To round out Mental Health Month, we’re featuring some of our favourite fungi that can help with our mental health. The cool thing is, consuming a wide variety of mushrooms could be beneficial for our emotional health, as they’re an excellent source of nutrients that support mental health and wellbeing.
A study from Penn State College of Medicine found that people who ate mushrooms had lower odds of having depression, likely because mushrooms—especially oyster—are rich in ergothioneine, an antioxidant that can protect against cell and tissue damage in the body. These antioxidants may prevent several mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression. The most commonly eaten mushroom, the white button, contains potassium, also believed to reduce anxiety.
We should note that the researchers couldn’t address what type of mushrooms show the highest potential for warding off depression.
Earlier this year, we shared some herbs that help with mental health, but if mushrooms are more up your mycelium alley, here are 3 with the potential to help you prevent mental illness so you can perform at your best.
It’s said that Buddhist Shaolin monks used Lion’s Mane mushroom in their meditation practice to enhance focus and cultivate life-force energy Qi.
In studies, Lion’s Mane mushroom was found to support healthy brain states by stimulating nerve growth factor (NGF), which helps certain critical nerves survive, and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF helps to increase brain plasticity, which supports your brain cells in staying resilient in the face of stress. Other studies on mood and anxiety are promising.
A 2010 study on a group of 30 women experiencing depression and anxiety reported an overall improvement in mood, depression and sleep quality, scoring lower on several measures, including palpitations, frustration, irritability and anxiety.
Lion’s Mane can also potentially reduce inflammation and promote better blood flow, which provides the brain with more oxygen. More oxygen in the brain results in better brain performance—essential for managing moods, anxiety and stress. It may also reduce the risk of memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease, and boost mental function.
The Reishi mushroom is revered for its potential to promote calmness and support the body's ability to handle stress.
Reishi helps manage stress levels by reducing over-activation of the central nervous system (CNS), which promotes feelings of relaxation. When our CNS is flooded with adrenaline and cortisol during moments of anxiety—marked by a faster heart rate and shortness of breath—reishi’s de-escalating properties can reintroduce calmness. Studies have shown the triterpenes in Reishi have the potential to soothe nerves, promoting a sedative quality that eases insomnia.
Reishi was also shown to increase states of deep sleep on a long-term basis. Sleep is essential for calming the nervous system and lowering stress and anxiety.
Taoists and monks alike refer to Reishi as a “Shen tonic,” which translates loosely to a spirit-nourishing herb.
We created Reishi Recharge to help people recharge their immune systems, support liver function, and keep stress at bay.
Lion’s Mane and reishi are considered functional mushrooms, meaning they help us adapt better to stressful environments.
Shiitake is a hearty mushroom that contains nearly all the amino acids that support healthy brain function, cellular activity, and structure. Used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine, shiitake was found to help with lower cholesterol and reduce blood pressure, which are crucial for heart health.
Shiitake is valued for its carbohydrates called polysaccharides, specifically beta-glucans, which can reduce inflammation, support the immune system and combat infections. Researchers found that beta-glucans improved gut microbiome diversity in mice. As the gut and brain are closely linked (via the gut-brain axis), this is exciting for shiitake’s potential for mental health.
Anyone who’s been sick will tell you the more we feel better in our body, the easier it is for our mind to follow.
Other mushrooms with mental health benefits we’ve talked about in past blogs include chaga, cordyceps, porcini, portobello, and turkey tail. Besides simply cooking the mushroom, you can add powdered mushroom blends to your beverages.