Adaptogenic mushrooms have been used for thousands of years in Asian countries to provide multiple health benefits, including combating stress and maintaining the body's physiological balance.
These "functional mushrooms" are becoming more popular in the West as we become more aware of how these natural substances can help improve our wellness.
In this article, we will be rounding up the six best adaptogenic mushrooms, including their potential benefits, dosages, and what to watch out for if you decide to take them.
Chaga (Inonotus Obliquus)
Don't let the rock-like fungus appearance of Chaga mushrooms fool you. What this uninspiring-looking mushroom lacks in appearance, it more than makes up for in health benefits.
Chaga, sometimes referred to as "black gold," is packed with essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that make it a truly remarkable superfood.
Chaga helps fight infection and reduce inflammation. They help fight cancer by suppressing its development. They can also help reduce blood sugar (up to 31%, according to some studies) and reduce blood cholesterol.
According to American neuroscientist Dr. Andrew Huberman, there is "good data" to suggest that 500 to 1500mg of Chaga reduces cortisol and anti-inflammatory cytokines (a type of protein). These anti-inflammatory cytokines "are known to circulate in high abundance when you're under a lot of psychological and/or physical stress."
Chaga is generally well-tolerated but can be harmful to some people. Take medical advice beforehand if you have diabetes (due to the mushrooms' effects on blood sugar) or any type of auto-immune disease.
Also, get medical advice if you're on any blood thinner medication, as these mushrooms have a protein that may cause blood to clot. It's best to avoid taking Chaga if you're pregnant or breastfeeding.
If you're looking for reliable and quality sources of Chaga mushrooms in Australia, refer to my post "Where To Buy The Best Chaga Mushroom In Australia," where we break down 4 of the best suppliers.
Reishi or Lingzhi (Ganoderma Lucidum)
Reishi mushrooms are notable for being nutritional powerhouses for reportedly having over 400 nutrients. These adaptogenic mushrooms also provide numerous health benefits.
Reishi mushrooms help with boosting the immune system through activities such as increasing the activity of effector cells like T lymphocytes, macrophages, and natural killer cells. Early research also suggests cancer-preventive activity, although more research is required to establish concrete findings.
Reishi mushrooms have been found beneficial in the treatment of a condition called neurasthenia. They've also been found to improve cancer-related fatigue in breast cancer patients undergoing endocrine therapy. The same patients reported less anxiety and depression and better quality of life.
They may also help lower blood pressure and blood sugar for some people because of the presence of nutrients such as beta-glucans and triterpenoids.
It's best to avoid consuming Reishi if you're pregnant, breastfeeding, or have bleeding disorders. It's also recommended to avoid Reishi if you're taking drugs for chemotherapy or to slow down the process of blood clotting.
Side effects of consuming Reishi include headaches, dizziness, rashes, nosebleeds, dry mouth, stomach upset, and diarrhea. Taking powdered mushrooms for more than a month may result in liver damage. Powdered whole mushrooms may be safe for a maximum of 16 weeks.
Therapeutic doses of Reishi mushrooms typically range from 1.5 to 9 grams per day, although bear in mind the actual percentage of pure mushroom content and their dose can vary from product to product.
The suggested dosing of Reishi mushrooms is 3g/d (gram mass per day) in tea and 1050mg taken twice or thrice a day.
Cordyceps (Dongchong Xiacao)
Cordyceps is a rare medicinal mushroom found in parts of the Tibetan and Himalayan plateau. Unlike other mushrooms on this list, cordyceps are parasitic fungi. They live off of the larva of some types of insects. They attack the larva and convert it to a sclerotium, a hard vegetative body containing a network of fungal threads and holding food reserves. The fruiting body of the Cordyceps mushroom grows out from the sclerotium.
Cordyceps Militaris (a Cordyceps variant) may help enhance your oxidative capacity and endurance during sports, although it may not be as beneficial if you're already a trained male endurance cyclist. C. militaris also has bioactive compounds which may be useful in fighting cancer. It has also shown benefits in arresting the growth of certain types of tumours.
Cordyceps Sinensis, another variant, has shown benefits for anti-aging, including improving brain function, antioxidative enzyme activity, and sexual function in preliminary research on animals. It may also benefit in the treatment of chronic kidney disease and diabetes.
Cordyceps may benefit in maintaining a healthy heart by lowering bad cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Some potential benefits have also been seen in reducing inflammation.
Therapeutic doses range from 1000 to 3000mg per day.
Natural Cordyceps Sinensis can come with a hefty price tag, given its rarity and the difficulties associated with harvesting it. It's more common to find a synthetically grown version called Cordyceps CS-4 in the market.
Ashwagandha (Withania Somnifera/Indian Ginseng)
Ashwagandha may not be a mushroom, but it is an incredibly powerful adaptogen. Often consumed with other adaptogenic mushrooms, this potent substance also has a plethora of scientific research behind it, making it worth learning more about.
Ashwagandha has been used in India as part of the Ayurvedic system of medicine for millennia. This herb has broad-spectrum benefits and is often consumed as a 'rasayana' or preparation that promotes youth and vitality.
Ashwagandha has shown the ability to reduce stress in clinical studies. There are also some initial findings that support its ability to reduce anxiety, although further research is needed in this area. The specific study was carried out for a duration of 6o days, comparing the effects of a Placebo vs 240g of a standardized extract (Shoden).
There is also evidence to support that 1000mg of standardized Ashwagandha taken over a 12-week period can improve symptoms of depression and anxiety in people with Schizophrenia.
The herb shows benefits in optimizing athletic performance by "improving variables related to strength/power, cardiorespiratory fitness and fatigue/recovery in healthy men and female," according to a 2021 study.
The herb may help with increasing testosterone levels based on existing research. But no similar effects have been seen in improving fatigue, vigour, or sexual or psychological well-being.
Ashwagandha can also help with reducing blood sugar levels as well as inflammation. Some people may find ashwagandha helpful in improving cognitive functions such as memory, attention, speed, executive function, and reaction time. Last but not least, it shows benefits in improving sleep conditions, alertness, and quality of life in elderly individuals.
Ashwagandha doesn't appear to have any major side effects or adverse reactions in clinical studies, but no long-term study has been carried out on its safety. Large doses of the root, when consumed, may cause diarrhea, stomach upset, vomiting, and, more rarely, liver problems. It's best to avoid consuming it if you're pregnant or breastfeeding.
To avoid the slowing effect of ashwagandha on the central nervous system, stop taking it at least two weeks before a scheduled surgery. It's also best to avoid ashwagandha if you have any autoimmune disorders, as it has the ability to potentially increase immune system activity.
Therapeutic ranges can vary from person to person, but you may generally benefit from taking 250-500mg daily for a minimum period of one month.
Shiitake (Lentinula Edodes)
Shiitake mushrooms are some of the most popular mushrooms in the world for cooking alongside button and white mushrooms. They are prized for their earthy aroma and meaty texture. But Shiitake mushrooms are also popular because they provide a number of different health benefits.
Shiitake mushrooms can boost your immunity and improve gut health. There is evidence to suggest that this mushroom variant has protective effects on the brain in older adults. They have compounds that help decrease cholesterol and blood pressure levels and may benefit heart health.
There is also evidence to support Shiitake's strong anti-tumour activities. They are also seen to be effective against some types of bacterial, viral, and parasitic infections. Preliminary research suggests they're effective in the treatment of AIDs and the prevention of cancer. UV radiation-enhanced Shiitake mushrooms, in combination with calcium and Vitamin D, have also been seen to improve osteoporosis-like symptoms.
Cooked Shiitake mushrooms are generally safe when eaten in small quantities. They may be unsafe, however, if consumed uncooked or when eaten in large quantities. They can cause side effects such as stomach upset and increased sensitivity to sunlight. Some people may also develop an allergic reaction to raw mushrooms. Although consuming the mushrooms helps decrease the risk of gout, some people may experience an increase in symptoms.
There is no standardized and recommended therapeutic dosage for Shiitake mushrooms. Follow the guidelines and instructions provided in the packaging accompanying the mushrooms when consuming them.
Avoid Shiitake mushrooms if you're pregnant, breastfeeding, or have a blood disorder called hypereosinophilic syndrome. Consult your general practitioner if you have any medical conditions beforehand, given that these adaptogenic mushrooms could potentially increase the activity of your immune system.
Lion's Mane (Hericeum Erinaceus)
The lion's mane mushroom is so-called because it looks a lot like many lions' manes clubbed together. It is a nutritional powerhouse, providing rich sources of thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, manganese, zinc, and potassium. Additionally, it offers multiple health benefits.
Lion's mane may help protect against Alzheimer's disease and degenerative memory loss. There is evidence to show it may also improve cognitive abilities and support in the treatment of depressive disorders. It may also help in the recovery and generation of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord for people with neurodegenerative diseases.
Lion's mane was found beneficial in treating alcohol-induced gastro-ulcers. It has also been found effective in lowering triglyceride levels and the management of obesity and hence may be beneficial in lowering the risk of heart disease.
Lion's mane appears to be generally well-tolerated with no adverse side effects at 2.3 grams per pound (5 grams per kg) of body weight per day for one month or lower dosages for three months in preliminary research findings.
As with other adaptogenic mushrooms, it is best to avoid Lion's mane mushrooms if you're pregnant or breastfeeding. It is also best to avoid this mushroom variant if you have any form of a bleeding disorder, given the mushroom's potential ability to slow blood clotting.
Turkey Tail (Trametes Versicolor or Coriolus Versicolor)
Turkey tail mushrooms can be considered powerful antigenotoxic agents, meaning they protect genetic material such as DNA from damage, resulting in conditions like cancer. In this sense, they improve cell immunity and strength and support the removal of toxins. They have also been found to be beneficial in the treatment of tumors and cancers in combination with traditional cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation.
Turkey tail mushrooms may help improve gut health by increasing the population of beneficial gut bacteria and reducing the population of harmful bacteria in the gut.
They have also shown potential in the treatment of HPV, or Human Papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted disease. In addition, they may be beneficial in improving exercise performance, reducing fatigue, supporting immune function, and improving insulin resistance, which is beneficial in the treatment of Type 2 diabetes.
Turkey tail mushrooms appear to be generally safe for most people. However, there may be side effects such as vomiting, nausea, low white blood cell count, and liver problems when one of the constituent compounds called polysaccharide krestin (PSK) is taken together with chemotherapy treatments.
These adaptogenic mushrooms or their compounds may interact with certain medications. Therefore, it is important to seek medical advice before consuming them.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
The Difference between Adaptogens and Adaptogenic Mushrooms
Adaptogens are non-toxic plant substances that help you better manage the effects of stress, anxiety, and fatigue. Aside from helping you "adapt" to conditions that induce stress, they also work to bring the body back to a level of balance, also called homeostasis.
Homeostasis takes place when your body self-regulates physiology in response to external temperatures. For example, when you're feeling hot, your body starts to sweat in an attempt to bring down the body temperature.
Adaptogenic mushrooms are simply mushrooms that have the properties of adaptogens. To recap, they should be non-toxic, help you adapt to stress, and help your body maintain homeostasis.
Are Adaptogenic Mushrooms Safe?
Although adaptogenic mushrooms provide a range of wellness and health benefits, some people may experience side effects, including allergic reactions, when taking them. They may also interact with other medicines you're taking.
Moreover, it is not advisable to take adaptogenic mushrooms if you have specific medical conditions. Since we're still in the early stages of scientific studies on adaptogenic mushrooms, it's always recommended that you talk to your physician before you start taking them on your own.
Please scroll through our list of adaptogenic mushrooms at the top for more specific and detailed precautions related to each.
Types of Adaptogenic Mushrooms
More than 100 species of medicinal mushrooms have traditionally been used in Asia as part of indigenous health and wellness treatments. Not much is known about these mushrooms outside of Asia, and scientists have only recently begun to explore research into the various types to clinically identify potential uses, appropriate doses, side effects, and adverse reactions.
Chaga, Reishi, Cordyceps, Shiitake, Ashwagandha, Lion's Mane, and Turkey Tail mushrooms are some of the most well-known adaptogenic mushrooms at this time.
Potential Benefits of Adaptogenic Mushrooms and Side Effects
Research into the adaptogenic mushrooms we know about is still in the early days. However, they do show potential for medical treatment and disease prevention. Among some of the known benefits of adaptogenic mushrooms are:
- Anti-inflammation, anti-tumour, and anti-cancer benefits
- Heart health-protective benefits by reducing blood pressure, triglycerides, and cholesterol
- Stress-reduction benefits
- Depression and anxiety treatment benefits
- Exercise performance improvement benefits
- Brain-protective benefits and protection against neurodegenerative disease
- Cognitive ability improvements
- Diabetes treatment benefits through reducing blood sugar levels
- Antigenotoxic benefits
- Gut health improvements
- Gastro-ulcer treatment benefits
- Benefits in improving levels of testosterone
The side effects of adaptogenic mushrooms can vary from person to person. In general, you should talk to your physician before consuming adaptogenic mushrooms if you have any medical conditions. Adaptogenic mushrooms may interfere with the treatment of certain health conditions due to the mechanism of their activities. For example, they may increase the activity of your immune system, so they may not be advisable if you have autoimmune disorders.
Who Should Not Take Adaptogens?
Generally, it is not recommended for pregnant and breastfeeding individuals to use adaptogenic mushrooms due to the lack of studies on their effects. Nonetheless, for easy reference, here is a compilation of the key points to consider when incorporating adaptogenic mushrooms into one's health routine:
- Chaga: Avoid if you have diabetes, autoimmune disease, or take blood thinner medication. Best to avoid during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
- Reishi: Avoid if pregnant, breastfeeding, or have bleeding disorders. Also, recommended to avoid if taking chemotherapy medication or blood thinners.
- Cordyceps: No major side effects reported, but best to avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding and stop taking two weeks before a scheduled surgery. Also, avoid if with autoimmune disorders.
- Shiitake: Consuming uncooked or in large quantities may cause stomach upset, increased sensitivity to sunlight, and allergic reactions. Avoid during pregnancy, breastfeeding, or hypereosinophilic syndrome.
- Lion's Mane: Best to avoid during pregnancy or breastfeeding. Also, avoid if you have bleeding disorders.
- Turkey Tail: Generally safe, but may cause vomiting, nausea, low white blood cell count, and liver problems when taken with chemotherapy treatments. Consult a doctor before taking if you are on any medication.
How to Incorporate Adaptogenic Mushrooms Into Your Lifestyle?
Adaptogenic mushrooms can be found in many different forms in the market. They are available as supplements in the form of pills or tinctures. They are also available in dried and powdered versions, as well as in the form of teas. To identify the dosage and quality, look at the packaging. It's important to look for certified organic versions of products and consult online reviews from different sources before making a purchase. Remember to follow the packaging instructions for storage and consumption and do not exceed the recommended doses.
Are Adaptogenic Mushrooms Drugs?
Adaptogenic mushrooms are not drugs; they are medicinal mushrooms used to provide a range of different health benefits. Some of the most well-known adaptogenic mushrooms are Chaga, Reishi, Ashwagandha, Cordyceps, Lion's Mane, Shiitake, and Turkey Tail mushrooms.
Are Adaptogenic Mushrooms Hallucinogenic?
As medicinal mushrooms, adaptogenic mushrooms do not affect your brain function or sensory perception to the extent of making you hallucinate. They are taken to achieve health benefits and to maintain a state of wellness. Additionally, they are generally well-tolerated in most people when consumed in conservative amounts.
What Is the Best Adaptogenic Mushroom for Stress?
Reishi is well-known for its natural stress-relieving properties. Research has demonstrated that the beneficial compounds present in reishi can reduce bouts of fatigue and anxiety. Furthermore, it has been found to help improve sleep quality- an essential factor in managing stress levels.
Cordyceps is an exceptional adaptogen that can assist in managing stress and promoting healthy bodily functions. It is known for its potent anti-inflammatory properties. This mushroom-derived supplement can also help fight fatigue while boosting energy levels through enhanced oxygen utilization.