3 Lesser Known Medicinal Mushrooms & Their Benefits

In this article we will explore Maitake, Shiitake, and Tremella mushrooms. They are not often considered but are well worth being part of your diet. This is not an exhaustive overview but should give you a solid introduction into their benefits.

TREMELLA (aka Snow Mushroom)

Tremella fuciformis, also known as snow mushroom, is an edible mushroom that has long been popular in Asian herbal medicine and cuisine.

Tremella is great for winter months with it’s vitamin D content and it makes sense that it was revered for keeping people youthful in Chinese lore. Tremella is renowned and long-used for its natural moisturizing properties. “The mushroom contains polysaccharides that help retain moisture, thereby supporting the skin’s hydration levels. Additionally, it’s been traditionally used in beauty regimens to maintain skin’s elasticity and youthful appearance. The main polysaccharide ingredients have been extracted and used as treatment in a variety of conditions, demonstrating positive effects in a range of biological functions including those involved in antioxidation, blood sugar control, immunomodulatory, and neuroprotective pathways. Studies have demonstrated the role this extract may play in skin antiaging, photoprotection, wound healing, and barrier protection. “ (1)

  • Cognition

There is limited evidence that tremella polysaccharides may help improve brain function by protecting nerve cells in your brain from damage.

In a 2018 randomized control trial, 75 individuals with self-reported confusion or memory loss were assigned either a placebo or a tremella mushroom supplement (600 or 1,200 milligrams) daily for eight weeks. The group taking the tremella mushroom supplement showed improved memory questionnaire scores and significant enhancements in short-term memory and executive functions compared to the placebo group.

Similarly, an older test-tube study found that the use of tremella mushrooms as a preventive measure in neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease may be promising.

  • Constituents & Nutrition

Tremella mushrooms contain a whole food form of vitamin D, ergosterol, which may help the absorption of calcium. Tremella mushrooms also contain a variety of constituents such dietary fiber, triterpenoids, 1,3 / 1,6 beta glucans, polysaccharides and protein.* Tremella also contains N-acetylglucosamine for supporting gut health, and Glucomannan and Glucuronic acid for supporting natural detoxification.

MAITAKE (Grifola Frondosa)

The Maitake mushroom, also known as Hen-of-the-Woods, is a polypore mushroom which grows at the base of oak, maple, and elm trees.(in season between late August and early November) These mushrooms can grow to be quite large and heavy & have been used for their medicinal qualities for centuries. The mushrooms enhance immune function, regulate blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar levels, and protect the liver. They can also help alleviate polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and help as a complementary supplement in the treatment of cancer. They also appear in a variety of colours from pure white, yellow, brown, and black, with black maitake said to have the highest quality and potency.

Beta Glucan Benefits

The key component in Maitake mushrooms responsible for its many health benefits is beta-glucan, a type of polysaccharide. Beta-glucans increase host immune defense by activating the complement system, enhancing macrophages and natural killer cell function. Another important compound in Maitake mushrooms is called D-fraction and has been proven to support the immune system.(2) The beta-glucan in Maitake is responsible for reducing LDL cholesterol in the body, which helps maintain cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure. They also help to regulate blood sugar levels, acting similarly to insulin. Maitake also increased the ability of insulin to bind to liver cells and improved pancreatic function.(3) Beta glucan from Maitake has been used in a drug to treat cancer in Asia.

Nutritionally, maitake contains some Niacin (approx 23%DV from 70g) along with a few other B vitamins in trace amounts. Maitake also contains minerals that help fill gaps in your diet, including copper, manganese, zinc, and selenium.

Early research shows that taking maitake mushroom extract can improve ovulation in women whose periods have stopped due to PCOS. However, Maitake mushrooms do not appear to be as effective as clomiphene for PCOS. Still, combining these two agents seems to be more effective than either agent alone for improving ovulation.(4)

The D-fraction in Maitake may inhibit cancer development and spread (metastasis) and also make chemotherapy drugs more effective.(5)

CAUTION: Do not use Maitake if you are taking blood sugar-lowering medications: Maitake can increase their effects. Also if you are taking warfarin: Maitake may interact with warfarin resulting in an elevated international normalized ratio (INR).

SHIITAKE (Lentinula edodes )

Shiitake are often thought of primary as culinary mushrooms but don’t get much attention for their medicinal & nutritive effects. Native to East Asia, Shiitake mushrooms make up about a quarter of all cultivated mushrooms in the world.

Nutrition

Shiitake mushrooms are high in dietary fibre, and a source of B vitamins (especially pantothenic acid & B6), copper, selenium, manganese, and phosphorous. Shiitake mushrooms also contain all 8 essential amino acids in a high percentage for their weight. Shiitake will support adrenal and cognitive function with their vitamin B content. They are also a food source of vitamin D.

Some studies suggest that the polysaccharide lentinan may prove beneficial against cancer and useful as an adjunct therapeutic substance to support recovery from harsh conventional cancer treatments. (6) Shiitake has also been found to benefit severe gastric (stomach) distress with it’s lentinan content. (7) This study used it with gastric cancer patients and found clear benefits.

A 2006 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine investigated the potential roles of an ethyl acetate fraction from Shiitake mushrooms. The study involved two human breast carcinoma cell lines, one human nonmalignant breast epithelial cell line and two myeloma cell lines.

Eritadenine substances from edible mushrooms help reduce cholesterol levels and support cardiovascular health. Researchers at Shizuoka University in Japan even found that eritadenine supplementation significantly decreased plasma cholesterol concentration. (8) This means shiitake can contribute to healthier blood and a healthier weight overall.

Very rarely people will have a skin reaction to large doses of shiitake, but the overwhelming majority have no issues & tolerate shiitake very well.

Conclusion

These three mushrooms deserve to be incorporated into your diet, especially in light of all the chemical burdens the modern world places on us. The fungal kingdom is often neglected in people’s diets, but they have much to offer us.

REFERENCES

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/36757441/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4202470/
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11520942/
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21034160/
  5. https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/109662003772519949
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16566671/
  7. https://www.eurekaselect.com/article/51860
  8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7643248/

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