What Are Adaptogenic Mushrooms and Should You Try Them?

These functional fungi are making their way into food and beverage products. Here's what you should know before giving them a try.

April 12, 2021
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Photo by: Helin Loik-Tomson/Getty Images

Helin Loik-Tomson/Getty Images

Traditionally used in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, adaptogens have been praised for their ability to help the body cope and fight a variety of stressors. Recently, you may have seen a variety of mushrooms added to foods or as supplements that also promise stress relief. Before you switch your morning cup of joe or add supplements to your routine, here's what you should know about three popular adaptogenic mushrooms.

Lion’s Mane

What Is It?

Hericium erinaceus, also called Lion’s Mane, is a mushroom that grows on trunks of hardwood trees. Lion's Mane is taken orally for a variety of conditions including depression, anxiety, age-related dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. Although there have been some studies done on cognitive function, early research suggests that taking Lion’s Mane doesn't improve cognitive function in middle-aged adults.

What Are the Benefits?

At this time, there is insufficient evidence that Lion’s Mane can help with anxiety and depression. There also is insufficient evidence to support specific dosages to take for various conditions. Lion’s Mane is possibly safe when taken as a medicine orally for up to 16 weeks.

Side Effects and Safety

Reported side effects have been stomach discomfort. In addition, those who are pregnant or breast feeding should not take Lion’s Mane, and it’s also counter indicated for health conditions including diabetes and bleeding conditions and surgery, since it may slow blood clotting. It can also interact with certain medications for diabetes.

Reishi

What Is It?

This fungus is described as tough and woody with a bitter taste. Research shows that beta-glucans in reishi stimulate the immune system in animals and may have an antitumor effect.

What Are the Benefits?

It has also been used for the treatment other health conditions including Alzheimer’s, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. However, there isn’t enough scientific evidence to support these and additional uses for reishi.

Side Effects and Safety

Reported side effects of taking reishi include dizziness, dry mouth, itching, nausea, rash, and upset stomach. Based on research, reishi is possibly safe when taken appropriately for up to one year. More research is also needed for proper dosing for various health conditions. Those who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid use, as should those with bleeding disorders, upcoming surgery, and low blood pressure. It also can interact with medications for high blood pressure and blood clotting.

Chaga

What Is It?

Chaga mushrooms grow in the forests of Canada, northern Japan, Siberia, and the northeastern United States. They're used in Russia and Eastern Europe in herbal remedies. The mushroom must be picked in the wild — only those harvested from living birch trees will contain all of the active compounds.

What Are the Benefits?

Chaga contains beta-glucans believed to play a role in lowering cholesterol. It also contains the phytonutrients betulinic acid and polyphenols, which act as antioxidants. It has been also used for heart disease, diabetes, stomach and intestinal cancer, liver disease, parasites, stomach pain, and tuberculosis. However, there is insufficient evidence to say that chaga is effective for these health conditions.

Side Effects and Safety

Proper dosage for the various health conditions isn’t known or established at this time. Those who should avoid using chaga include pregnant and breastfeeding women, those with autoimmune diseases like lupus or multiple sclerosis, people with diabetes, and folks with bleeding disorders of before and after surgery. Chaga can interact with numerous medications including medications for people with diabetes, immunosuppressant’s, and medications that slow blood clotting.

Bottom Line

Although you may be looking for help with a certain health condition, consult a health professional before taking any of these adaptogenic mushrooms above whether as a supplement or an ingredient in food. If you take foods that contain these ingredients, you should also be cautious on how often you consume it as it certainly can interact with medications, health conditions, and herbal supplements.

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. She is the author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

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