The rise of the Adaptogens: How functional mushrooms are going mainstream
What is an adaptogen?
Adaptogens are an ingenious group of plants and fungi that help keep our bodies preforming at their best. Used in home remedies and traditional medicine for thousands of years, adaptogens are gaining momentum in the West as a solution to many of the problems of our hectic modern lives: low mood, stress, anxiety, depression, and a compromised immune system.
Well known adaptogens; Ashwagandha, Tulsi, Ginger, Maca, Schisandra Berry, Ginseng and Functional Mushrooms.
What exactly is a functional mushroom?
Functional mushrooms are the superfood class fungi that contain additional, adaptogen compounds. They carry many of the dense nutritious benefits of usual mushrooms like selenium and Vitamin D but they also contain bioactive compounds that help keep our body in a natural state of balance.
The most well known are:
Lion’s Mane – Natural nootropic, aiding focus and cognitive health
Chaga – Packed with antioxidants
Reishi – Immune supportive & anti-aging properties
Turkey Tail – Detoxifying and immune support
Image: Lion's Mane Mushroom
What makes them different to regular mushrooms?
Some medicinal mushrooms are edible, such as Lion’s Mane and you may well find them at your local farmers market or independent grocery. But they are traditionally set apart by their high levels of compounds such a Beta D glucans and triterpenes, these can make the mushrooms much more bitter and indigestible. Most functional mushrooms are dried, brewed into a tea or turned into high concentrated extracts. The fruiting body of the mushroom, the bit we see is the common part that we eat but the mycelium (delicate threads of fungal hyphae) also contain valuable compounds that contribute to their health benefits.
Are they the same as magic mushrooms aka can they get you high?
No. Psilocybin mushrooms, the magical, ones that get you high are a different type of mushroom. Magic mushrooms, although used in ceremony, healing and currently back in medical trails as a treatment for depression, remain illegal.
What are the benefits of functional mushrooms? And in particular, the benefits of mushrooms in drinks?
Their complex molecules, notably the Beta Glucans have shown in studies to support the immune system working synergistically to help synthesize compounds we already produce. An example of this is Nerve Growth Factor, essential for cognitive and neuronal health, stimulated by the erinacines and hericenones found in Lion’s Mane. Repeated studies in mice have shown positive antidepressant and hormone regulating effects (yes humans are different to mice but their brains work in similar ways) Chaga is full of antioxidants such a triterpenes, polyphenols, and Superoxide Dismutase (SOD). This concentration as well as the diverse types of antioxidants makes Chaga a great natural support in overall health.
Concentrated extracts are highly soluble and bioavailable so they work perfectly in drinks. They have earthy, nutty, bitter profiles that pair perfectly in brewed drinks, beer and coffee especially!
How effective are adaptogens and what do studies show?
The term adaptogens has been given to a select number of herbs and fungi that have been used in TCM, Ayurvedic and traditional medicines for thousands of years. Coined by a Russian Scientist in the 70’s during a study looking at natural remedies that would increase and support soldiers performance. Their efficacy, has shown time after time to have positive effects on the patients and the ailments they were treating. As science has joined ancient wisdom we can now isolate and identify the compounds that are the reasons for their uses. A few examples; curcumin in turmeric is a bioavailable anti-inflammatory and the Erinacines in Lion’s Mane have been shown to help the body synthesise Nerve Growth Factor in the human brain. These studies have been done in vitro and via epidemiological studies. The continued study of functional mushrooms in Asia has placed mushrooms such as Taramites versicolor (Turkey Tail) as a complementary (to Western Chemotherapies) treatment for cancer and immunosuppressant diseases. Hericium erinaceus (Lion’s Mane) is undergoing continual clinal studies for helping the brain to combat degenerative diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s due to its powerful effect on neuroregeneration.
The future is fungi!
We live in a culture that is becoming tired of chemical dependence and want to take health and wellness into our own hands, looking back to nature to help aid physical and mental health and for sources of immunity support. The notable rise in self care and further clinical research studies on adaptogens, fungi and internal systems such as the cannabinoid system have brought credible ingredients to market such as CBD and functional mushrooms.
Fungi and their non-toxic, flexible formats (fresh, tinctures, extracts and finished products) are a great way to integrate healthier, good for you products into everyday ceremony. What we eat and drink on a daily basis is an easy and enjoyable way to help manage our health by lowering alcohol, sugar and discovering healthy alternatives to everyday treats.
Discover Fungtn's range of adaptogenic, alcohol free craft beer: