The benefits of medicinal mushrooms
Mushrooms may not seem the obvious choice for keeping your immunity strong, skin glowing and blood sugar balanced, but numerous clinical studies have proved medicinal mushrooms can benefit multiple systems in our bodies.
Dr. Vivien Rolfe PhD, Pukka’s Head of Herbal Research, explains why they are a great go-to natural remedy to keep you in good health.
1. Keep your immunity strong and support natural defences
Mushrooms are high in beta-glucans – natural substances that have been found to help ‘prime’ our immune system, making sure it’s ready for action to fight off bugs and other invaders (1). Certain types of mushrooms such as reishi, shiitake and maitake are especially rich in the most powerful beta-glucans. So, a daily serving of these could be beneficial at times when we need extra support, such as during the cold and flu season. A recent study found that maitake mushrooms have a protective effect against the flu virus and reduce cold symptoms (2), so it might be worth adding a dose of maitake to your wellbeing rituals.
2. Rich source of vitamin D
Mushrooms contain a pre-cursor to vitamin D, which is converted to an active form (a form that is useable by the human body) following UV radiation (3), so try popping your mushrooms on a sunny windowsill or on a table in the garden for a couple of hours in the midday sun for a great plant-based source of vitamin D. (Note that this requires stronger UV rays, so will only be effective between April and October.) Alternatively, look out for “vitamin D enhanced” mushrooms in your local supermarket, which have been pre-exposed to UV light. Pukka’s Mushroom Gold contains 248% NRV of natural vitamin D, so try including a daily dose for this and many other immune-regulating benefits.
3. Increase energy and help you cope with stress
Certain medicinal mushrooms are traditionally used in many parts of Asia on a daily basis as a mood tonic or ‘adaptogen’. Adaptogens are natural substances that help the body adapt to stress and protect against some of its negative effects, such as fatigue and poor sleep (4) resulting in more energy too. Maitake and reishi are among the mushrooms said to have adaptogenic qualities.
4. Keep blood sugar balanced
When blood sugar levels are out of balance, it can affect our everyday energy as well as increase the risk of weight gain and conditions such as type 2 diabetes. Studies have found that the maitake mushroom can help bring blood sugar levels down by improving sensitivity to insulin (5,6) – the hormone that triggers cells to take glucose out of the blood. It may also help protect the pancreas, which produces insulin.
5. Keep joints healthy
Inflamed and aching joints can be an issue for many people, especially those with arthritis or joint damage, and may prevent us from doing activities we enjoy. Mushrooms appear to be anti-inflammatory, so could help to ease some of this pain and discomfort (7). A clinical trial found that reishi mushrooms helped to ease pain in people with rheumatoid arthritis over a period of 24 weeks (8). So, a daily dose of mushrooms could help keep you active and pain free.
6. Look after your natural glow
Studies have found that mushrooms such as shiitake (9) and reishi (10) are rich in antioxidants, such as polyphenols. They are also a good source of the minerals copper and zinc (11), used by our body to make its own powerful antioxidants. Together, this means that mushrooms may have anti-aging and protective activity for our skin, as well as other cells around the body.
How do I get medicinal mushrooms into my diet?
You may have seen shiitake mushrooms in your local supermarket, but maitake and reishi are not as readily available in food form. For a convenient and effective way to get all the health benefits of these powerful mushrooms, try a good-quality organic nutritional mushroom supplement combining all three. Pukka’s Mushroom Gold is a blend of organic full-spectrum reishi, shiitake and maitake mushrooms.
1.Vetvicka, V., Vannucci, L., Sima, P., & Richter, J. (2019). Beta Glucan: Supplement or Drug? From Laboratory to Clinical Trials. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 24(7), 1251. doi:10.3390/molecules24071251
2. Nishihira J., Sato M., Tanaka A., Okamatsu M., Azuma T., Tsutsumi N., Yoneyama S., Maitake mushrooms (Grifola frondosa) enhances antibody production in response to influenza vaccination in healthy adult volunteers concurrent with alleviation of common cold symptoms. Functional Foods in Health and Disease 2017; 7(7): 462-482
3. Cardwell, G. Bornman, J. James, A. et al. (2018). A Review of Mushrooms as a Potential Source of Dietary Vitamin D, Nutrients, 10 (10), pp. 1498. doi:10.3390/nu10101498.
4. Liao, L. Y., He, Y. F., Li, L., Meng, H., Dong, Y. M., Yi, F., & Xiao, P. G. (2018). A preliminary review of studies on adaptogens: comparison of their bioactivity in TCM with that of ginseng-like herbs used worldwide. Chinese medicine, 13, 57. doi:10.1186/s13020-018-0214-9
5. Kubo K, Aoki H, Nanba H. Anti-diabetic activity present in the fruit body of Grifola frondosa (maitake).I. Biol Pharm Bull 1994;17:1106-1110.
6. Kubo K, Nanba H. Antidiabetic mechanism of maitake (Grifola frondosa). In: Royse DJ, ed. Mushroom Biology and Mushroom Products. University Park,
7. Geng Y, Zhu S, Lu Z, Xu H, Shi JS and Xu ZH. (2014). Anti-inflammatory activity of mycelial extracts from medicinal mushrooms. Int J Med Mushrooms. 16(4):319-25.
8. Li EK, Tam LS, Wong CK, Li WC, Lam CWK, Wachtel-Galor S, Benzie IFF, Bao YX, Leung PC, Tomlinson B (2007) Safety and efficacy of Ganoderma lucidum (Lingzhi) and San miao San supplementation in patients with rheumatoid arthritis: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled pilot trial. Arthrit Rheum-Arthr 57(7):1143–1150.
9. Wu, F.; Jia, X.; Yin, L.; Cheng, Y.; Miao, Y.; Zhang, X. The Effect of Hemicellulose and Lignin on Properties of Polysaccharides in Lentinus edodes and Their Antioxidant Evaluation. Molecules 2019, 24, 1834.
10. Jeng-Leun Mau, Hsiu-Ching Lin, and, and Chin-Chu Chen. Antioxidant Properties of Several Medicinal Mushrooms Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2002, 50 (21), 6072-6077.
11. Borchers A. T, Stern J. S, Hackman R. M, Keen C. L, Gershwin M. E. Minireview: Mushrooms, tumors and immunity. Proc Soc Exp Biol Med. 1999;221:281–93.
Author: Dr Vivien Rolfe
Head of Herbal Research
Viv is a gut physiologist and has recently achieved a Foundation in Herbal Medicine. She leads Pukka’s research programme to explore how herbs can benefit our health and be used to widen healthcare choices. This includes research into herbs for Women’s health and as alternatives to antibiotics. She establishes global research partnerships and enthuses the next generation of scientists through Pukka’s Scholarship Scheme. She is a champion of diversity in science and open access to knowledge.
BSc, PhD, PFHEA
Years of experience:
30+ years in the wellbeing industry and academia
Degree in Physiology University of Sheffield, PhD University of Sheffield, Foundation in Herbalism Heartwood, MBA Entrepreneurship (on-going) Edinburgh Napier University, Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.
Membership of Nutrition Society, Physiological Society, Society for Chemical Industry, and other herbal and botanical groups.