Health Benefits of Mushrooms

Mushrooms are a powerful superfood that humans have enjoyed likely since the dawn of humanity in Africa hundreds of thousands of years ago. In fact, chimpanzees and bonobos include mushrooms as part of their diet in the wild.

Interestingly, human cells are more closely related to fungi than any other kingdom of organisms, such as plants or bacteria. Some of the essential molecules in mushrooms have been in our diet for so long that our bodies now depend on them. They’re packed with fiber, protein, B vitamins, vitamin D, and potassium.

About half of all edible mushroom varieties are considered “functional foods,” which means they have more positive effects on our health than just providing basic nutrition. For example, researchers have found that certain molecules in mushrooms are powerful anti-tumor agents, aid your immune system, and can even lower the risk of breast cancer and other diseases.

Let’s take a look at the powerful effect mushrooms can have!

Mushrooms are Powerful Cancer Fighters

According to a study out of the University of Western Australia, the risk of developing breast cancer was reduced significantly when women ate a third of an ounce of fresh mushrooms a day. The study observed 2,000 women between the ages of 20 and 89, stating that mushrooms “possess anti-carcinogenic properties” and have the ability to “stimulate immune responsiveness.”

In fact, further research showed that extracts from certain mushrooms had a powerful ability to kill cancer cells in a test tube environment. Specifically, the researchers found:

“Most extracts derived from Omphalotus nidiformis, Cordyceps cranstounii and Cordyceps gunnii demonstrated significant cytotoxic activity toward a variety of cancer cell lines.” 

While these three species are not common culinary mushrooms, they have been used in Chinese traditional medicine for quite some time. Plus, many common types of edible mushrooms contain many of the same compounds found in the three species listed above. 

Mushrooms as Antioxidants and Immunity Boosters

Mushrooms have just as many antioxidants as any other fruits and veggies. Antioxidants protect cells from free-radicals, which promote cell regeneration, keeps your immune system healthy, and helps you live a longer, healthier life. 

In one clinical study, participants who ate shiitake mushrooms daily for 4 weeks had a “significant increase in immunity parameters,” reporting higher levels of intestinal, sinus, and respiratory immune cells. The researchers note that not only do shiitake mushrooms increase your immune cell activity, but they also reduce the inflammation that normally coincides with an immune response:

“Regular L. edodes [shiitake mushroom] consumption resulted in improved immunity, as seen by improved cell proliferation and activation and increased sIgA [antibody] production. The changes observed in cytokine and serum CRP levels suggest that these improvements occurred under conditions that were less inflammatory than those that existed before consumption.”

Though more research is needed, there is powerful evidence that suggests mushrooms can be a natural and effective way to boost immune function and increase your overall health when used regularly.

Psilocybin mushroom health benefits

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Promote a Healthy Weight With Mushrooms

If you’re looking to drop a few pounds, adding low-calorie mushrooms to your diet is a great way to do that. They contain two types of fiber – chitin and beta-glucans – which help to reduce your appetite and help you feel fuller faster. Mushrooms are also considered prebiotics, which means they’re the type of fiber that healthy gut bacteria love to eat.

In a 2013 study at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 73 obese adults were put on a diet that substituted mushrooms for red meat for one year. At the end of this trial, participants on the mushroom diet had lower levels of fat and energy stores, lost more pounds, reached a lower body mass index, had a lower waist circumference, and lost a higher percentage of overall body fat.

Edible Mushrooms

Other Health Effects

Besides the specific benefits listed above, mushrooms have also been observed to have many unique health benefits that need explored in greater detail. For instance, one meta-study on mushrooms and health suggests that mushrooms have cholesterol-reducing properties, antiviral capabilities, and can help modulate your blood sugar levels. Another meta-study shows that mushrooms have very, if any, side-effects and that some of their most promising health benefits are related to the reduction of cancer.

Benefits of Psychedelic Mushrooms

In this article, we’re going to discuss the mental health benefits associated with mushrooms containing psilocybin, psilocin, and several other psychoactive compounds – otherwise known as psychedelic mushrooms.

Believe it or not, psychedelic mushrooms have plenty of benefits outside of giggles and funny hallucinations. While the counterculture of the 1960s led many to believe that hallucinogenics are simply a recreation drug to be used for fun, many studies have shown that psilocybin and other compounds can be effective tools for analyzing and exploring your own mind.

Scientists have found that the psychoactive effects of psilocybin may have a positive effect on all sorts of mental health disorders – from depression and OCD to smoking and alcohol addiction.

Depression

Due to its often positive, mood-boosting effects, psilocybin therapy is undergoing groundbreaking research on its potential as a treatment for depression. In early 2019, the FDA gave researchers “breakthrough therapy” designation with regard to psilocybin and depression, which puts it on a fast-track to approval once the proper research is complete. Currently, the Ursona Institute is about to start Phase 2 clinical trials on psilocybin and depression.

End-Stage Cancer Existential Depression and Anxiety

Imagine the whirlwind of emotions you’d have if you found out you were terminally ill, with only months left to live. It’s hard to imagine not feeling depressed, anxious, and existentially traumatized. This is one area where psilocybin has shown a unique level of potential.

Dr. Charles Grob, a professor of psychiatry at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, has conducted a pilot study on the subject. Based on a small sample of 12 cancer patients with acute stress disorder, the authors of the study showed promising results. Specifically:

“The investigators corroborated previous findings that psilocybin could reliably catalyze mystical experiences leading to significant and lasting improvements in quality of life.”

In a 2016 randomized, double-blind study at Johns Hopkins, a single dose of psilocybin was found to “substantially improve” the quality of life of people with life-threatening cancer, while decreasing their depression and anxiety. While more research needs to be done on psilocybin’s effects, safety, and dosage, these studies do show promising results for the treatment of cancer-related depression.

Addictions

Nicotine

Psilocybin’s unique ability to take your mind out of its routine and observe a bigger picture has shown potential for helping with addiction, especially with smoking. In a Johns Hopkins University pilot study, 10 out of 15 participants were still abstaining from smoking a year after quitting for the study, and 13 of them considered their psilocybin experiences one of the “5 most personally meaningful and spiritually significant experiences of their lives.”

Alcohol

Smoking isn’t the only dangerous habit that psychedelics helped to curb. An open-label study related to psilocybin and alcohol dependence found that cravings declined and heavy drinkers were more likely to abstain from alcohol several weeks after their first monitored treatment. Even better? No adverse effects were reported for any participants.

Cocaine

Currently, researchers in Alabama are studying the effects of psilocybin therapy on cocaine addiction. The Heffter Institute is also working on research related to psychedelics and addiction. From the successes seen in other areas of addiction, it is likely that psilocybin and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy will be a very powerful tool in fighting even the strongest addictions.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

A small study out of the University of Arizona observed the behaviors of nine subjects with obsessive-compulsive disorder. After consuming psilocybin, every person showed a “marked decrease” in their OCD-related symptoms, ranging from a 23% reduction to 100% reduction. Improvement was also reported beyond the 24-hour observation period, suggesting that a single dose could be just enough to improve quality of life for a much longer period that most treatments offer.

Where Psilocybin Research is Headed

As you can see, the research on the health benefits of mushrooms and psilocybin is overwhelmingly positive and hugely promising. Although more research needs to be done to truly understand psychedelic mushrooms as therapy, the FDA fast-track suggests it could be only a matter of time before psilocybin is a regular part of the healthcare conversation and a common treatment for a number of mental conditions.

For more information on how exactly psilocybin works and its psychedelic effects, check out our effects page for a full breakdown of the experience!