Mushrooms: A Friend or Foe?

When it comes to versatile and nutritious foods that also have medicinal uses, mushrooms are having a moment! The psychedelic renaissance is upon us, and we are thrilled to be part of the first clinical trial in Western Australia investigating the use of synthetic psilocybin for people with chronic pain. However, in their natural forms, these fungal wonders deserve more recognition for their incredible health benefits to the soil and also to human health. Edible (non-psychedelic) mushrooms not only add a unique flavour and texture to various dishes but also pack a powerful punch of nutrients and medicinal properties.

When mushrooms are not our friends:

For close to two decades we did not eat mushrooms. Why not? Because according to some strands of yogic philosophy, the energetic impact of mushrooms can dull the mind and interfere with meditation. As a form of medicine, they are considered tamasic, only to be used when needed.
Another reason some folks avoid mushrooms is because of the yeast factor. If you have oral or vaginal thrush due to Candidiasis (an overgrowth of naturally occurring Candida albicans), the old wisdom was to avoid fungi as they may feed the yeast infection. But like many things in health, new science supersedes old understandings and we now know that in fact, some types of mushrooms such as chaga and reishi are potent against Candida. One study even found that reishi extract reduced the ability of Candida albicans to adhere to mucous membranes (Bhardwaj et al., 2017).

There are some clear contradictions to using the magic kind of mushrooms that make you trip too – while the evidence is growing that psychedelics derived from mushrooms can help with death anxiety, depression and pain, if you have a history of psychosis, a diagnosis of bipolar, or simply don’t feel you can explore psychedelics safely, it is better not to take the risk. Yes, we are interested in the emerging research but bear in mind that in clinical trials, participants are vetted, facilitators are trained, the dose is measured, and the environment is well controlled. That is a very different proposition to taking responsibility for your own psychonaut adventures.

For more information on optimising ‘set and setting’ see our earlier blog ‘An acid trip changed my life’.

Now to the friendly ‘shrooms!

Immune System Support:

Mushrooms possess immunomodulatory properties that help bolster the immune system. They contain beta-glucans, a type of polysaccharide, which stimulates the activity of immune cells such as natural killer cells and macrophages. These compounds help regulate immune responses, thereby enhancing the body’s ability to fight off infections and diseases.

Rich in Nutrients:

Mushrooms are a nutrient powerhouse. While the nutrient content may vary among different mushroom varieties, they generally offer a range of essential vitamins and minerals. Mushrooms are an excellent source of B vitamins, including riboflavin, niacin, and pantothenic acid, which are vital for energy production and maintaining healthy nerve function. They also contain minerals like selenium, copper, potassium, and phosphorus, which play crucial roles in various bodily functions.

Antioxidant Activity:

Antioxidants are compounds that help protect our cells from damage caused by free radicals, unstable molecules that can lead to oxidative stress and chronic diseases. Mushrooms, such as porcini, shiitake, and oyster mushrooms, are abundant in antioxidants like selenium, ergothioneine, and glutathione. These antioxidants work synergistically to neutralize free radicals, reducing the risk of oxidative damage and promoting overall health and longevity.

Anti-Inflammatory Properties:

Chronic inflammation is associated with numerous health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer. Mushrooms contain bioactive compounds that possess anti-inflammatory properties. For instance, the presence of ergosterol, a precursor to vitamin D, in mushrooms has been linked to reduced inflammation. Moreover, the polysaccharides found in mushrooms exhibit anti-inflammatory effects by modulating immune responses and inhibiting pro-inflammatory molecules.

Digestive Health:

Mushrooms are a great source of dietary fibre, which is essential for maintaining a healthy digestive system. Adequate fibre intake promotes regular bowel movements, prevents constipation, and supports the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. Moreover, mushrooms contain a unique type of fibre called beta-glucans, which act as prebiotics, nourishing the good bacteria in your gut and contributing to a balanced microbiome.

Anti-Cancer Effects:

Certain mushroom varieties exhibit promising anti-cancer properties. For example, compounds found in shiitake and maitake mushrooms have been studied for their ability to inhibit tumour growth and stimulate the immune system’s anti-cancer activity. Additionally, mushrooms contain natural compounds like lectins and polysaccharides that may help suppress the growth and spread of cancer cells.

Mushrooms can be friends or foes, but there’s no doubt we are in a fascinating symbiotic relationship, and they offer us a treasure trove of health benefits. From supporting immune function to providing essential nutrients, mushrooms offer a wide range of advantages for overall well-being. Whether you enjoy them sautéed, grilled, or added to soups and stews, incorporating mushrooms into your diet can provide a flavourful and nutritious boost. So, next time you prepare a meal, remember to harness the power of mushrooms and indulge in their extraordinary health benefits.