There are approximately 10,000 identified species of mushrooms, of which about 300 are known to have medicinal properties. Of these medicinal mushroom species, a select few are known possess some of the most powerful healing compounds found in nature.
While practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine have known for thousands of years about the immune boosting, stress relieving and disease fighting properties certain mushrooms possess, the idea of mushrooms as medicine is relatively new in the Western world. In just the last decade or so, scientific studies have validated much of what herbalists throughout Asia have long known about the benefits of consuming the healing compounds found in medicinal mushrooms.
The amazing health benefits of mushrooms are primarily attributable to two classes of nutrients: triterpenes and polysaccharides.
Trierpenes are compounds with powerful adaptogenic properties — they help the body deal with stress by regulating and normalizing bodily functions. Triterpenes also increase oxygen uptake and support liver health and detoxification.
Research has shown that certain polysaccharides found in medicinal mushrooms, called beta-glucans, have the ability to modulate the immune system by lowering the overactive (auto-immune) immune system, and stimulating the under-active (immuno-deficient) immune system. When used for a period of time, beta-glucans build, strengthen and balance the immune system. Beta-glucans have received a lot of attention recently for their anti-cancer potential, as the connection between immune function and cancer has become increasingly accepted in the medical world.
Some of the top mushrooms include reishi, chaga, maitake, shiitake, cordyceps, coriolus and agaricus. While each of these mushrooms has unique health-enhancing properties, two in particular can be singled out for their proven and universal effectiveness.
Reishi: The Mushroom of Immortality
Reishi has been known also as the “Herb of Spiritual Potency” and the “Mushroom of Immortality” and has been used historically in Traditional Chinese Medicine as a Shen (spirit) nourishing tonic. The purported benefits of reishi are vast, and research continues today on the potential uses of this ancient herb. Reishi is also considered an adaptogenic herb that supports and normalizes the functions of the body. Important reishi compounds include, but are not limited to, triterpines, polysaccharides, SOP (superoxide dismutase) and AMP (adenosine monophosphate). Reishi contains more triterpenes than any other medicinal mushroom.
Chaga: The King of Mushrooms
Chaga, a mushroom that grows all over the world and has a history of use in Russian and Eastern European folk medicine dating back to the 16th century, has been called the “King of Mushrooms.” Recently, it has come gained popularity as a health tonic as new research has emerged demonstrating its incredible health benefits. Chaga has been historically used as an anti-tumor, anti-viral and adaptogenic herb. It has the highest ORAC rating (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity), a measure of antioxidant content, of any known natural substance, and is high in betulinic acid, a compound that has been shown to inhibit tumors and cancer cells.
While reishi and some of the other medicinal mushrooms have been popular among natural health enthusiasts for a long time, chaga has only become widely known in the U.S. in the last few years. Like many others, I first learned about incredible benefits of chaga from Daniel Vitalis, whose company, SurThrival, makes high quality chaga and reishi extracts.
Daniel Vitalis and SurThrival
Renowned mycologist, Paul Stamets, is almost certainly the person who deserves the most credit for bringing medicinal mushrooms to the forefront of the natural health world’s consciousness. In the last few years, however, a new mushroom revolutionary has emerged. Daniel Vitalis is a natural living, health and nutrition expert who is deeply knowledgeable about medicinal mushrooms and other cutting edge health technologies. His work has had a strong influence on my personal health philosophy over the last few years and I was lucky enough to see him speak recently at the Longevity Now Conference.
In addition to being a researcher and educator, Daniel Vitalis is the formulator of some really incredible, super high quality dietary supplements. His company, SurThrival, is included as a recommended source for supplements in the Live in the Now Natural Product Guide. The name says it all. SurThrival sells products that are designed to help you thrive, rather than just survive. Here’s how they define “SurThrival” on their website:
SurThrival: To prosper, succeed, and to flourish vigorously through, beyond, or despite any circumstances; to develop and evolve abundantly as a result of, or in the face of, any occurrence.
The SurThrival line includes some unique, lesser known supplements such as colostrum, pine pollen and elk velvet antler, as well as two that I have personal experience with: reishi and chaga mushroom extracts.
I can personally vouch for the effectiveness and integrity of SurThrival’s mushroom extracts. In addition to being made with mushrooms grown on natural wood, as opposed to those grown on grains, sawdust or wood chips, and bottled in protective miron violet glass, SurThrival’s mushroom extracts are made using two methods of extraction: hot spring water and organic ethanol (alcohol). These dual methods of extraction are necessary to maximize both the adaptogenic and immune support benefits of consuming these mushrooms. Many of the medicinal mushroom products on the market are made with whole dried mushrooms that are simply ground into a powder and encapsulated. There’s nothing inherently wrong with consuming mushrooms this way, but extraction of the nutrients contained within the mushrooms’ cells is required to unlock their full medicinal potential.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, medicinal mushrooms are boiled in water to break down the mushrooms’ cell walls to release the immuno-modulating beta-glucans stored inside. This water is then traditionally consumed as a health-supporting beverage. Steeping mushrooms in ethanol extracts the adaptogenic triterpenes they contain.
Watch Daniel Vitalis explain in this video why you should consider including reishi and chaga in your health regimen and how SurThrival’s mushroom extractions are made.
You may also like the DVDs from Daniel Vitalis:
Stamets, P. (2005). Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World. Ten Speed Press.