms have been used medicinally for over 2,000 years. It is a large, dark mushroom with a glossy exterior and a woody texture (2). Native to the hot and humid regions of Asia, it is considered a rare find. Some possible Reishi mushroom benefits include boosting the immune system, reducing stress, anti-cancer activity, and improved liver and brain function.
Research done on animals indicates that Reishi mushrooms may be therapeutic for neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, may be able to protect the brain from seizures as well as improve memory.
Three separate studies conducted on rats and mice, respectively, found Reishi mushroom protected against oxidative stress-induced neurotoxicity providing evidence to support the clinical use of the mushroom to treat neurodegenerative diseases involving oxidative stress such as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, Huntington's disease and stroke (3), (4), (5).
A fourth study came to the same conclusions as the above with similar results including increased memory and learning in the test subjects (6).
While we would love to start seeing human research, the results from these animal studies indicate neuroprotective effects and support of memory and cognitive function.
2. Lion’s Mane Benefits
Native to North America, Asia and Europe, this unique mushroom is identified by its shaggy, globe-like appearance. Also known as Hericium erinaceus, Lion’s Mane is commonly used to boost energy and mental performance. It is also known to help naturally combat depression and anxiety. It has been shown in animal models to enhance nerve regeneration, memory, and protect against brain injuries such as stroke.
One animal study showed Lion’s Mane mushrooms’ positive effect on memory noting improvements in both the perirhinal cortex and hippocampus. (7).
Another study confirmed Lion’s Mane to contain neurotrophic properties. These are important in promoting the growth and differentiation of neurons. Additionally, nerve growth factor (NGF) is essential for the maintenance of the basal forebrain cholinergic system. This mushroom was found to enhance both of these factors (8).
A third animal study found Lion’s Mane to be an anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective against ischemic brain injury (9).
Finally, a double-blind, placebo-controlled human trial found improvements in cognitive impairment in 50- to 80-year-old Japanese men and women (10).
Overall, animal studies have found that lion’s mane extract can speed up recovery time from nervous system injuries and can also improve memory and cognitive function. We would still like to see more human research conducted.
3. Cordyceps Mushroom Benefits
Cordyceps are a parasitic mushroom found all over the world. However, they are most commonly found in Asia. This mushroom is used for its reputation of improving stamina and focus. It is also known to help manages blood sugar levels, boost the immune system.
Studies show Cordyceps has the ability to improve memory impairment. It may be a potential candidate for neuroprotection of the hippocampus and recovery from dementia and other neuroinflammatory disorders including Alzheimer’s disease (11), (12), (13).
Finally, results of yet another animal study show Cordyceps can relieve cerebral ischemia injury (16).
Basically, Cordyceps mushroom benefits the brain all around. It can help the brain recover from injury, improve memory, focus, and function, and assist neurons and cells with its anti-aging properties. Again, more human research is needed, but what we have found through animal studies thus far is impressive.
4. Chaga Mushroom Benefits
Chaga mushrooms grow on the bark of birch trees in cold climates. They’re most commonly found in Northern Europe, Siberia, Russia, Korea, Northern Canada and Alaska. They are rough in appearance and look like a large, blackened mass protruding from the trunk the tree.
It’s a well-rounded mushroom that has nootropic benefits and endurance enhancing properties. It is commonly used to help reduce inflammation and pain, lower oxidative stress on the brain and restores levels of acetylcholine. This is important for brain health because acetylcholine promotes learning and memory.
A study on rats saw significant cognitive enhancement and antioxidant activities in experimental amnesia. The overall findings note the critical impact of Chaga on higher brain functions like learning and memory (17).
More human studies would be ideal, however, animal research proves Chaga mushroom to be an asset for brain protection, anti-aging, and improvements in learning and memory.
How To Consume Medicinal Mushrooms
When it comes to adding medicinal mushrooms into your wellness journey, there are a few different routes you could take. You can simply cook and eat them, but if you’re like me and mushrooms aren’t your favorite texture in the world, you can try using mushroom supplements. These come in various forms including powders, capsules, or tinctures. Powders are a crowd favorite as they can be added to tea, soup, or even mushroom coffee. Whichever direction you choose, be prepared to experience the magic mushrooms can bring to the overall picture of your health.
In short, Chaga, Lion’s Mane, Cordyceps, and Reishi mushrooms show promising positive effects on brain health. More research is still needed to use these mushrooms medicinally in a clinical setting. However, because they are widely available today for personal use, you can reap the benefits of these magical mushrooms yourself.
Please speak with your doctor or other licensed healthcare professional before beginning any new supplement including functional mushrooms. None of the content on this site is or should be considered medical advice. The purpose of this article is simply to highlight relevant research for those curious about the potential benefits of consuming functional mushrooms.