How Medicinal Mushrooms are Beneficial for Gut Health & Digestion
The history of medicinal mushrooms for gut health dates back to the Father of Natural Medicine himself – Hippocrates – who stated over 2500 years ago “All disease begins in the gut.”
As medicine and science have progressed over the last decade, the importance and role of the gut and the microbiota is uncovering that Hippocrates’ statement was the absolute truth all those years ago.
The gut encompasses our entire gastrointestinal tract. This includes the stomach, small and large intestine – which often gets solely referred to as the gut.
Our large intestine is the home of our microbiota–trillions of bacteria, fungi and yeasts that “ideally” work and exist harmoniously to enable our greatest health.
Since ancient times, medicinal mushrooms have been used to heal numerous disease states and promote longevity.
As science is revealing, the gut determines so much of whether disease states form due to bacterial diversity, inflammation levels, cell signalling and immune system status.
This article is going to explore the best mushrooms for gut health and best mushrooms for digestion, and how you can implement them daily to support a healthy gut.
What are the Poor Digestive Health Causes?
As a holistic nutritionist, I regularly advise clients that come to me with poor digestion. Signs and symptoms of poor digestion or impaired gut health may include;
- Indigestion, heartburn and reflux
- Burping and belching after meals
- Nausea post meals
- Bloating and gas
- Inconsistent bowel movements
- Fatigue, brain fog, bad breath, nutrient deficiencies to name a few.
The underlying causes of poor digestive health can include;
- Poor diet and nutrition
- Low stomach acid
- Not chewing food enough (mastication)
- Eating on the go
- Eating and drinking at the same time
- History of antibiotic use
- Food poisoning
- Pancreatic burden, gallbladder issues or liver burden
- Gut inflammation / IBS / leaky gut / Crohn’s / Ulcerative colitis
Research tells us that the digestive system is key to our health.
How else are we going to replenish old cells, create new compounds, enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters, or even create cellular energy?
These functions are dependent on the digestive system and if we are absorbing the nutrients we eat (macro and micro nutrients) from our food.
How Medicinal Mushrooms Can Naturally Support Gut Health?
Now that we understand some of the common underlying causes of poor digestion, we can get into how medicinal mushrooms can naturally support gut health.
Stress in all forms is one of the biggest reasons for poor digestion. We know stress – whether physical or emotional, internal or external, causes the release of cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline – our stress hormones.
Whenever the body falls into this fight or flight state – this shuts down digestion.
Our digestive system thrives in the opposite state to stress, called the Parasympathetic Nervous System or the “Rest and Digest” state.
Stress decreases the production of stomach acid, creating a downstream negative impact on our gut health and digestion.
Medicinal mushrooms are known for their adaptogenic properties – nourishing the nervous system and buffering the stress response – supporting healthy digestion and gut health.
On top of buffering stress, medicinal mushrooms contain prebiotic components known as polysaccharides–beta glucans, galactans, and chitin. These long chain sugars stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut (1, 5,).
Prebiotics work to stimulate and feed bacteria, but the important thing to know is that prebiotics feed both beneficial and dysbiotic bacteria.
Why medicinal mushrooms are superior is because they also have antibacterial properties and modulate bacterial species, making them a powerful prebiotic superfood (2,6,8).
Medicinal mushrooms support the replication and colonization of beneficial bacteria, whilst preventing the growth of pathogenic and dysbiotic bacteria, supporting healthy gut function, energy, detoxification and immune health (2,5,6,8).
To dive deeper into gut health and how medicinal mushrooms are beneficial, dysbiotic bacteria create and release endotoxins called lipopolysaccharides which cause leaky gut, gut inflammation and drive disease states throughout the entire body (2).
Dysbiotic bacteria also change the pH of the gut – preventing the absorption of specific nutrients and creation of gut-protecting compounds such as butyrate, an important short chain fatty acid that enables our gut cells to create energy and function.
When we have dysbiosis in the gut, whether it’s an overgrowth of dysbiotic bacteria or an altered gut function; we see this reflected in an entire individual. Bloating, brain fog, inability to lose weight, skin issues / chronic acne, hormone imbalances – these are just some key signs that there’s potential gut issues going on in which we can support through lifestyle changes as well as adding in gut loving medicinal mushrooms.
Medicinal mushrooms also have antioxidant and antifungal properties which prevent the overgrowth of fungi and yeasts in the body. This is an interesting fact considering they mushrooms are fungi themselves (2).
Medicinal mushrooms also help prevent the overgrowth of key yeasts – Candida albicans – which drives chronic thrush, brain fog, and dandruff (2).
I should also mention that ~80% of our immune system is located within the gut – within our mucosal mucus layer which acts as a protective barrier against pathogens, bacteria, viruses, separating our gut cells from potential damaging factors (7).
SIBO and SIFO (small intestine bacterial / fungal overgrowth) are becoming more and more common with individuals that consume high doses of probiotics without enough “modbiotics”–compounds, herbs and mushrooms that positively alter the diversity and species within the gut. – which is what we want.
We don’t want to just dump a whole lot of prebiotics and probiotics constantly into our gut – because then we can see these overgrowths and dysbiosis (dysbiosis means an imbalance between the types of organism present in a person’s natural microflora).
Another key benefit in respect to gut health and medicinal mushrooms is their vitamin D2 content.
Mushrooms are one of a handful of foods that contain vitamin D2 – the preformed version of D3. Vitamin D is key in immune function, gut signaling and inflammation.
What are Best Medicinal Mushrooms for Gut Health?
When it comes to the best mushrooms for gut health, research has shown that Reishi, Chaga, Maitake, Turkey Tail and Lion’s Mane are the best medicinal mushrooms for gut health.
Let’s discuss the benefits of each mushroom for gut health.
Reishi mushroom is most known as one of the best mushroom for immune system. But we can’t talk about mushrooms for gut health without mentioning Reishi Mushroom products (Ganoderma lucidum).
Reishi mushroom powder is also called the King of Mushrooms and it exhibits potent anti-inflammatory properties and is an immunomodulator and adaptogen making it one of the best medicinal mushrooms for gut health (2,8).
Reishi’s β-d-glucan polysaccharide has been shown to have prebiotic benefits in stimulating the growth of Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus species – two of the most important bacterial families that inhabit our gut (2).
Reishi mushroom powder has also been shown to reverse gut dysbiosis – improving the ratio of Bacteroidetes / Firmicutes (we want more B’s than F’s) and positively influences intestinal barrier function (2).
Reishi’s adaptogenic properties support gut and digestive health through buffering the stress response; and as we discussed in the start of the article, stress is one of the primary drivers of gut issues – so by adding in Reishi you’re able to decrease inflammation and support a more balanced stress response and stronger immune system.
There are also a lot of comparisons between Reishi mushroom products and Chaga mushroom. The two mushrooms are often paired together.
Another one of the best medicinal mushrooms for gut health is Chaga Mushroom (Inonotus obliquus). Chaga has traditionally been used to treat GI issues and disorders, and is antiviral, immunomodulatory and a potent antioxidant (9).
It’s Chaga’s betulinic acid and melano-glucan complexes that exhibit these anti-microbial benefits, fighting bacterial infections that drive gut issues and leaky gut (2).
Chaga is also a potent antioxidant, buffering the pro-oxidative effects of endotoxins released by dysbiotic bacteria. Chaga has also been shown in studies to be protective against colorectal cancer (2).
Chaga also has shown to increase the phylum Bacteroidetes within the gut. Bacteroidetes are so crucial for proper gut function, producing butyrate – the short chain fatty acid which fuels our gut cells (enterocytes) who are responsible for the absorption of water, nutrients and are involved in mounting an immune response (2).
Learn more about Chaga mushroom tea Australia.
Maitake Mushroom (Grifola frondosa) is another best mushroom for gut health and digestive health.
Just like Reishi and Chaga, Maitake mushroom promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria.
Studies have shown that Maitake mushroom has the ability to stimulate the growth of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains and encourage the creation of SCFA (short chain fatty acids), and inhibits the growth of dysbiotic bacteria (2,10).
Maitake mushroom also contain proteoglycans compounds that provides their immune-stimulatory benefits, strengthens the immune system and gut barrier (2).
Turkey Tail Mushroom
Turkey Tail Mushroom (Trametes versicolor) is another powerful gut mushroom with research showing its prebiotic, anti-inflammatory and immunomodulating properties being beneficial in supporting a healthy gut (14).
Turkey tail contains prebiotic compounds that feed beneficial bacteria within the gut whilst modulating the overgrowth of dysbiotic bacteria, making it another amazing mushroom for gut health.
Turkey Tail mushroom extract has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties reduce inflammation; and we know inflammation is present in gut disturbances, dysbiosis, and a majority of GI symptoms; bloating, gas, infrequent and varied bowel movements, IBS, IBD, reflux, etc.
Turkey Tail is most famous for its immune supporting properties with its peptides; polysaccharide peptide PSP and polysaccharide krestin PSK compounds eliciting potent immune supporting benefits and anti-cancer properties (13).
Lion’s Mane Mushroom
Lion’s Mane Mushroom (Hericium erinaceus) is super juice for our neurons – the main cells of our nervous system. When it comes to our gut, we have our Enteric Nervous System (ENS) – which connects our gut to our brain, allowing our bacteria and gut cells to communicate with the brain, influencing mood, cognition, cravings, food patterns and systemic inflammation.
Lion’s Mane is also a prebiotic – positively influencing the ratio of bacteria within the gut. This is key for a healthy gut, as beneficial bacterial species themselves modulate inflammation, improve nutrient absorption, protect our gut cells and improve mood, hormone balance and energy production (15).
Gut conditions such as IBS, chronic bloating and intestinal pain – all signal inflammation as well as neural activity. Adding in Lion’s Mane may be beneficial in supporting this neural pain and modulating intestinal inflammation.
What are the Medicinal Properties of Mushrooms?
Every medicinal mushroom extract contains a unique and incredible plethora of medicinal properties, ranging from their polysaccharides, to their triterpenes, amino acids and antioxidant compounds.
Each compound in a medicinal mushroom extract elicits very specific and unique benefits which has always blown me away. This is why I’m so obsessed with medicinal mushroom supplements for gut health.
Reishi Mushroom extract contains ganoderic acid. Ganoderic acid is a triterpenoid compound thats shown to elicit Reishi’s antioxidant and liver protecting benefits (11).
Chaga Mushroom extract contains Gallic acid. Gallic acid supports cell health, upregulates T-helper cell activity and increases lymphocytes production.
Cordyceps contains Cordycepin. Cordycepin is known to fight fatigue, improve respiratory function, increases O2 and ATP production and be an overall lung tonic (12).
Lion’s Mane mushroom extract contains Hericenones. Hericenones are benzaldehydes that promote new neural growth within the brain, improving mood, conjugation, memory and learning.
Turkey Tail mushroom extract contains PSP and PSK two polysaccharide peptides that boost the immune system, prevent DNA damage, modulate gene expression and elicit anti-cancer activities (14).
What are Medicinal Mushrooms’ Health Benefits?
Medicinal mushrooms have been used for centuries for their many incredible health benefits for strengthening human health and optimizing performance.
Medicinal mushrooms and gut health is one of their best benefits. But research shows that medicinal mushroom supplements benefits may also include;
- Modulate and strengthen the immune system
- Lower cholesterol levels, triglycerides and support the cardiovascular system
- Protect the liver and kidneys
- Fight oxidative stress and free radicals, protecting DNA and cell function
- Improve energy and fight fatigue
- Decrease feelings of stress and support the adrenals and HPA axis
- Improve memory, cognition and learning
- Support healthy hormone levels
- Modulate and strengthen the gut through their prebiotic functions
- Support healthy sleep
- Support healthy skin
- Support lung function and can decrease allergies
- Have antibacterial, antiviral and antineoplastic effects
Medicinal mushrooms and gut health go hand in hand.
Mushrooms are so beneficial for the gut due to their prebiotic qualities and ability to prevent the growth of dysbiotic bacteria, and encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria.
The best mushroom for gut health could be awarded to any of these mushrooms–Reishi, Chaga, Maitake, Turkey Tail and Lion’s Mane.
Based on the research and scientific studies, these are the best medicinal mushroom supplements for gut health.
Each of these medicinal mushroom supplements benefits gut health by strengthening the gut barrier, decreasing inflammation in the gut and improving digestion.
Try adding in medicinal mushrooms for digestion to your daily beverages to see how they’re will benefit your overall gut health.