- Adaptogenic mushrooms are a variety of fungi that may help mitigate physical and biological stress and therefore potentially reduce the incidence of stress-related side effects and conditions.
- There are many different varieties of adaptogenic mushrooms but the most common include Reishi, Chaga, Cordyceps, Lion’s Mane, and Shiitake.
- Although many studies conducted on the potential health benefits of various adaptogenic mushrooms are promising, most research has been conducted on animal or test-tube populations and further research using human trials is warranted.
Adaptogens help our body better handle the effects of stress so it’s no wonder people are running for these products.
Store shelves are flooded with various adaptogenic supplements claiming to heal any and all of your stress-related woes.
What Are Adaptogenic Mushrooms?
Adaptogenic mushrooms are a variety of edible fungi that contain compounds that specifically target and improve your body’s response to stress.
These are not just any mushrooms you’ll find out in the forest; only certain ones contain adaptogens. And no, these are not the same as hallucinogenic mushrooms.
Although mushrooms appear to be the most popular type of adaptogen used in supplements, these compounds can also be found in plants. They have rapidly gained popularity for their potential to mitigate physical and biological stress and therefore potentially reduce the incidence of stress-related side effects and conditions.
Stress can come in many different forms, including physical, biological, and chemical. By helping to mitigate our body’s stress response to be more resistant, these compounds can provide a level of protection against stress-related damage. (Source)(Source)
The body’s stress response is activated by a subset of hormones released by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Adaptogens work by enhancing the HPA axis’ resistance to stress and improving recovery time. (Source)(Source)
Mushroom adaptogens have been used in ancient Chinese medicine for centuries and some have even made their way into traditional medicine. For example, Cordyceps, a type of adaptogenic mushroom, are currently approved for medicinal use in China.
Traditional Chinese medicine recognizes adaptogenic cordyceps as non-toxic and Cordyceps CS-4 (synthetically-grown cordyceps) has been approved by the Chinese government for hospital use. (Source)
Adaptogenic mushrooms are not currently approved for medicinal use in the United States and aren’t commonly used in traditional medicine but rather as a homeopathic remedy. Its presence has been noted in the health and wellness realm for those who are looking for natural alternatives to improve their physical and mental health.
Although these products are found in a large variety of online and in-store retailers, many of these adaptogenic mushrooms require further research to better understand their mechanism of action, potential benefits, and potential implications in humans.
Types Of Adaptogenic Mushrooms
There are many different varieties of adaptogenic mushrooms but the most common include Reishi, Chaga, Cordyceps, Lion’s Mane, and Shiitake.
Reishi mushrooms are native to the eastern regions of Asia and are believed to provide potent immune-enhancing benefits.
Also referred to as Ganoderma Lucidum and Lingzhi, Reishi mushrooms are reddish brown and grow in a flat, kidney bean shape that fans outward. They often grow along the trunk of various hardwoods, such as oak trees.
Reishi mushrooms are believed to alter the function and potentially increase white blood cells, a type of immune cell that helps the body fight infections and disease. However, most of the research on this was conducted on test-tube studies, and further human trials are warranted. (Source)(Source)(Source)
Although these mushrooms are believed to provide many health benefits, there are some potential dangers to adaptogenic Reishi.
Some studies have found those taking Reishi supplements developed many side effects, including liver problems. (Source)
Chaga mushrooms are an orange, brown fungus that can be found on birch trees in cold climates, such as Alaska, northern Canada, and Siberia. Like Reishi mushrooms, Chaga is believed to help provide immune-boosting benefits.
Although there are many supplements on the market that contain Chaga mushroom powder, there is limited research available on adaptogenic Chaga.
Some research suggests Chaga may be helpful in immunity by providing long-lasting anti-inflammatory benefits that can help to protect against viruses and other illnesses. However, most studies were conducted on animals or in test-tube studies, and further research using human trials is needed. (Source)(Source)
Cordyceps are one of the most popular types of adaptogenic mushrooms however, their research in humans is also limited. Cordyceps Sinesis and Cordyceps Militaris varieties contain the most amount of research and are well-known for their use in ancient Chinese medicine.
Cordyceps can be found growing on the larvae of various insects. They infect their host through spores that spread throughout the insect’s body eventually killing it. Its fruiting body then breaks through the host’s carcass to spread more spores.
The fruiting body of the cordyceps mushroom is what is then taken and used in teas or ground down and added to various dishes. These sometimes also contain the insect host.
Cordyceps are believed to help the body regulate its stress response and increase resistance to stress-related damage.
Cordyceps Sinesis is the most popular species of cordyceps and one of the rarest. It typically grows in the high-altitude regions of the Himalayas on ghost moth larvae. Because of the cost, many have started cultivating it in different regions or using the next best alternative which is Cordyceps Militaris.
These two species are very similar, and research has found that they provide many of the same medicinal benefits. Both mushrooms can also be cultivated in a lab to allow for a more accessible and inexpensive option. (Source)
Lion’s Mane mushrooms can be found in regions in Europe and Asia. It is white and contains long spines that grow in a single clump that resembles a lion’s mane.
Lion’s Mane adaptogen is believed to provide cognitive benefits ranging from improving anxiety and depression symptoms as well as reducing dementia risk.
Animal studies have found that Lion’s Mane might help reduce memory loss and cognitive damage from the buildup of amyloid beta plaques commonly seen in Alzheimer’s disease. (Source)(Source)(Source)
Like the previous adaptogenic mushrooms mentioned, research on Lion’s Mane using human trials is limited, and further research is needed to verify these claims.
Many might be surprised to find Shiitake mushrooms on the list of adaptogenic fungi.
These mushrooms are native to East Asia and have been used in a variety of culinary preparations across the world. Like Reishi mushrooms, they are commonly found growing on the bark of decaying hardwood trees.
Shiitake mushrooms are one of the only adaptogenic mushrooms that are typically available at most grocery stores and commonly used in cooking. They are rich in vitamin D, zinc, and B vitamins, as well as fiber and protein. Studies suggest they may provide benefits for immune and heart health but research on this is limited. (Source)(Source)(Source)
Health Benefits Of Adaptogenic Mushrooms
Adaptogenic mushrooms have been associated with a large variety of potential health benefits, including reducing stress, improving immunity, providing anti-inflammatory benefits, supporting brain and heart health, and potentially protecting against cancer.
Stress Reduction And Management
One of the most well-known potential benefits of adaptogenic mushrooms includes their ability to help with combating stress.
Specific mushrooms, such as Cordyceps, work on the body’s stress response, particularly the stress hormones, such as cortisol.
Studies have found Cordyceps help to enhance the HPA axis’ resistance to stress and subsequent release of certain stress hormones. This can help to improve recovery time and reduce fatigue. Although promising, research utilizing human trials is limited. (Source)(Source)
Immune System Support
Certain adaptogenic mushrooms might be beneficial in supporting and enhancing immune health, such as Reishi mushrooms.
These fungi are believed to help enhance the function of white blood cells, an essential immune cell that helps the body fight infections and diseases.
However, like Cordyceps, most of the research on Reishi adaptogens was conducted on test-tube studies, and further human trials are warranted. (Source)(Source)(Source)
Chaga mushrooms are also believed to provide adaptogenic compounds that assist with immunity, specifically anti-inflammatory properties.
Chaga mushrooms are rich in antioxidants that can help decrease inflammation, specifically in the gut. This can help to prevent or reduce symptoms of conditions such as irritable bowel disease (IBS).
Some additional studies have found that Chaga mushrooms may also help reduce harmful gut bacteria, supporting a healthy microbiome. (Source)
Reishi mushrooms are also believed to provide anti-inflammatory benefits. A recent study conducted on rats found that Reishi helped reduce inflammation in the brain because of stress from low oxygen levels. This helped protect against any damage to the nerves and memory loss. Other animal studies found Reishi adaptogens may help reduce stress-induced anxiety. (Source)(Source)
Brain And Cognitive Health
Some adaptogenic mushrooms may be beneficial in providing brain and cognitive support, specifically protecting against certain diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Lion’s Mane mushrooms have been found to potentially provide cognitive health benefits, including reducing symptoms of mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression.
Some animal studies have even found that Lion’s Mane adaptogens may reduce dementia risk by protecting against nerve damage from the buildup of amyloid beta plaques. These plaques are often seen in those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and are believed to be strongly associated with subsequent cognitive decline. (Source)(Source)
Because many adaptogenic mushrooms contain antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits, it is believed that they may be beneficial for improving cardiovascular health. However, this has not been proven.
Some small studies conducted on Reishi mushrooms did not support their use as a treatment for cardiovascular disease and warrant further studies on this. Although an interesting connection to explore, no conclusions can be drawn from this research yet. (Source)
Potential Anti-Cancer Properties
Some studies suggest mushrooms may have potential use in cancer treatment due to their ability to activate the immune system by affecting the functioning of immune cells.
Although adaptogenic mushrooms are not specifically studied for this, they are included in many of the research studies on the potential anti-cancer effects of mushrooms.
Researchers believe by regulating the immune system cells, certain properties in mushrooms can help inhibit the growth of cancer cells. It’s also believed that their prebiotic effects may be useful in improving the quality of life of those undergoing cancer treatment by helping recover their microbiome. Although promising, further studies are needed. (Source)
Research And Evidence
Adaptogenic mushrooms have been used in many research studies with benefits ranging from antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits to heart health, brain health, and cancer prevention.
Although many studies conducted on the potential health benefits of various adaptogenic mushrooms are promising, most research has been conducted on animal or test-tube populations and further research using human trials is needed.
How To Use Adaptogenic Mushrooms
Although the research on humans is limited, adaptogenic mushrooms are generally considered safe for most healthy adults. With that said, always speak to your healthcare provider before adding an adaptogen supplement to your routine, as they are not for everyone.
For those interested in trying adaptogenic mushrooms, there are many different ways to enjoy them, including eating them whole, taking them in capsules, teas, liquid extracts, or powders, such as Human Tonik’s Red Tonik or Greens and Reds powder.
They also include additional superfood ingredients, including other plant adaptogens Ashwagandha and Rhodiola, in their products.
When choosing an adaptogenic supplement, regardless of type, you want to ensure you choose from a trusted brand. Look for products that contain third-party testing for quality and purity, like Human Tonik. Also, avoid products that contain proprietary blends which may not show you all the ingredients or the doses in their products.
Currently, there is no research available to support a recommended dose for adaptogenic mushrooms and these may vary based on the type of mushroom. If you take an adaptogenic supplement, you will likely notice the most benefits of consuming them daily.
You may have a hard time-consuming adaptogenic mushrooms raw due to availability and cost.
The most commonly available and inexpensive adaptogenic mushrooms include Shiitake. You can enjoy this mushroom in a variety of foods including soups, stews, casseroles, omelets, and more.
Precautions And Potential Side Effects
Adaptogenic mushrooms are considered safe for most healthy adults however, they are not without their potential side effects. Most side effects reported are mild and gastrointestinal in nature however, it also depends on the type of mushrooms.
For example, Reishi mushrooms may cause dizziness and headache in some individuals. Consuming this mushroom is also not recommended if you are taking blood thinners, has a bleeding disorder, or take medications for blood pressure. (Source)
It’s important to note that many adaptogenic mushroom supplements contain additional ingredients that have the potential to result in side effects and allergic reactions.
Although taking more than one adaptogenic mushroom at a time is considered safe, this increases the potential for side effects and medication interactions.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid taking adaptogenic supplements.
Always speak to your doctor or healthcare provider before adding a supplement to your routine, especially if you are taking any medication for a chronic condition, as some ingredients may interact with certain medications.
Adaptogenic mushrooms come in many varieties and have the potential to offer tons of different health benefits.
Although there are promising uses for adaptogenic mushrooms, much research is still needed to learn more about these fungi.
Despite the lack of research on humans, many consumers have reported significant improvements in health and mental well-being from using adaptogenic mushrooms.
If you decide to try them out yourself, choose one from a reputable brand that offers full transparency of their ingredients, such as Human Tonik.
Meghan is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist from San Jose, California. She received her undergraduate degree from San Diego State University in 2015. Following an unexpected cross-country trip that landed her in Florida, she completed her didactic training through AdventHealth Orlando.
Meghan has extensive experience in multiple aspects of dietetics including critical care, motivational interviewing, writing, and research. She is passionate about health and wellness and has dedicated her free time to breaking down complicated nutrition topics and disseminating them to the public through the arena of writing.