Growing up, most of my friends hated mushrooms. Several families we knew might go hunting for morels once a year and fry them up, but beyond that, I never gave mushrooms much thought. However, that has all changed recently as the mighty mushroom has taken the health world by storm. Not a vegetable, this kingdom of fungi has more in common with animals than with plants, but it’s the mushroom’s unique qualities that have us in the midst of Mushroom Madness.
Mushrooms, the Health Food
Mushrooms are well-known by chefs and nutritionists alike for being low calorie, high fiber, and packed with vitamins and minerals. Mushrooms are higher in B Vitamins, potassium, and Vitamin D if exposed to UV light before or after harvest. Long touted by vegans for their meaty flavor and texture, mushrooms also are a plant-based protein containing all nine essential amino acids. This means the protein in mushrooms can be easily used by the body to perform its necessary functions.
Mushrooms, the Adaptogens
Mushrooms are part of a subcategory of herbs and plants known as adaptogens. These plant powerhouses found in nature help our bodies counter stress, increase immune function, have a positive effect on mood and brain function, and can even help extend physical endurance. Examples of adaptogenic mushrooms are reishi, lion’s mane, cordyceps, and turkey tail. In recent years, adaptogenic mushrooms have become the darling of the supplement world, showing up in everything from capsules to coffee, bone broth, and even protein powder.
Mushrooms, the Mental Health Treatment
“Magic Mushrooms”, or psychedelic mushrooms, contain a compound called psilocybin that is gaining a lot of attention in the mental health world. Psilocybin is known for psychedelic tripping, but it is micro-dosing and its supposed effects that are causing a buzz. Early research and current clinical trials are looking into the efficacy of psilocybin treatment on PTSD and treatment-resistant depression. In animal trials, psilocybin acted by stimulating nerve-cell growth in the emotion and memory centers of the brain. These recent magic mushroom studies have been so convincing that the U.S. FDA has given it “breakthrough therapy” status for resistant depression. In these cases, psilocybin helps by acting on not just serotonin receptors, but beyond, altering how neurons connect to one another.
Psilocybin treatment requires few doses and has very few known side effects. This kind of treatment induces a “state of plasticity” that allows the brain to rewire neuronal circuits and allows one to learn new skills as they did as kids. Many believe how this mushroom treatment is administered is just as important as what it is capable of. New research is happening everyday looking for efficacy, dose, administration, and use of parallel therapies such as CBT.
The documentary Fantastic Fungi on Netflix has even opened up our eyes as to how fungal networks living underground work, and just how vital mushrooms are to life on planet earth. So, now that you know all the wonderful known aspects of mushrooms, you can make a pitstop at the portobellos on your next trip to the grocery store and introduce these powerful fungi into your life today!