Reishi, Chaga, Lion’s Mane, Turkey Tail
- Functional mushrooms are a multi-billion dollar cash cow for the wellness industry.
- Functional mushrooms include lion’s mane, reishi, turkey tail, cordyceps, and chaga.
- Studies indicate that these mushrooms can fight disease and improve cognition, but more human testing is needed.
More and more Americans are turning to “functional mushrooms,” or mushrooms believed to help treat disease and improve cognition, as health supplements.
Functional mushrooms, also known as “medicinal mushrooms”, have healing properties as well as nutritional benefits. Functional mushrooms, however, do not have psychoactive properties, which distinguishes them from “magic” mushrooms.
Allied Market Research estimates that the global market for functional mushrooms generated $7.98 billion in 2020 and could reach $19.33 billion by 2030. Goop and GNC offer functional mushroom supplements that claim to increase energy and support the immune system. Kin Euphorics, Bella Hadid’s lively drink startup, infuses reishi mushrooms into an alcohol alternative drink to help “strengthen the adrenal system and balance your body’s responses to stress.”
Although traditional cultures in Asia, Europe, and North America have used functional mushrooms as a natural remedy for a variety of ailments, few human studies have been conducted to test functional mushrooms as medicine.
Wellness drinks and supplements contain many different ingredients, but five major functional mushrooms come up again and again: lion’s mane, reishi, turkey tail, cordyceps, and chaga.
Lion’s mane (hericium erinaceus) grows on old or dead hardwoods and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for hundreds of years, according to the Journal of Restorative Medicine. The fungus gets its name from its fine, hair-like structure.
Lion’s Mane is traditionally used to aid digestion and treat cancer. Animal studies suggest that consuming the mushroom may protect against neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, but there is little data on Lion’s Mane’s effects on humans.
Some companies are experimenting with Lion’s Mane as an alternative to coffee or Adderall due to its potential cognitive properties. A 2009 study with 30 elderly participants – one of the only non-animal studies on lion’s mane – suggested that people who consumed three grams of lion’s mane extract for 16 weeks performed slightly better on cognitive tests. than a placebo group.
Reishi Mushrooms (glucid anoderm) are found in hot and humid conditions all over the world. Wild reishi mushrooms are rare, and farmers cultivate the mushroom using grain, sawdust, wood logs, and cork residue.
Reishi mushrooms were used in traditional medicines in East Asia to prevent aging and increase energy, according to the National Institutes of Health, and they are used in China to boost the immune system of cancer patients receiving chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
Scientists are still testing reishi for its anti-tumor effects. A Japanese study of 225 patients with benign colorectal tumors found that tumor size decreased in participants who took reishi supplements for a year compared to a control group, according to the NIH.
The Food and Drug Administration has not approved reishi mushrooms for treating cancer or any other medical condition.
Turkey tail (youversicolor ramets) is a concave, cup-shaped fungus that grows on fallen logs or living trees in moist, shady areas of North America, Asia and Europe, according to Macalester College.
The mushroom has a high concentration of the protein polysaccharide-K, which has been used to treat cancer and infectious diseases. Turkey tail may help treat stomach cancer and help immune cells damaged by chemotherapy return to normal function, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Chaga Mushrooms (inonotus obliquus) are found on birches in cold northern hemisphere climates, and the outer layer is rich in antioxidants.
The antioxidants in chaga may reduce inflammation in the gut, which contributes to irritable bowel syndrome, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Animal studies suggest that the fungus may inhibit the growth of melanoma cells and have anti-inflammatory effects against colitis, but there are no human clinical trials that have evaluated the safety or use of chaga in treatment for the disease, according to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
caterpillar mushroom (vsordyceps sinensis) is found in the soil of Chinese grasslands at elevations of 3,500 to 5,000 meters, according to Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects.
The rare mushroom sells for $63,000 a pound and its value skyrocketed in the 1990s and 2000s due to the growth of the Chinese economy. The fungus has become increasingly rare lately due to both climate change and increased demand from the wellness industry, according to Reuters.
Dubbed “The Viagra of the Himalayas” by NPR, the mushroom has been used to treat erectile dysfunction in traditional Chinese medicine. A 2016 article showed that the caterpillar mushroom can help increase sperm count and serum testosterone.