From supplying your body with vital nutrients and boosting your immune system to serving as an aphrodisiac and mood enhancer, mushrooms are having a moment and one look at the shelves of health and wellness stores confirms they’re not going anywhere anytime soon.
In the UK we live in a mycophobic culture. While we happily eat our creminis and portobellos, we look at the rest of the fungal family with skepticism. If we look at it at all that is. The world is home to an estimated 1.4 million species of mushrooms, but only about 700 have been somewhat explored for medicinal or other properties. Among them, some are edible, some are used for wellness or medicinal purposes and others are poisonous.
For thousands of years, ancient cultures all over the world have not only been consuming a much wider variety of mushrooms and enjoying the fundamentally healing properties but some even nowadays hunt them as a national sport and even use them to adorn Christmas trees.
The father of modern medicine Hippocrates discovered the potent power of the amadou mushroom to reduce inflammation around 450 BCE, while Chinese medical texts dating back to as early as 206 BCE describe the reishi mushroom as a tonic against aging. Without fungi, there would be no trees, as they can’t grow without them, and no antibiotics. Medicinal mushrooms are the key components of some of the most important pharmaceutical breakthroughs from penicillin to the first statin drugs and several anticancer treatments. All throughout Asia, more than 100 varieties are used today just to treat cancer.
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What is it about ‘shrooms?
Slowly but surely, we’re literally going back to our roots on our quest to improve our quality of life and wellbeing. Scientists, holistic health enthusiasts, and celebrities alike are turning to the plant world to heal and de-stress, inside and out. The truth is, mushrooms’ health and wellness powers are legitimate but pertain neither to the grocery store variety or the psychedelic drug. Featuring hundreds of different species, the fungal family is its own genre of superfood. In addition to delivering a variety of essential nutrients, mushrooms offer a host of healing properties.
As humans, we share almost 50 percent of our genetic makeup with mushrooms which also means we are often affected by a lot of the same diseases. Fungi are more closely related to humans than they are to plants, making their active compounds bioavailable to the human body. What that means is that mushrooms have a digestive system almost identical to ours and have the ability to soak up and escort waste from our cells, making it easier for us to enjoy the survival methods they built for themselves.
Superfood on steroids
Culinary mushrooms make up a big part of a healthy well-balanced diet, but to tap all the benefits mushrooms have to offer, we must look into adaptogenic (non-toxic) varieties rich in antioxidants that can help restore balance in our bodies.
Whole Foods named so-called “functional mushrooms”, used for centuries in traditional medicine, as one of the top 10 food trends of 2018.
Believe it or not, just like humans (and unlike plants!) mushrooms can convert ultraviolet light from the sun into vitamin D, making them the only plant-based, unfortified food that provides a substantial amount of this essential nutrient involved in immune regulation and bone health.
For thousands of years, humans have had a deep connection to mushrooms. Our ancestors have been relying on them for their nutritional, medicinal, and even spiritual powers but modern society has new priorities and mushrooms are taking center stage once again.
We’ve been aware for some time now that our cells experience oxidative damage as a byproduct of metabolism, as well as from free radicals from our environment. To counteract this, we consume antioxidant-rich foods and look out for skincare products that claim to help us fight off those nasty free radicals and achieve that healthy glow.
Tonya Papanikolov, a holistic nutritionist and founder and CEO of Rainbo, a line of ingestible mushroom supplements claims that “From a wellness perspective, they increase the body’s immunity and resilience to stress and have the ability to enhance brain functions, too.”
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Works like magic
Mushrooms supply prebiotic fiber that helps your gut’s microbiome, boosting not just your skin but overall health inside and out. No wonder the mushroom tremella has been revered as a beauty mushroom in Asia for hundreds of years.
Skincare brands are using mushrooms to counteract the effects of stress on the skin, help lock in the moisture and improve overall circulation. Dr. Dennis Gross is using encapsulated Chaga, Cordyceps, Trametes versicolor and maitake mushrooms in its B3Adaptive SuperFoods serum, eye cream and moisturizer. Mushrooms have also popped up in products from Moon Juice, Natura Bissé, Blithe, BeautyStat and Macrene Actives. If you feel like pampering yourself a bit, you can also enjoy a mini mushroom facial brought to you by one of the most popular skincare brands on the market – Origins.
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There is an exciting future when it comes to fungi, as with extensive research done over the past decade the scientists have discovered numerous potent compounds in mushrooms that are extremely useful in a therapeutic setting, from boosting our immune system to reducing anxiety and protecting our brain from illnesses such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
But, just like with anything, the dose makes the poison. Many of us may still be reluctant to dab some strange concoction on our face or add a spoonful of foul-smelling powder to our smoothie, but there’s nothing stopping you from Incorporating mushrooms into your diet as a great and tasty way to reap the maximum benefits from the fungal family.
Are you ready for the ‘shrooms craze?