Medicinal Mushrooms: Cordyceps, Reishi, And Lion’s Mane

Medical experts, health fans, and doctors are all interested in medicinal mushrooms because they taste good and have amazing healing properties.

More and more goods are being made with medicinal mushrooms as demand grows. Cordyceps, reishi, and lion's mane are three of the most famous medicinal mushrooms. They are now used in teas, coffee substitutes, supplements, and other foods.

There are different kinds of bioactive chemicals in each mushroom. Many of them can help with inflammation, cancer, free radicals, the immune system, and other health problems.

It's important to think about what part of the mushroom to use, its bioactive compounds, and their therapeutic qualities when picking a mushroom-based supplement for a certain health benefit, like to reduce stress, boost immunity, or give you more energy.

Therapeutic Properties

The kingdom of fungi includes simple yeasts with one cell, fruiting bodies with many cells, and mold. All of these organisms are very important to our environment. A lot of important drugs, like medicines and statins, come from fungi. There are different parts of a mushroom, such as the fruiting body, the mycelium, and the seeds.

It is the top of the mushroom, which most people call the "mushroom cap," and it is usually above ground.

Mushroom mycelium is a group of spreading structures that grow underground and look like plant roots. It is made up of very small structures called hyphae that take nutrients from the dirt and move them to other parts of the mushroom. Mycelium lets the mushrooms send and receive nutrients from each other, which helps them stay alive in their surroundings. Some fungi have very large mycelium. For example, the hyphae of the Armillaria species can cover more than 1,000 acres if the circumstances are right.

The spores in mushrooms are like seeds and are how the mushrooms reproduce. Millions of tiny seeds can be made by a single mushroom. These start the life cycle of the mushroom.

Different parts of the mushroom have different healing qualities, so it's important to check the label to see if it lists the fruiting body, the mycelium, or both.

Image: Epoch Health

A naturopathic nutritionist, acupuncturist, and energy medicine expert named Hania Opienski was asked on a College of Naturopathic Medicine podcast what part of the mushroom is the most healing. It's best to use a fruiting body product, which is the thing that takes the longest to grow because it has the most active chemicals, she said.

The fruiting body usually has more therapeutic bioactive compounds, but Ms. Opienski says that many commercial mushroom products are made from mycelium because it is easier to make a supplement right away instead of waiting for the fruiting body to mature and be harvested.

The variety of bioactive chemicals and complicated structures found in each type of mushroom are key to how they work in the body to provide therapeutic benefits.

Mechanisms of Action

In his book "Medicinal Mushrooms: A Clinical Guide," Martin Powell says that there are about 14,000 different kinds of mushrooms. About 5 percent are known to make chemicals that have wide-ranging physiological effects and healing benefits.

Bioactive compounds give mushrooms their healing qualities and ways of working. The amount of these compounds in each mushroom varies.


Beta-glucans are polysaccharides that have the power to change the immune system. They are the most important bioactive compounds in mushrooms. Beta-glucans can help with digestion, metabolism, and reducing inflammation.

The shape and size of beta-glucan molecules can be very different based on the species and the part of the mushroom they come from. Beta-glucans are found in many different types of fungi and can affect the body in many different ways.


There is a group of chemicals called triterpenes that dissolve in alcohol and give mushrooms their antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and even relaxing effects.

There are different kinds of triterpenes. The ganoderic acids in reishi mushrooms and the betulinic acids in chaga mushrooms are two examples. More than 300 triterpenoids have been found in reishi mushrooms alone. Many of these are not found in any other type of fungus.


Sterols, mostly ergosterol, are another thing that mushrooms make. Animal studies have shown that these can help fight different kinds of cancers. Sterols work and behave like cholesterol, but they can lower the amount of cholesterol in the body. Also, ergosterol molecules are said to have anti-aging properties similar to resveratrol.

Ergosterol is also a building block for vitamin D. Because of this, mushrooms that are left out in the sun for a long time have higher levels of vitamin D. This is why some vitamin D pills are made from mushrooms.


Scientists have found that some mushrooms can lower cholesterol because they contain statins like lovastatin, which is used in drugs that lower cholesterol. It's important to keep in mind, though, that a lot of mushroom powder would be needed to make a difference.

3 Remarkable Medicinal Mushrooms

Three mushrooms—cordyceps, reishi, and lion's mane—are very popular because they are very good for you. These mushrooms are used as medicine, but they may have side effects for people who are taking certain medicines. You should talk to your doctor about any supplements you take, like medicinal mushrooms and plants.

1. Cordyceps

It's possible that cordyceps is the most well-known kind of mushroom. The HBO show "The Last of Us" blames society for getting infected with cordyceps. It was also talked about on Joe Rogan's podcast, where he said he took it before working out.

"It gives you an extra gear," Rogan said in the show.

About 750 types of cordyceps come from highland areas of China.

The unique thing about cordyceps is that they start out as spores that attack and grow inside different kinds of insects. These mushrooms kill their hosts in the end and start growing through the dead bodies.

Cordyceps Sinensis

Cordyceps sinensis (C. sinensis), which is also called "caterpillar fungus," starts its life cycle by feeding on the larvae of ground-dwelling ghost moths. This makes it a parasite fungus instead of a mushroom.

In the past, C. sinensis has been used to treat lung, kidney, liver, and heart illnesses, among others. It was also known to help men who were having problems with their sexual health and to make people healthier. In 1993, China's female track team set a number of world records thanks to a tonic made from caterpillar fungus. This caused the Chinese market for C. sinensis to grow.

Also, the price of C. sinensis has gone through the roof. A study from 2020 said it was worth $20,000 per kilogram, which made it "the most expensive mushroom in the world."

The Tibetan Plateau is the only place where you can find real C. sinensis, which is grown by parasitizing ghost moth eggs. You can't find it in additives, but in some Asian countries you can buy it in its whole form.

Cordyceps Militaris

You can grow Cordyceps militaris with or without bugs. Growing crops without using insects and using grains makes it easier to control quality and lowers the cost. Also, C. sinensis and C. militaris have many of the same bioactive molecules, so they can be used interchangeably in clinical settings. But research shows that C. militaris has a lot more cordycepin and adenosine than C. sinensis. This could mean that C. militaris is a better pick.

Cordyceps Health Benefits

Since C. sinensis is not easy to find, the information below about Cordyceps refers to Cordyceps militaris.

For their cordycepin content, cordyceps have been getting more attention from scientists. Cordycepin is a strong bioactive substance that is made in Cordyceps. According to research, cordycepin can fight cancer, protect cells from damage, and ease inflammation. It may also have effects on the liver, kidneys, and circulatory systems when used as a drug.

Researchers think that cordyceps and cordycepin could be used in the pharmaceutical business in the future.

Cordyceps are probably best known for their ability to make you feel more energetic and to help your body make more adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the main source of energy for cells. Chemically, cordycepin is like adenosine.

A study of 28 people who did high-intensity exercise and ate a mushroom blend with cordyceps over the course of three weeks showed a big increase in VO2 max, which is the amount of oxygen the body absorbs during intense exercise and a measure of cardiovascular fitness.

Cordyceps are great for people who want to improve their athletic ability, Ms. Opienski said, as long as they are healthy and want to take something that will give their cells more energy and oxygen.

Cordyceps Risks and Side Effects

Most people can handle cordyceps well, but it can make your stomach upset with things like sickness, diarrhea, and dry mouth. Because this fungus can lower blood sugar and fight viruses, it's important to be careful when taking antiviral or diabetes drugs.

2. Reishi

In 2023, reishi sold for about $4.3 billion a year around the world. By 2028, it's expected to be worth about $6.4 billion, making it one of the most famous medicinal mushrooms in the world. "Mushroom of immortality" is what the Japanese call Reishi. It is called lingzhi instead of reishi in China, where it is also called the "herb of spiritual potency." People have used it for thousands of years to boost their energy, help their immune systems work better, protect their hearts, and make them live longer.

Ganoderma lucidum is Reishi's formal name, which comes from the words "gano," which means shiny, and "derma," which means skin.

It usually grows in a shelf-like shape on the side of dead or dying trees. Reishi that is used as a nutrient is grown.

Reishi Health Benefits

The high levels of beta-glucans, triterpenes, and sterols in reishi's cell walls are what make it good for your health. It's not easy to get these three chemicals out of the mushroom, and eating them won't help because they are locked inside the cell walls and need to be taken out with hot water or alcohol.

Reishi is one of the most widely used medicinal mushrooms in the world because it is said to have many health benefits. Scientists are still trying to figure out how it works and why it is so powerful. Reishi is best known for its other qualities, even though it may help with many things, like cutting cholesterol, blood sugar, and high blood pressure.

She says that reishi is one of the most powerful plants for changing the immune system. It has been used for thousands of years in traditional medicine to help people sleep, deal with worry, anxiety, and depression. It is also called a nervous system balancer. She said on the podcast, "It's one that's known for helping to calm the nervous system and slow down or stop the stress response."

Because it is so good at fighting inflammation and free radicals, Ms. Opienski also said that reishi is known as the "mushroom of eternal youth."

"Inflammation and oxidation are two things that make cells age," she said, adding that reishi could help stop these.

Every mushroom has adaptogenic properties, but reishi is one of the most well-known ones that can help the body deal with stress. This kind of plant helps the body deal with stress and calm down. People who are stressed or overstimulated may find that reishi helps to calm them down.

The fruiting bodies of Reishi have a lot of triterpenes, which help them fight cancer by lowering the production of matrix metalloproteinase, an enzyme that helps cancer cells spread. Also, reishi mushrooms stop cancer cells from sticking to the inside of blood vessels, which stops them from spreading through the bloodstream.

Reishi can help treat lung, soft tissue, liver, white blood cell, breast, ovarian, colon, and bladder cancers because it kills tumors.

Reishi can be used to treat both normal prostatic hyperplasia and prostate cancer, according to Ms. Opienski, because it reduces inflammation.

A study looked at all the different types of cancer treatments and found that those that included reishi were 1.27 times more likely to react to chemotherapy and radiation therapy. In one study, 65% of people with advanced lung cancer who took reishi said their quality of life had improved.

Reishi Risks and Side Effects

Reishi can cause mild side effects like nausea and trouble sleeping. Even though they are rare, more serious side effects can include liver damage, chronic diarrhea, pseudo-parasitosis (thinking you have parasites), and more eosinophils, which are a type of white blood cell.

People who take blood thinners should be careful when using reishi mushroom goods because they can make them bleed more easily. Reishi can also boost the immune system, so people who are taking drugs that weaken the immune system shouldn't take it.

Reishi can lower blood pressure, so if you take it with blood pressure medicine, your blood pressure may drop too low.

If you take reishi along with diabetes medicines, your blood sugar levels may drop too low.

3. Lion's Mane

Lion's mane, or Hericium erinaceus, isn't like most mushrooms, which have a cap and a stem. Instead of gills, it has "teeth" that are where its germs come out. In the late summer and fall, you can often find this type of mushroom while going through the woods. It grows on dead trees or logs that have fallen over.

Researchers have found that lion's mane has special bioactive chemicals that are good for your health in a number of ways.

Lion's Mane Health Benefits

Hericenones and erinacines are bioactive chemicals that are only found in lion's mane. They help the brain, the immune system, and the digestive tract stay healthy. Lion's mane used to be known for helping digestive health by getting rid of the bugs that cause stomach ulcers. But lately, it's been getting more attention for its possible brain health benefits.

1. Potential Brain Benefits

The bioactive ingredients in lion's mane are hericenones and erinacines. These chemicals are unique because they can easily cross the blood-brain barrier and increase the production of nerve growth factor (NGF). NGF is very important for the growth of neurons and can protect some parts of the brain from the harmful inflammation that causes diseases like multiple sclerosis.

Lion's mane may also help people with dementia feel better. In one study, adults between the ages of 50 and 80 who took 250 milligrams of lion's mane three times a day for 16 weeks did better on cognitive tests than those who took a placebo. They also had better general cognitive ability while taking the supplement. But four weeks after the study group stopped taking lion's mane, their test results went down.

There is also proof that lion's mane may help people who are depressed, anxious, or stressed feel better. People who ate cookies with 0.5 grams of a lion's mane fruiting body supplement for four weeks had less worry than people who ate cookies with a sugar substitute. Researchers thought that the rise in NGF played a part in the effects on nervousness.

2. NGF and the Gut-Brain Axis

NGF isn't just good for brain health. It controls many things in the body, and not having enough of it can be linked to heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and other ailments that cause inflammation.

It was once thought that lion's mane could help with stomach problems like ulcers and chronic gastritis. There is new proof that the connection between lion's mane and NGF is very important for rebalancing and improving the gut microbiota. By increasing NGF, gut bacteria can be kept in balance, which helps the gut lining heal. Higher levels of NGF can also heal the enteric (gut) and nervous systems. This supports the "gut–brain axis," which is the two-way connection between the brain and the enteric nervous system in the gut. When the gut–brain axis is thrown off, it can lead to both physical and mental health problems, such as IBS, sadness, and anxiety.

Lion's Mane Risks and Side Effects

Lion's mane can cause stomach problems and skin rashes when taken in large amounts. Also, it can make blood clot more slowly, so people who are already on a blood thinner should be careful when taking it. Also, lion's mane might drop blood sugar, so it shouldn't be taken with medicines that do that.

The Bottom Line

In the world of fungi, there are many kinds of medicinal mushrooms. Some of the most well-known ones are cordyceps, reishi, and lion's mane, but they're not the only ones that might be good for you.

The mushroom is different. They are neither plants nor animals, but they do make special chemicals and substances that will keep people interested in science and the products we use. We will learn even more about how to use these medicinal mushrooms as powerful tools to improve our health and energy as more studies come out.

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