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How Medicinal Mushrooms Work For Your Health

How Medicinal Mushrooms Work For Your Health

So often we take for granted what we eat and take into our bodies.  I had never really given all that much thought to mushrooms…until I really started to research and use them…especially the medicinal mushrooms.

This article may be filled with a lot of words most of us are not familiar with, however, getting the gist of how mushrooms work, and how they are different from other foods (like vegetables, meats, etc) is not only fascinating but provides an understanding that deepen appreciation for what they offer to us and our health.

Nature sure is amazing and I get more and more awed by it, and its gift of mushrooms, the more I learn!

“Mushroom” is used to refer to over 10,000 known species of fungi. They don’t undergo photosynthesis, like plants, so mushrooms are not considered to be plants. Instead, “mushroom” refers to the reproductive part of fungus that produces spores. These spores in a mushroom act similar to seeds on a dandelion. They blow away with the airflow, allowing the organism to grow elsewhere.

Mushrooms as Superfoods

For centuries, many Eastern cultures have recognized mushrooms for their medicinal and health benefits. But it is only in the last fifty years or so that scientists, mostly in the Eastern cultures, have begun to scientifically validate the widely believed health benefits of mushrooms.

As more and more scientific evidence comes forth, it suggests that some species of mushrooms contain the right proteins, trace minerals, polysaccharides, amino acids and fiber to promote overall heath.

The compounds found in some mushrooms are believed to…

  • Boost your immune system
  • Detoxify your body
  • Fight cancerous cells
  • Promote healthy digestion
  • Promote healthy cellular growth

In other words, with confirmation from further scientific studies, medicinal mushrooms may be fantastic supplements for people with a host of health concerns.

There’s More to Medicinal Mushrooms…

When most people think of a mushroom, they imagine your traditional structure with a stem and cap. This is not wrong, but did you know that a mushroom is simply one part of a much larger mass? This larger mass is called the “mycelium”.

The mycelium is a series of thread-like strands of fungus which often accounts for about 95% of the fungi’s biomass, while the mushroom is the reproductive part of the fungus that is visible above the soil or other substrate.

You can think of the mycelium as the tree, and the mushroom as the apple on the tree. It is the reproductive part of the organism which accounts for a small portion of the overall biomass.

The mycelium is a vast network of living cells that cover a large portion of the earth’s surface. To add a bit of context, more than 8 miles worth of individual mycelium cells, called mycelia, can take up ONE cubic inch of soil! And these “fungal mats” can live for decades and even centuries.

Like other organisms, the goal of mycelium is to survive and continue to grow. As mycelium and mushrooms cells have evolved in the constant struggle for survival, they have developed proactive and strong immune systems.

To get a better understanding of how the mycelium promotes and preserves its species and what that can mean for us, let’s take a closer look at its life cycle.

Making These Healthy Mushrooms and Mycelium Work For You

Other cultures have valued mushrooms for their medicinal properties for five millennia and just recently, scientific research has begun to support these claims.

What is it about mushrooms and mycelium that makes them so beneficial to the human body?

Beta glucans help support the human immune system

Chains of polysaccharides called “beta glucans” and “proteoglycans” can be found in mushrooms. These polysaccharide chains help support people’s immune system, without contributing to overstimulation.

But how exactly do beta glucans support the immune system?

Essentially, beta glucans function like a puzzle pieces.

The beta glucans found in mushrooms and mycelium are shaped as complex long-chain molecules. Just like the pieces of a puzzle, the beta glucan compounds in mushrooms fit perfectly with cellular receptors in your body.

Mushrooms contribute a variety of beta glucan molecular structures. When you combine several species of mushrooms, you multiply the number of immune cell receptor sites that may be activated.

…And More Vital Components that Promote Health

While beta glucans have been the most studied component, mushrooms and mycelium contain many other bioactive compounds and proteins that also work to support healthy immune system function:

  • Alpha glucans
  • Antioxidants
  • Enzymes
  • Lectins
  • Pectins
  • Peptides
  • Ribonucleases
  • Ubiquitin-like proteins

How Mushrooms Support a Healthy Gut and Digestion

In addition to supporting healthy immune function, mushrooms can also help support a healthy gut and good digestion.

These health benefits have been attributed to the host of nutrients, fiber, and enzymes found in mushrooms.

A Healthy Gut, Brain, and Immune System

If you’re looking to be healthier, a good place to start is the gastrointestinal tract.

Most people don’t realize that 80 percent of your immune system lies in your gastrointestinal tract. But did you know that the tissue in your gut comes from the same type of tissue as your brain?

When a fetus grows in the womb, part of this “brain” tissue becomes the fetus’ central nervous system and another part becomes its enteric nervous system.

The nervous system and enteric nervous system are both connected by the vagus nerve. This nerve runs from your brain, all the way down to your abdomen and explains why your gut and brain influence each other so powerfully.

This also explains why your intestinal health can affect your mental and neurological health so much, and why it is so important to take care of your intestinal health.  Including these essential mushrooms in your favorite recipes will contribute to your gut’s health.

What this means…

The mushroom’s striving for its own survival, its innate drive to build its immune system, allows those factors supports its own health and survival and, in turn, to support our human immune systems in being healthy.

Our complex relationships with the other organisms on this planet never fail to fascinate me.  There really are no accidents.

Just as a walnut look like our heart and a pecan mirrors our brain, and each are known to support the health of their respective human organs, mushrooms have the internal mechanisms that can mirror our human mechanisms and become our medicinal partners in the striving for survival.

For more information and an in-depth discussion of these processes visit


Susan Sugar

Susan is a psychotherapist and health coach who takes a holistic and integrative approach to having the best life possible. She knows the importance of our foods in dealing with depression, anxiety, our health and general well-being. After facing the possibility of cancer she began exploring ways to help her body, mind and spirit have the best resources to fight the cancer cells. What started as an intriguing research became a passion. Now, she wants to be sure that you have any and all information you need on how these magnificent fungi can help you have the best life possible.

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