Mushrooms are often underestimated for their nutritional value but in addition to being a rich, low calorie source of fibre, protein, and antioxidants, research shows that they can have wide reaching health benefits, ranging from fertility support to improved insulin resistance.
The Reishi mushroom in particular, is known for its emotional benefits including support for memory loss, anxiety, depression, stamina and ageing. We spoke to acupuncturist and Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner, Tim Djossou, who explained in further detail.
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The benefits of reishi mushrooms
Medicinal mushrooms have been used for centuries in Chinese and Japanese medicine to help with mental and physical wellbeing. There are around 2000 species of mushroom , approximately 25 of which are widely accepted as food. Many are also considered to be medicinal and the line between edible and medical is blurred as often, they are both.
Mushrooms are generally known for their anti-inflammatory and immune-enhancing effects, but each species also has its own merits. For example, cordyceps mushrooms  are considered beneficial for energy, appetite, stamina, libido, endurance, and sleeping patterns. Meanwhile, the dramatic-looking Lion's mane  is considered beneficial for cognitive function.
The reishi mushroom has become particularly well-known for its benefits across the centuries and is still lauded today. Used for more than two millennia, it has been called the "Mushroom of Immortality", and is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to help prevent or treat a variety of diseases, including cancer , allergies , to support the immune system , maintain blood sugar levels , aid heart health , decrease fatigue , and ease insomnia and anxiety .
Tim notes that in TCM the reishi mushroom is considered to nourish the heart and calm the spirit, with practitioners using it for the following benefits:
- Analgesic (relieve pain)
- Antiallergic (for allergies)
- Antiarrhythmic (for the heart)
- Antiasthmatic (for asthma)
- Anticoagulant (commonly known as blood thinners) - also antiplatelet
- Antidiabetic (to stabilise and control blood glucose levels)
- Antihypertensive (to lower blood pressure) - also Hypotensive
- Antineoplastic (in cancer treatment)
- Cardiotonic (for the heart)
- Cognitive (brain function)
- Expectorant (to clear congestion)
- Hepatoprotective (for the liver)
- Immunostimulant (for the immune system)
- Radiation (protective effect)
- Muscle relaxant
- Vasodilator (coronary artery)
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An adaptogen to help balance the body
One of the great powers of the reishi mushroom is that it's an adaptogen, which means it is used to bring the body back into balance. For example, if you need more sleep it won't act like a sleeping pill, but encourage your body to respond to stress, anxiety, fatigue and overall wellbeing, self-regulate and return to homeostasis.
Tim says: "The Reishi mushroom has lots of benefits, amongst which, they can fight anxiety and help you to sleep better. After the last two years, lots of people have anxiety and don’t sleep well. A few days ago one of my clients told me she wasn't getting enough sleep - not just the amount of time but the quality of sleep as well. I recommended Reishi mushrooms and she slept for 11 hours! The thing about mushrooms is that they are adaptogens, so they bring your body back into a state of homeostasis - or balance. For example, they won't make you sleep more than you're supposed to but they will help you get what you need."
He also highlights that one of the benefits is that while you might take mushrooms for one particular thing, they will still continue to provide a range of benefits. Often used to support cancer patients, during or after treatment, he says:
“Usually cancer patients have been highly ‘abused’ with chemo. When they finish treatment, they need herbs to build them back because chemotherapy is like using a kalashnikov - it kills everything around it. With mushrooms, we build them back.”
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Mushrooms for menopause
In speaking to Tim, many of the benefits that reishi, and some other mushrooms offer, correlate with unwanted consequences of menopause - sleeplessness, anxiety, and fatigue in particular. Further research indicates that reishi mushrooms may be considered a hormone regulator, and there is some observational evidence to indicate that they may reduce hot flushes .
Clarissa Berry, Nutritionist for DIRTEA, was quoted saying:
“Reishi is an incredible mushroom with many beneficial effects on the body, including hormone regulation. It can regulate oestrogen and progesterone production, helping to reduce menopausal symptoms including hot flashes. It also calms the nervous system, which helps with sleep and anxiety."
She also recommended lion’s mane and cordyceps for menopause.
How to use mushrooms
In terms of how mushrooms are taken, they are available in powder and capsule forms, and as they are a food group, how you choose to try them is up to you. You may prefer to take it like a tea, or sprinkle it in your food, or as a capsule, for example. He suggests that before trying them, you read about them, learn about them and decide what’s best for you - then give them a try.
He says: "It can be used as a stand alone mushroom for anxiety although I always combine many herbs in a formula when I treat a client."