The 3 Forms and Benefits of Medicinal Mushrooms

which form is best for your needs
medicinal mushrooms cut on a cutting board next to a knife
© CanStock Photo Inc. / [jirkaejc]

You can find mushrooms in the produce aisle at the grocery store, in your fridge, and the wild—but have you ever wondered about their health benefits? Medicinal mushrooms have a long history of use in medicine, and they are known to be antiviral, antioxidant, immunomodulating, antiparasitic, antibacterial, and antitumour.1 Did you know that different medicinal mushrooms also have different benefits? Coriolus (turkey tail) and reishi, for example, have been researched for oncology, gut health, and balanced immune function.2Coriolus has also been studied in the local treatment of high-risk HPV infections.3,4 In addition, lion’s mane is being studied for its neuroprotective benefits and potential use for people with brain injuries, dementia, and depression.5,6,7


“Medicinal mushrooms have a long history of use in medicine, and they are known to be antiviral, antioxidant, immunomodulating, antiparasitic, antibacterial, and antitumour.”




Whole Mushrooms

The biggest benefit of consuming your mushrooms whole is that you’re getting all the nutrients from their caps and stems: protein, fibre, selenium, potassium, riboflavin, niacin, and vitamins D and E.8 As you are making your meal plan for the week, consider how you can support your health by adding more shiitake, maitake, or oyster mushrooms to your stir-fries, salads, soups, or stews. 

Powdered Medicinal Mushrooms

A benefit of mushroom powders—like protein powder—is convenience. You can add these to your water during the day for an earthy energy boost without any work in the kitchen! Products containing a combination of different mushrooms and fibre have been shown to help create a healthy balance of Th1 and Th2 immune activity9 (which also happens to taste great). This effect makes mushrooms an important consideration for people with conditions like allergies and asthma.10,11 

medicinal mushroom and supplement capsules
© CanStock Photo Inc. / [chormail] 


Mushroom Capsules 

Many of the studies investigating the powerful immune and anticancer benefits of mushrooms look at mushroom supplements created from a hot water extracting process. This approach allows for beta-glucan (polysaccharide) in the mushrooms to be in much higher concentrations than we see in whole or powdered forms; it’s this element of mushrooms that has been most studied for immunomodulating and anticancer benefits.14 A systematic review of clinical trials that used medicinal mushroom supplements (Coriolus or reishi) in people with cancer found improved survival rates and responses to their conventional treatments (chemotherapy and/or radiation). The authors concluded that quality of life and immune function markers were also improved.15

Capsules are my preferred form of mushroom support in treatment plans; there is standardization in the dose per capsule, and I can trust that my patients are getting the amount they need to experience the aforementioned benefits. Outside of cancer care, I often use powdered mushrooms and nutrition recommendations.

Are Mushrooms Safe? 

Medicinal mushrooms are generally regarded as safe, but they may interact with some prescription medications. Reishi, for example, can interact with blood-thinning medications and increase the risk of bleeding. Mushrooms are also not considered safe for patients on immunosuppressants. 

There have been case reports of liver toxicity and pseudo parasitosis with mushrooms (reishi specifically)—often following consumption of powdered forms in unregulated countries.16 The products available on shelves in Canada are subject to the Natural Health Products Regulations, which came into effect on January 1, 2004; these products are safe, effective, and of high quality.17

Remember, not every product available is appropriate for every person. Make sure to ask your health care provider before starting any new supplements.


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