Mushrooms are kind of the shiitake right now. From mushroom coffee to mushroom supplements, mushroom powder to mushroom protein, it seems like every Goop-adjacent wellness guru and biohacking bro is talking about the healing health benefits of medicinal mushrooms. Now, you might be reasonably skeptical about eating "magic mushrooms," but they may have some legit health benefits after all.
One particular fungus that's sprouting up a lot in wellness circles is the Reishi mushroom. Also known as "lingzhi," the Reishi mushroom has been used for thousands of years in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), because people claim it has anti-aging properties, can boost memory and energy, and reduce stress. In TCM, Reishi is considered "a divine, spiritual, magic kind of mushroom, so to speak," and it's tough to come by in its pure form, says Jingduan Yang, MD, a board-certified psychiatrist and founding medical director of Tao Integrative Medicine in Philadelphia. These days, you can buy manufactured Reishi mushroom as a powder, dietary supplement, or tea.
The popular (and Goop-endorsed) supplement brand, Moon Juice, sells a Reishi mushroom extract powder that's supposed to be mixed into drinks or baked goods. Amanda Chantal Bacon, the founder of Moon Juice, tells Refinery29 that she recommends Reishi for "everyone who experiences stress." According to Bacon, Reishi is a highly effective adaptogenic "super-mushroom," so it can help support your mind and your body's stress response system.
While "adaptogen" is a buzzy wellness term right now, the truth is that there hasn't been enough research to confirm that these remedies are effective enough to be classified as an actual cure. That means, you should take the benefits of any so-called adaptogen with a grain of salt, and don't use them to replace medication.
However, mushrooms do have special properties that make them slightly more legit as far as herbal remedies go. According to MedlinePlus, Reishi mushrooms are used to treat a number of health conditions, like viral infections, lung conditions, heart issues, kidney disease, urinary symptoms, and even cancer (when combined with other herbs).
So, how exactly does this work? Reishi mushrooms contain "complex sugars known as beta-glucans," which may be able to stop the growth and spreading of cancer cells, according to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Other animal studies suggest that Reishi mushrooms can enhance your body's immune response. And, a very small laboratory study found that Reishi can have an antihistamine-like effect and help people with allergies. While this all sounds exciting, more research has to be done before doctors can confirm that Reishi would have the same beneficial effects on humans in real life. But, if you want to try Reishi mushrooms to see if it changes your mood, you certainly can.
As a person who experiences stress and is curious about herbal remedies, I was down to try these 'shrooms. Bacon describes Reishi as a "powerful brain tonic," that's used to energize and enhance your mood, plus support concentration. (Bacon doesn't have a background in medicine or nutrition, but she is a professional chef, and has experience researching and consuming the products that Moon Juice sells. The brand also works with professional herbalists when making the products.) "With Reishi I feel an increase in focus and clarity, and an overall calmness," she says.
On a gray Monday morning, I put about a teaspoon (Moon Juice suggests 1-4 teaspoons a day) of Reishi in my coffee on an empty stomach, and it didn't do anything to the taste. I felt a little more energetic and happier than usual, but that wore off about an hour later, so I could've just been feeling the coffee. The placebo effect is also very real, and since I believed Reishi would give me a little more pep in my step, perhaps that is why it did. Though some people say that they feel high on Reishi mushrooms, that sadly wasn't my experience.
But, before you go and try 'shrooms on your own, there are some side effects to be aware of. MedlinePlus classifies Reishi as "possibly safe" when taken by mouth, but says it can cause dry throat and mouth, upset stomach, and dizziness. If you're pregnant or breastfeeding, have low blood pressure or a bleeding disorder, are about to have surgery, or take diabetes medication, then it's best to avoid Reishi, because there's "not enough reliable information about the safety," according to MedlinePlus.
Dr. Yang says he has his own reservations about the quality of the modern or manufactured mushrooms (like what you'd buy as a supplement), because getting the real thing would be more effective. "Generally, if it's well manufactured and quality controlled, even if it is artificially produced, [it] still has a certain level of the properties and qualities of the authentic wild grown Reishi mushroom," he says.
Basically, be careful, and talk to your doctor if you have any questions about how Reishi would fit into your lifestyle or interfere with the medications that you take. "Everyone is different, so tune in to your own body," Bacon says. "Each of us reacts differently, even at different times in our lives, these potent plants can have different effects." And, don't expect a psychedelic mushroom trip like something out of a Broad City episode.
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