2018, dubbed as the year of the mushroom in the global health scene. If you haven’t yet heard, medicinal (aka functional) mushrooms are trending their asses off and suddenly being used by the wider community on a daily basis... Read on!
At SuperFeast HQ we think it is awesome (and a little funny) that these mushrooms, which have been used in ancient herbal systems for longevity and healing for thousands of years - thanks to our Taoist friends - have all of a sudden been listed on 2018’s “trending list” just because Wholefoods (1) and Tim Ferriss (2) have given them the tick of approval. Despite the irony, there are indeed much deeper reasons that the world is now opening to the magic of medicinal mushies and including them in their diet.
Here are our top 5 reasons why:
1. People’s immune systems are weak
One of the most beautiful things about medicinal mushrooms is that they feed and tone the immune system. This means that they optimise the function of the immune system. The benefits accumulate over time as you take more mushrooms - think of it like exercise, the more you do it, the fitter you get. Mushies exercise our immune systems, and the longer we take them, the ‘fitter’ our immune system gets. The body’s immunity begins to lift to a level that ideally keeps us as protected as possible in this crazy pathogenic world.
Medicinal mushies are full of these things called polysaccharides (especially beta-glucans, polysaccharopeptides, and polysaccharide proteins) as well as other bioactive substances like triterpenes, lipids and phenols that induce cell division (mitosis) and activate the cells that comprise the immune system. Basically, these mushie’s magical compounds mimic the bad guys (but aren’t actually bad guys, we prefer to think of them as ‘mystery shoppers,’ testing the immune system to see if it knows what it’s doing) and train the immune system.
Medicinal mushrooms exercise the immune system to make it stronger, more adaptive and help normalise its responses (so it ceases being reactive and is able to have the smarts to know when it needs to get involved or when it can chill).
Some of the immune cells medicinal mushrooms activate include:
- macrophages (large white blood cells that scavenge and eat debris and invaders in the body - they form up the resistance and clean up the mess)
- neutrophils (a type of white blood cell that ingests microorganisms in the body and releases enzymes to kill these baddies, these are like the first responders of the body - the emergency crew - they also make pus!)
- natural killer cells (yep, that’s their real name! These guys are best known for sorting out viruses and killing cells that have become dysfunctional in the body - think of them as the Secret Ops team, that take out rogue cells)
- dendritic cells (these guys are like security, patrolling the body, using their long tentacles to detect pathogens. They then communicate their discovery (‘call it in’) via the lymph to alert the immune system to come deal with the intruder)
- lymphocytes (these guys are like superheroes, specifically trained to deal with certain types of villains in the body - they swoop in on the whole scene and sort it out, but take a while to get there).
2. They’re adaptogenic
Medicinal mushrooms are revered as adaptogens by modern herbalists and scientists, just as they were revered by ancient Taoist herbalists for their ‘superior’ health-giving properties. Adaptogens are in the limelight right now due to the fact that everyone in the modern world is CRAZY stressed out. We know what stress does to the body. Adaptogens are herbs that literally assist the body to upgrade how the nervous system handles stress.
Basically, by taking adaptogens like medicinal mushrooms, your body knows what to do when it is under stress and doesn’t just have to release a shitload of cortisol, which ultimately leads to adrenal fatigue and, in turn, degeneration. People are sick of being tired and stressed out, and they are turning to adaptogens to help them transform.
Some of our fave adaptogenic qualities of mushies are that they:
- Help the body adapt to all kinds of stress so it stays healthy.
- Depending on the condition, they can help to up- or down-regulate the immune system, which means they’re GREAT for auto-immune conditions.
- Accumulate in benefits, so the longer you take them, the more your constitutional health will build. Over time, your body’s own intelligence and adaptive nature will be restored and it will learn to find its own balance (homeostasis) through the use of tonic herbs.
3. Unity consciousness is on the rise
One of the key, yet underrated, benefits of medicinal mushrooms is their ability to unify the systems, organs, cells and tissue of the physical body.
Why is this so critical?
When the body is disconnected, when chemical (especially immune-based) and electrical communications can’t land where they need to with the sophistication that the body is capable of, then blockages and deficiencies arise. These blockages and deficiencies lead to increased stress, illness and degeneration (like we don’t already have enough of that in the West, right?)
One of the easiest ways to understand how mushies can help with this is based on their ability to feed and nourish the extracellular matrix and fascial system of the body. Although this area still needs greater study, what we know is that the polysaccharides within various medicinal mushrooms contribute to increasing the health of the fluid space that surrounds the cells and flows through the body’s tissues. It would appear that polysaccharides are an effective medium for regulating cell-to-cell communication and transfer, and ensuring pathogens are not able to pass through this space freely and disrupt cell metabolism. This allows the matrix of the body to maintain unity.
Another awesome demonstration of this unity is in the way medicinal mushies bring the entire power and intelligence of the immune system up a notch via their effect on this intracellular network. This is especially evident in the way that the polysaccharides (specifically in mushrooms such as chaga and reishi) are able to increase the effects of the cell that act as messengers between the innate (deep, constitutional) and adaptive (outer, surface) immune systems. When these two branches of our immune systems aren’t in communication, our health takes a hell of a beating, but exciting things happen within the immune system when they are in harmony via our fascial network. This is one of the main reasons we love mushies as much as we do.
4. Supplements are out, wild foods are in
For the past few decades in the health scene, the bulk of supplementation has been of superfoods, protein powders and nutrient extracts. This mainly arose from the need to ensure we were boosting our diet with enough macro- and micro-nutrients to keep our body in optimal health, due to an industrialised food scene and depleted soils.
This awareness has led to some epic shifts in our global awareness of health and now organic markets are scattered all through the world, there’s more awareness of soil preservation and re-mineralisation, people going back to local, small-scale farming and even gardening more (hello herbs and aloe!) and we’re seeing less reliance on pre-packaged goods (hello home cooking!) As we move away from industrialised food and lifestyle, we’re seeing less of a need for supplements to bolster our nutrition, and this is awesome. What is lacking in many people’s diets however, are wild foods, and especially tonic herbs.
The kind of herbs that:
- are rich in immune-modulating compounds,
- help the body constantly adjust to both internal and external stressors so illness can’t take hold and homeostasis can be maintained,
- you can take every day and keep accumulating benefits from.
Medicinal mushrooms, amongst other adaptogenic herbs, fall into this category. (Yes, these mushrooms are technically classified as herbs.) Right now people are waking up to the fact that herbs like this even exist and that they can easily be included in our usual diet while rocking life in the Western world. This is one of the easiest ways to Trojan horse wild foods into a Western diet, and at SuperFeast we love watching how transformational it is for a person (or family) when they start weaving these foods into their diet. We have a tonne of epic recipes Trojan horsing our herbs into delicious meals.
5. Mushies give us the guts to be healthy
Seeing that it has finally caught on that medicinal mushrooms are amazing for gut health, they’re now getting way more attention. The movement and awareness around optimising digestive tract health is AMAZING with probiotics, fibre and clays stealing the show, but now the functional role of mushrooms in restoring gut health is beginning to be recognised as well.
The main reason mushies are great for gut health is that there are very primordial immune receptors within the gut tissue that specifically recognise the beta-glucans, with their unique higher molecular weight. From here a very complex activation of the immune system occurs including stimulation AND activation of often atrophied aspects of the immune system.
Secondarily, the fibre and polysaccharides in mushrooms make for some very special prebiotic food for the established probiotic bacteria that live in our guts, offering some great nutritional upgrades to the bacterial community that keep us healthy.
All together this enables the body’s immune system to get the additional nourishment that comes in very handy when the body needs to take down pathogens (including fungal overgrowth conditions like candida) that are causing dysbiosis in the gut.
So there you have it, five of our top reasons to jump on the medicinal mushroom bangwagon. We’re stoked that these transformational herbs are reaching so deep into the populations of the modern world. If you’re wanting to dive into the magical world of mushies then we recommend starting with Mason’s Mushrooms, our medicinal mushroom blend containing eight of our favourite mushrooms that offer the full-spectrum of benefits listed above (plus many more).
Enjoy the ride SuperFeasters!