One of the main philosophies of an ancestral or Paleo approach is to eat foods closely connected to how we’ve evolved over hundreds of thousands of years.
If we take this a step further and go back over a billion years ago – before there were plants and animals – we see that fungi were here first. In fact, research shows the animal and fungi kingdoms actually come from the same evolutionary branch, perhaps revealing why mushrooms inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, just like humans.
It’s thought that 40% of the diet of ancient primates was derived from fungi, and more and more research is uncovering just how nutrient-dense mushrooms truly are. So, now we’ve established there is an evolutionary connection, just what can mushrooms do for your health?
Mushrooms actually breathe oxygen.
During the darker and colder days of winter, you’re probably like most people – struggling to fight off colds and flu, dealing with low energy levels, and getting enough sleep. It’s difficult to maintain your productivity at work and in the gym as the days get shorter, because the demands on your time don’t stop (in fact, they often increase!). The good news is there is something you can do to boost immunity, energy and increase resiliency this winter… add more mushrooms to your diet!
Benefits of Ancestral Mushrooms
Mushrooms are loaded with vitamins, minerals and key nutrients that can increase your resiliency and upgrade your health. Chock-full of protein, iron, B-vitamins and key nutrients like glycoproteins (i.e., ergosterols) and polysaccharides (i.e., beta-glucans), ancestral mushrooms provide an array of health benefits:
- boost metabolism
- improve cholesterol levels
While most medicinal mushrooms will provide general immune support, boost overall resiliency and pack a nutrient-dense punch, you can also “hack your health” and tailor the right medicinal mushroom to suit your needs. The following is a list of eight ancestral mushrooms you should think about adding to your nutritional arsenal.
8 Ancestral Mushroom Hacks
Reishi (Stress Support)
Reishi mushrooms (Ganoderma lucidum) are known as the “king of the mushrooms,” as they’ve been used in traditional medicine for centuries to boost mental clarity, resiliency, and immunity. They are also used as an anti-aging tonic. Reishi mushrooms act as adaptogens, a substance that supports the body during times of stress. Reishi mushrooms can help fight off colds and flu as well as reduce inflammation, making them a great “one size fits all” support throughout the winter months.
Shiitake (Vitamin D Support)
Shiitake mushrooms are chock-full of B-vitamins (riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, etc.), selenium, zinc, and copper, and are also a natural source of vitamin D. All mushrooms contain ergosterol, a plant sterol compound that makes up a fundamental part of the cell membrane. Sun exposure converts ergosterol into vitamin D, and a 100g serving of fresh mushrooms will provide 2,000 IU. (1) In fact, slicing your mushroom will yield even higher vitamin D levels as it exposes more of the surface area to light. Shiitake mushrooms have also been shown to be beneficial for weight loss, heart health, immunity, and fighting off cancer cells.
Maitake (Immune Support)
Maitake mushrooms are another fungi from Asia that provides a wealth of health benefits. They are particularly high in beta-glucans, which are polysaccharides that have been shown to boost immunity via increased T cells, B cells, macrophages, and natural killer (NK) cells. (2) That means they’re a great tool for increasing your innate “first-line of defense” immune system, as well as supporting your adaptive “seek and destroy” immune system if you happen to already be sick.
Agaricus (Blood Sugar Support)
The Agaricus blazei mushroom contains significant amounts of beta-glucan polysaccharides, which help to lower high blood sugar levels. Recent studies show the addition of Agaricus blazei to conventional diabetes medication in type 2 diabetics dramatically improves insulin levels compared to controls. (3) The researchers also noted the mushrooms increased adiponectin levels, a key hormone released by fat cells that helps to regulate blood sugar levels.
Ever hear of agaricus mushrooms? Eat them to regulate blood sugar.
Lion’s Mane (Nerve Pain Support)
Lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus) mushrooms are an impressive species, as they grow in a waterfall-like cascade from trees and logs. Compelling new research shows Lion’s mane exhibits tremendous potential as an agent to support healthy brain cell (neuron) function. Lion’s mane contains neuroactive compounds that promote nerve growth factor, making it a potent brain and nerve support. (4) To achieve this therapeutic dose, concentrated supplemental forms would need to be consumed.
Cordyceps (Athletic Performance)
Cordycep sinensis mushrooms are native to high altitudes and have been used in Asia for thousands of years to support physical performance. Studies have shown they have the capacity to improve oxygen uptake, and could therefore be highly beneficial for endurance athletes. (5) Interestingly, they’ve also been used traditionally to combat fatigue and as a tonic for enhancing libido and sex drive.
King Trumpet (Antioxidant Support)
The King trumpet (Pleurotus eryngii) mushroom goes by many different names – French horn, king oyster or king trumpet – and it’s been used throughout Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia for centuries. This edible mushroom has a thick, meaty stem (and small cap), which contains a particular amino acid called ergothioneine that acts as a powerful antioxidant. (6) Antioxidants are crucial for fighting off oxidative damage caused by free radicals, typically due to poor diet, stress and environmental toxin exposures. King trumpet mushrooms make a great addition to omelets, soups and stir-fries.
Turkey Tail (Cancer Support)
Turkey tail (Trametes versicolor) has been brewed as a traditional tea for centuries in China, and it’s become one of the most well researched mushrooms in the world. It’s shown so much promise as an adjunctive support for protecting cancer patients from the immuno-suppressing effects chemotherapy that the National Institute of Health has launched a new major trial to further investigate these benefits. (7) The mycelium found in turkey tail is also a prebiotic food source for the gut microbiome, and has been shown to be beneficial as an antiviral against the human papilloma virus (HPV). (8)
Mushrooms improve immunity and can even help with stress relief.
Ancestral mushrooms provide a wealth of medicinal and health-boosting benefits like improving immune defense, increasing your resiliency and capacity to cope with stress, providing a robust source of vitamins and minerals, as well as a plethora of health-specific benefits. To combat fatigue, low mood, and colds and flu this winter, “hack” your diet and add more ancestral “super food” mushrooms to your nutritional arsenal. Add to soups and stews, drink as a tea or decoction, or look for high-quality supplements to increase your resiliency this winter so you don’t miss a beat this winter.
Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS