A Full Guide to Adaptogenic Mushrooms

Adaptogenic mushrooms have been the subject of a particular wave of interest lately in the dieting, fitness, and alternative medicine world.

But what exactly are they, and do they deserve their far-reaching popularity? 

This comprehensive guide will go over everything you need to know about adaptogenic mushrooms. You will discover exactly how they work and whether it makes sense for you to consider adding them to your existing diet.

Adaptogenic Mushroom History

First, let’s go back a bit. Way back. In fact, we’ll need to roll the clock all the way to ancient China, where about 1,000 BC (and maybe even earlier!), certain species of mushrooms were cultivated not just as food but also for particularly beneficial effects on our health and mental state. 

For example, one of these mushrooms known today as the reishi was revered as the “mushroom of immortality.” Classical poetry featured this mushroom in legendary terms, and Taoist monks consumed it ritually to obtain a sense of calm for meditation.

The reishi mushroom was also believed to provide longer, healthier life, not just in China but also in Japan, where the current name for the fungus comes from.

Similarly, the shiitake mushroom also enjoyed immense popularity in China thousands of years ago and quickly developed into one of the most widely cultivated mushrooms in eastern cuisine.

But far beyond its refined taste, it has also been praised for its unique effects on the body, promoting healthy, young-looking skin and treating inflammation and immune disease.

What are Adaptogenic Mushrooms?

So, now we know that adaptogenic mushrooms have been cultivated since ancient times, but what exactly are they to begin with?

To be precise, an adaptogen is any substance – in this case, a mushroom – that, when ingested, can improve the body’s natural stress response. 

Stress manifests in countless ways, including in autoimmune problems, reduced sleep quality, and different degrees of internal damage, both to organs, the nerve system, as well as our mental health.

By allowing our body to better deal with stress and serving a preventative role in preventing stress damage in the future, adaptogens can help us achieve homeostasis – in other words, to get closer to the optimal state of equilibrium in all our internal functions.

Types of Adaptogenic Mushrooms

Research into adaptogens is still a fresh topic, and as such, only a handful of mushrooms have been discovered to possess proven adaptogenic benefits.

While there are plenty of medicinal mushrooms out there, medicinal does not mean adaptogenic! Many edible mushrooms can promote our health in numerous ways by promoting weight loss, lowering inflammation, or increasing healthy cholesterol in the blood.

However, only those mushrooms that specifically interact with the body’s stress response in some way count as adaptogenic. Let’s take a look at some of them below!

Cordyceps

cordyceps mushrooms on a wooden spoon laying on a table.

The cordyceps fungus is a parasitic mushroom that preys on different species of insects. 

For many years, cordyceps has been used as a natural remedy, and more recently, some research has been conducted into its adaptogenic abilities.

What we know so far is that cordyceps, particularly the two species cordyceps sinensis and cordyceps militaris that are edible for humans, can reduce fatigue and stress-related symptoms. 

They improve energy levels by improving sleep quality at night and by regulating hormones and ATP production during the day. This means higher oxygen absorption, which leads to better stamina during strenuous exercise.

Particularly for athletes, the cordyceps mushroom should be considered a hidden gem, as it can reliably improve the effectiveness of workouts and lead to better gains over the long run.  

Chaga

chaga mushroom growing on a tree bark in the forest.

Chaga is a great immune stabilizer that reduces the number of free radicals in the body, serving an essential role in detoxification.

It also lessens inflammation, particularly in the nervous system, and has been studied as a potential treatment for brain, lung, and liver cancer.

Reishi

various reishi mushrooms growing off a dead tree bark in the forest.

As mentioned before, the reishi mushroom’s adaptogenic properties have been known to some extent since ancient times. It promotes a healthy immune system, fights symptoms of stress and anxiety, and improves sleep quality.

Modern research has also shown that reishi does, to a certain extent, prevent the body from suffering from infectious disease by boosting the immune system.

Of all adaptogenic mushrooms, the reishi is the one that has the longest and most thorough record of use throughout the world and across extended periods.

Shiitake

shiitake mushrooms growing on a tree.

Shiitake mushrooms manage a difficult feat by being incredibly nutritious and potent adaptogens at the same time.

Through their high vitamin, protein, and mineral content, they help prevent a wide variety of health issues, from heart disease to high cortisol. 

On the other hand, shiitake also stimulates the immune system and detoxifies the liver thanks to the high level of polysaccharides found in this unique mushroom.

Benefits of Adaptogenic Mushrooms

Many other kinds of mushrooms have proven adaptogenic abilities, and we couldn’t possibly list them all here today.

However, what we can do is give you a quick overview of just what any adaptogenic mushroom can do for you and your health by going over two of the most important active compounds that they all share.

Mushroom Polysaccharides

The polysaccharides that we briefly mentioned earlier are key to the adaptogenic benefits common to many mushrooms. These are complex chains of carbohydrates that have been linked with cellular and heart health, helping prevent cardiovascular disorders.

They also contribute to the healthy functioning of the nervous system and maintain an immune barrier against bacterial and viral infections, tumors, and other cell defects.

Indeed, some polysaccharides – like the beta-glucans found in many types of mushrooms – have been demonstrated as effective in combating cancer cells. 

Mushroom Triterpenes

Tripertenes are a class of compounds that come in a dizzying number of forms – at least 5,000 to our current scientific knowledge. The ones present in many medicinal mushroom species are particularly fascinating, as they contribute to many areas of our health.

For example, mushroom triterpenes can accelerate the healing of wounds and inflammation, both externally and within internal organs, while also benefiting the health and stability of the immune system.

They can also balance hormone levels to prevent negative symptoms of deficiencies, particularly testosterone, insulin, and steroids.

Some triterpenes, such as betulin, have certain anti-cancer properties, encouraging the production of leukocytes which disable and eliminate cancerous growths at the cellular level.

Risks of Adaptogenic Mushrooms

Every kind of medicine comes with a long list of potential side effects, so why should adaptogenic mushrooms, which can improve our well-being in so many ways, be any different?

The truth is that most types of adaptogens are very safe for most people to take.

Of course, exceptions do apply, particularly for people with weaker immune systems or those who are prone to allergies.  

It is also worth noting that you shouldn’t consume adaptogenic mushrooms if you are taking blood thinners or some other kinds of prescription medicine, pregnant, or breastfeeding, as it is hard to predict how the mushroom could interfere with your immune system. 

Always consult with your doctor before you start taking a new supplement – this, of course, applies to adaptogenic mushrooms as well.

Are all Mushrooms Adaptogens?

The short answer: no. 

Adaptogens are a specific class of mushroom that has stress-relieving properties of various degrees depending on the specific mushroom. Not all mushrooms are adaptogenic; in fact, not even all mushrooms are medicinal! 

Some mushrooms’ only health benefits lie in their nutritious value, i.e., they do not improve our mental or physical functioning in any way other than supplying us with nutrients that we need to stay healthy.

And that doesn’t mention the thousands upon thousands of species of mushroom (plenty probably still undiscovered) which aren’t even edible to humans in the first place!

How to Take Adaptogens

Adaptogenic mushrooms are available in many different forms these days, so buyers have plenty of freedom in choosing a supplement to add to their existing diet plan.

The Genius Brand

We’re big fans of The Genius Mushrooms by The Genius Brand. This is an eclectic mix of reishi, lion’s mane, and cordyceps that aims to provide a relatively broad and holistic adaptogenic benefit to anyone’s health, no matter your specific needs.

The supplement is sold in capsule form, which is convenient if you want to reliably and measurably stick to a specific dosage over a long period to test the effects of a particular mushroom on your health.

Each bottle contains 90 of these capsules, making The Genius Mushrooms easy on the wallet, too.

Anima Mundi

Another mushroom supplement worth checking out is the Anima Mundi Adaptogenic Powder, available at most retailers that sell dietary supplements. It’s a powdered product – making it very convenient for adding to drinks or pre-workout snacks.

Packed with a truckload of adaptogenic power, this powder contains a blend of six medicinal mushrooms mixed with cacao for added taste. Among them, you’ll find adaptogenic classics like the shiitake, maitake, reishi, and others.

If you’re aiming for a complete overhaul of your health and don’t mind going all-in, then this adaptogenic powder would be a great place to start.

Four Sigmatic

We also greatly enjoy the Four Sigmatic Mushroom Blend, which combines a whopping ten different adaptogenic mushroom species for a huge immune-boosting effect. It’s rated as gluten-free, vegan, and sugar-free. 

Unlike some other powdered supplements, it doesn’t contain any artificial additives or synthetic products, making it an excellent choice for those who tend to be conscious of these things.

It’s worth noting that Four Sigmatic uses a fruiting body double extraction method for its supplements, which means that they contain a higher than average degree of beneficial compounds and nutrients. 

Committing to this process shows that the brand aims to offer the best quality of supplements, and it’s a big plus in our eyes!

Naturealm

You might also want to consider the Sacred 7 Mushroom Extract Powder by Naturealm.

This raw mushroom powder, completely free of fillers and artificial additives, aims to be a no-nonsense, holistic health booster, and in our testing, it was definitely convincing.

Unlike Four Sigmatic’s Mushroom Blend, this powder mix isn’t geared towards one particular type of adaptogenic benefit like immune stability.

Instead, combining a variety of mushrooms such as chaga, turkey tail, and lion’s mane, the Sacred 7 Mushroom Extract Powder gives you an adequate dose of almost everything that the best adaptogens can do, from increased energy levels to lower risk of heart disease and cancer.

Like other premium brands, Naturealm only extracts their mushrooms from whole organic fruiting bodies, ensuring purity and richness in beneficial compounds.

Freshcap

From Freshcap comes the Thrive 6 Ultimate Mushroom Complex, and they weren’t exaggerating with their choice of words there.

Made from extracts of maitake, chaga, turkey tail, reishi, cordyceps, and lion’s mane, this mushroom powder is like the full-day all-inclusive tour of the world of adaptogenic mushrooms.

It helps that all the extracts were made from whole, organic fruit bodies harvested by hand and that Freshcap went the extra mile in certifying the percentage of beta-glucans at the back of the bottle – a real sign of purity that only a few brands will commit to.