This article has been professionally reviewed by Licensed Acupuncturist Corinna Loo L.Ac, MTOM. As with everything you read on the internet, this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice. Never disregard the advice of a medical professional, or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this Website
Mushroom health supplements are part of a rapidly growing market that’s expected to reach $13 Billion by 2022. But there’s nothing new about using mushrooms to boost immunity and improve overall health. In fact, mushrooms have been a part of Traditional Chinese Medicine, First Nations and Northern European health culture for thousands of years. Nowadays, more research on mushroom supplements benefits are being done, revealing their positive effects on the human body.
Western science and research is beginning to catch up with these millenia-old modalities confirming that mushrooms have the potential to boost overall immune system health, and with it, well-being.
Specific mushrooms are thought to be capable of the following:
- Improving gut health
- Promoting a healthy immune system response to pathogens
- Improving longevity by helping combat illness
So which mushroom should you add to your daily routine? Below, we’ll review the best mushrooms for immune system health.
#1 Reishi Mushrooms
If you’re familiar with an immune-boosting mushroom, it may very well be the reishi. Also called the lingzhi (scientific name Ganoderma lucidum), the reishi mushroom is known in China as the “mushroom of immortality.” These dark, glossy mushrooms grow in semi-circles on deciduous trees. However, they’re relatively rare, as well as woody and unpleasant to eat.
That’s why they’re more commonly consumed as teas or extracts.
Reishi mushrooms are thought to have several immune-boosting properties:
Improved immune system response – According to a 2003 study in Immunological Investigations, reishi mushrooms can increase the count of beneficial white blood cells (a key part of immune response) in immunocompromised patients. This is due to their polysaccharopeptide (carbohydrate) chains, which seem to help regulate immune function.
Benefits gut health – Modern science increasingly recognizes that gut health is essential to overall health. A recent study demonstrated that reishi mushrooms can increase the amount of beneficial gut bacteria in mice.
Scientists are continuing to study the traditional uses of reishi to understand exactly how the mushrooms achieve their lauded effects.
Other traditional uses include:
- Raising energy levels
- Improving memory
In time, we’ll learn more about the specific ways this mushroom can promote longevity.
#2 Chaga Mushrooms
Chaga mushrooms (scientific name Inonotus obliquus) grow on birch trees in cold, Northern climates. Also called “birch rot,” they appear as blackened, burnt growths. Cut open, they reveal an orange interior, but like reishi mushrooms, the chaga mushroom is hard, woody and unpleasant to eat.
Because of this, chaga is often consumed as a tea -- it’s been a staple of Russian and Baltic medicine for centuries.
Chaga mushrooms have hundreds of compounds that may benefit immune health. According to a 2015 meta-analysis of studies on chagas, their benefits include:
Anti-inflammatory effects - While inflammation is an important first-line bodily response to injuries and disease, chronic inflammation is associated with a range of negative symptoms and health outcomes. Chaga mushrooms have at least six potent anti-inflammatory compounds.
Antimicrobial activity – Chaga mushrooms can reduce and moderate some harmful bacteria, helping to support the immune system’s response to invaders.
In addition, chaga mushrooms have been studied as a potential aid for immunocompromised patients. While more research is needed, a 2005 study found several positive immunomodulating effects related to chaga mushroom extract.
Like reishi mushrooms, chaga mushrooms may also have a beneficial effect on gut health, aiding the maintenance of healthy cholesterol and blood sugar levels, which in turn strengthen immunity.
#3 Turkey Tail Mushrooms
The turkey tail mushroom (scientific name Coriolus versicolor) is common throughout North America. These colorful mushrooms grow on live trees and fallen logs, and really do look like turkey tails. Like many other immune-boosting mushrooms, they aren’t known for their great taste, but rather for their healing potential.
Like chaga and reishi mushrooms, turkey tails are best enjoyed in an extract, tea or powder.
Turkey tails have been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to promote health and longevity for years, and recent studies support science behind this ancient wisdom.
Turkey tails may possess:
Antioxidant powers – Turkey tails have more than 40 antioxidant compounds known to combat free radical damage from UV and environmental pollutants. In a 2017 study, researchers concluded that some of these compounds could be used to treat diseases linked to free radical damage.
Immunomodulating effects – Like reishi mushrooms, turkey tails possess polysaccharopeptide carbohydrates that seem to have a positive influence on white blood cell count and activity. Thanks to these medicinal properties, turkey tails are often used clinically in China and Japan to support immunocompromised patients.
Antiviral and antibacterial properties – Preliminary studies show that turkey tails may also reduce virus symptoms and kill bacteria.
Finally, like many other mushrooms, turkey tails have beneficial fibers that may improve gut health.
#4 Maitake Mushrooms
Unlike the previous three mushrooms, the maitake mushroom is commonly found in grocery stores, where it also goes by the name “hen of the woods.” Scientifically named Grifola frondosa, these feathery looking mushrooms can be found at the base of trees, including oak trees, and are known for their sweet, earthy taste.
If you don’t like the taste of mushrooms, you can also find them in supplements.
While the maitake mushroom is a great source of vitamins and minerals, providing antioxidants, Vitamin B and Vitamin C benefits, it also has other impressive health benefits.
Improving T Cell count – T Cells are white blood cells that are a crucial part of our immune system response. They provide several functions, including cell signaling and the destruction of invading pathogens. A 2013 study in the International Journal of Cancer linked maitakes to improved T Cell count.
Maintaining blood sugar – High blood sugar can compromise immune system response. A 2003 study concluded that maitakes can help maintain healthy levels of glucose, which in turn may improve immunity.
Thanks to their abundance of vitamins and antioxidants, maitakes likely have many more beneficial immune effects, too.
#5 Lion’s Mane Mushrooms
The lion’s mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus) is a shaggy white mushroom that looks exactly like its namesake. These mushrooms are popular with professional chefs and at-home cooks, and they grow throughout forests in North America and Europe.
The lion’s mane mushroom shares many of its impressive qualities with other mushrooms:
Gut and intestinal support – While all fiber-rich mushrooms can serve as excellent energy sources for healthy gut bacteria, lion’s mane mushrooms may have additional gut-health benefits. A recent study concluded that lion’s mane mushroom extract increased white blood cell activity in the gut. This could help kill off any pathogens accidentally ingested via food.
Combining its immune-boosting properties with its delicious taste and texture, this is an excellent mushroom to add to recipes.
While most of the fungi we’ve discussed so far grow on trees, cordyceps grow on caterpillars. That said, if you’re vegan or vegetarian, Cordyceps Sinensis may not be the best mushroom for you, as the fungi are sometimes harvested along with the caterpillar.
If you’re adventurous in your supplements, this long, tubular fungi may be of interest. Its history can be traced back 4,000 years, and well-known medicines including Penicillin are derived from related species of fungi.
Considered a key to health and vitality in ancient Tibetan and Ayurvedic traditions, modern science is confirming some of its traditional medicinal uses. According to a meta-analysis of existing studies, immune benefits include:
- Anti-inflammatory activity
- Antioxidant activity
- Immune modulating effects
- Glucose modulating effects
How to Find and Use Immune-Boosting Mushrooms
Now that you see mushrooms’ effects on immune health, you’ll likely be looking for a way to add these amazing fungi to your daily routine.
As you can see, many of these mushrooms are sourced carefully and should be ingested in specific ways, meaning that it may be tough to incorporate all of them at once.
Thankfully, there are many mushroom teas, powders and extracts in the market However, not all products contain the amounts or varieties they advertise. That’s why it’s critical to source your mushrooms from a reputable company.
That’s where we come in.
Plant People Immune Power Capsules
Plant People has blended four of the best mushrooms for immunity in one easy to take capsule. Our new Immune Power Multiplex combines the best of plant and fungi power. Made with extracts of reishi, turkey tail, chaga and maitake mushrooms -- as well as Vitamin C and the Chinese medicinal herb astragalus-- these 100% vegan capsules are the simplest way to reap the benefits of mushrooms’ potent qualities.
Plant People: Plant and Fungi Experts
At Plant People, we’re committed to connecting people with the unique powers of plants and fungi. That’s why all our CBD tinctures, capsules, topicals, and other products are 100% vegan, organic and sustainably sourced from USA farms. Our line of hemp and herbal supplements boosts health and vitality, while our new Immune Power Multiplex delivers some of the most impactful functional foods found in nature.
Add it to your daily routine for vitality and immunity Looking for more ways to support your immune system? Check out our guide to learn how to boost your immune system naturally.