functional mushrooms close up

Functional Mushroom Benefits: How Mushrooms Support the Human Body

You may have heard that mushrooms help the planet survive and thrive. Well, leading mycologists believe the same is true for humans.

Functional mushrooms, also known as medicinal mushrooms, have been shown to support many biological functions of the body—from the protective layers of the skin to encouraging internal organs to operate smoothly.

This has been a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) belief for well over 2000 years. However, we were remiss in vital research to support the Eastern claims, until now. Copious studies have surfaced in English to validate the health benefits of these fascinating forest dwellers.

According to a peer-reviewed article, “Botanical drugs and supplements affecting the immune response in the time of COVID-19: Implications for research and clinical practice,” over 1,000 papers and reports were published on medicinal mushrooms as of 2020.

We will highlight some of the research below. However, this will not be an exhaustive list. First, we will briefly define functional mushrooms. Then we will explore how they can contribute to health and wellness for your pain relief patients. 

What are functional mushrooms?

mushroom lab

Functional mushrooms, also known as medicinal mushrooms, are just like they sound—functional. They are known for their extensive nutraceutical, cosmeceutical, and therapeutic potential.

Paul Stamets, one of the world’s leading mycologists, has said that “fungi are the interface of organisms between life and death – without them, all ecosystems would fail.

This could be why mushrooms are also symbiotic with the human ecosystem.

Botanical medicine researchers define medicinal [aka functional] mushrooms “…as macroscopic fungi, mostly higher Basidiomycetes [club-like fungi], which are used in the form of extracts or powders for prevention, alleviation, or healing of diseases and/or for nutritional reasons.”

To date, over 2000 known mushrooms exist in the wild, but only 25 of them are classified as “food.” Their high nutritional density alone can support a healthy lifestyle and recovery plan.

However, only a handful of mushrooms are recognized for their medicinal potential. Haifa University professor and renowned mycologist Dr. Solomon Wasser has indicated that there are more than 130 medicinal functions of these fascinating forest dwellers.

Note: medicinal mushrooms should not be confused with their psychedelic cousins, which contain the active compound, psilocybin. Medicinal or functional mushrooms are completely non-psychedelic.

Functional mushroom properties

Functional mushrooms have been shown to possess the following properties:

  • Immunomodulatory
  • Neuroprotective
  • Adaptogenic
  • Hepatoprotective
  • Antinociceptive
  • Antidiabetic
  • Apoptotic
  • Antiviral
  • Antimicrobial
  • Humectant
  • Antioxidant
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • and many others

Some mushrooms contain higher concentrations of specific compounds that may contribute to prevention and treatment of specific diseases and conditions.

While oncological and immunological studies dominate the research, scientists believe there is far more potential.

Functional Mushroom Nutrients

Functional mushrooms are nutrient-dense powerhouses. That alone can support healthy muscles and joints.

  • Mushrooms are a great source of non-animal protein. Mushrooms contain up to 40% protein, which is great news for patients who may be trying to reduce or omit animal-based ingredients from their diet.
  • Mushrooms provide complex carbohydrates. Mushrooms contain trehalose and mannitol natural sugars, fiber, and polysaccharides such as beta-glucans, glycogen, hemicelluloses, chitin, and pectic substances.
  • Mushrooms are an ample source of antioxidants. They contain a range of antioxidants such as beta-carotene, choline, selenium, lutein, lycopene, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, and polysaccharides.
  • Mushrooms provide B vitamins. Functional mushrooms contain thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), folic acid (B9), and cobalamin (B12), which play an important role in our ability to maintain energy, concentrate, remember information, and more.) Shiitake and Lion’s Mane even contain B12, which shows promise for vegans who rely on supplements to make up for their absence in modern plant sources.
  • Mushrooms are packed with essential minerals. Mushrooms magnesium, selenium, phosphorus, calcium, iron, copper, potassium and more.

Popular Functional Mushroom Forms

  • Tinctures
  • Powders
  • Capsules
  • Creams
  • Ointments
  • Oils
  • Dried whole mushrooms

Western Pharmacological Use of Mushrooms

doctor holding a white and green pill
Fungi are the life force of many medications. “Similar to medicines that come from botanicals, many of the chemicals that fungi produce to flourish in the wild are also active in humans.” -Paul Stamets Thanks to mushroom extracts, we now have powerful antibiotics, immunosuppressants for organ transplants, lipid-lowering statins, promising adjuvant treatments, and more life-saving medicines. Fungi-derived medications have included:
  • Penicillin: Penicillium fungi produced a compound that gave birth to the first antibiotic.
  • Cyclosporine: Cyclosporine is one of the first immunosuppressant drugs to aid in transplant acceptance. The active ingredient is derived from Tolypocladium inflatum gams, the anamorph or asexual stage of the better known Cordyceps mushroom.
  • Statins (Lovastatin and Mevastatin): Statins are cholesterol medications formulated with extracts from Aspergillus terreus. The drug also has shown off-label secondary uses (e.g., Parkinson’s, anti-inflammatory).
  • Lentinan: Lentian has been used intravenously (IV) at doses of 2 to 10 mg on a weekly schedule as adjunctive therapy for HIV and cancer in Japan. The drug relies on an extract from shiitake mushrooms (Lentinula edodes). There are limited studies published in English, however they have earned some attention in the West.
From there, a myriad of studies and institutions reveal promise for integrative adjuvant treatments utilizing whole mushrooms, with a heavy concentration on:
  • Turkey tail (Trametes versicolor)
  • Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)
  • Maitake (Grifola frondosa)
  • Shiitake (Lentinus edodes)
  • Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis: wild variety or Cordyceps militaris: commerical variety)
  • Lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus)
As more promising studies surface, the possibilities for their use in pharmaceuticals are infinite. Their advancement in medicine could contribute to the next generation of safer medications, in addition to beneficial supplements and topicals.

How Can Functional Mushrooms Benefit Patients Living With Pain

Chiropractic adjustement, Woman's back with doctor's hands

Simply put, mushrooms can be an added benefit to any prevention and recovery plan. Their nutritional density combined with their promising biological activity can affect:

  • How we sleep
  • How we respond to illness
  • How we cope with stress
  • How we recover from exercise
  • How we process fats and sugars
  • How aging shows up in our skin
  • And much more

Disclaimer: This article is for educational purposes only. This article and our products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Aly, A.H., Debbab, A. & Proksch, P. Fifty years of drug discovery from fungi. Fungal Diversity 50, 3 (2011). Accessed October 22, 2022.

Brendler T, Al‐Harrasi A, Bauer R, et al. Botanical drugs and supplements affecting the immune response in the time of COVID‐19: Implications for research and clinical practice. Phytotherapy Research. 2020; 1– 19. Accessed October 27, 2022.

Gordon M, Bihari B, Goosby E, Gorter R, Greco M, Guralnik M, Mimura T, Rudinicki V, Wong R, Kaneko Y. A placebo-controlled trial of the immune modulator, lentinan, in HIV-positive patients: a phase I/II trial. J Med. 1998;29(5-6):305-30. Access October 25, 2022. PMID: 10503166.

Hasler CM. Functional food: The western perspective. Nutr Rev. 1996;54:506–10. In Ganeshpurkar A, Rai G, Jain AP. Medicinal mushrooms: Towards a new horizon. Pharmacogn Rev. 2010;4(8):127-135. Accessed October 25, 2021. doi:10.4103/0973-7847.70904.

Hawkins, D. CASE STUDY: how mushrooms can save forests. Ecologist. October 21, 2009. Accessed October 25, 2022.

Kozarski M, Klaus A, Jakovljevic D, et al. Antioxidants of Edible Mushrooms. Molecules. 2015;20(10):19489-19525. Accessed October 28, 2022. doi:10.3390/molecules201019489.

Lindequist U, Kim HW, Tiralongo E, Griensven LV. Medicinal Mushrooms. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2014. Accessed online October 26, 2022.

Valverde M E, Hernández-Pérez T, Octavio Paredes-López. Edible Mushrooms: Improving Human Health and Promoting Quality Life. International Journal of Microbiology, 2015. Accessed October 27, 2022.

Wasser SP. Medicinal Mushrooms in Human Clinical Studies. Part I. Anticancer, Oncoimmunological, and Immunomodulatory Activities: A Review. Int J Med Mushrooms. 2017;19(4):279-317. Accessed October 26, 2022. doi:10.1615/IntJMedMushrooms.v19.i4.10. PMID: 28605319.

Watanabe F, Yabuta Y, Bito T, Teng F. Vitamin B₁₂-containing plant food sources for vegetarians. Nutrients. 2014;6(5):1861-1873. Accessed October 28, 2022. doi:10.3390/nu6051861.

Mallikarjuna SE, Ranjini A, Haware DJ, Vijayalakshmi MR, et al. Mineral Composition of Four Edible Mushrooms. Journal of Chemistry. 2013. Accessed online October 28, 2022.

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