The Magic of Mushrooms: How they Benefit Gut Health and the Planet

May 16, 2023

Mushrooms have been around much longer than humans, in fact, they beat us on the evolutionary timeline by a billion years. They have adapted to every type of environment imaginable, which makes them incredibly resilient and an important learning tool for the future health of our planet.

Medicinal mushrooms, a group of mushrooms that are used as medicine, have been used for their therapeutic benefits for thousands of years, dating back to 450 BCE (1).  In recent years, there has been a surge of interest in their positive impact on immune health, gut health, and protection of the environment.

Mushrooms Supporting Gut Health

The gut microbiome or the trillions of microorganisms that live in the human gut, has been linked to numerous aspects of health and disease (2).

Medicinal mushrooms are an excellent source of prebiotics, which are indigestible fibers that serve as food for healthy bacteria. Studies have shown that mushrooms can have a positive impact on the gut microbiome by promoting the growth of these beneficial bacteria and suppressing harmful bacteria (3). For example, one study found that shiitake mushrooms contain a polysaccharide called lentinan, which can stimulate the growth of probiotics in the gut and improve gut health (4). Additionally, reishi mushrooms have been found to contain beta-glucans and polysaccharides, which can enhance the immune system and also promote the growth of beneficial bacteria.

Chaga mushrooms are high in antioxidants which lower inflammation in the body, specifically in the gut. There is some promising research for chaga mushrooms and their protective properties against inflammatory bowel diseases (5). They also may have anti-ulcer effects by protecting the mucosal lining of the stomach and intestinal tract (6).

Most people associate Lion's Mane with cognitive health, but there has been some interesting studies in the last several years that have shown support for digestive health. One study showed that Lion's Mane may inhibit the growth of H.Pylori, a bacteria that can cause inflammation, and even ulcers in your stomach (7). 

A Note on Reishi Spores

Reishi spores are released as part of a mushroom’s life cycle, also known as sporulation. These spores contain 300% more triterpenes than the fruiting body and are loaded with polysaccharides. They also contain amino acids, minerals, and other beneficial constituents like adenosine (promotes sleep drive). Triterpenes have many benefits such as anti-inflammatory and anti-histamine properties, along with modulating the gut microbiome (8).

Can Mushrooms Save the Planet?

In addition to their benefits for gut health, medicinal mushrooms have also been shown to have many positive impacts on the environment.

Fungi, also known as the “OG” waste recyclers of the earth, are the reasons why we have lush forests, nutrient rich soils, and frankly, the diverse ecosystems we have today.  A lot of their recycling power comes from a unique blend of enzymes found in their tissues. In fact, scientists have identified more than 120 enzymes that breakdown several types of toxic and chemical materials.

“Such enzymes are inherent byproducts of fungi, and they have massive implications for cleaning up the contamination we have left behind. As mycelium spreads, it secretes these enzymes which can break down pollution.”

The cultivation of mushrooms is a sustainable and eco-friendly process that can reduce waste and conserve resources. For example, mushrooms can be grown on agricultural waste products such as sawdust, straw, and spent grains, which would otherwise contribute to landfills and environmental pollution.

Similar to trees, fungi can capture carbon from the atmosphere and store it in the soil for long periods of time. This not only improves the health of the soil but can also reduce excess carbon that we’ve put into the atmosphere.

Furthermore, the production of mushrooms releases less greenhouse gases compared to other forms of agriculture. The carbon footprint of mushrooms is much smaller compared to other forms of agriculture, such as livestock and crop production. This is because mushrooms do not require large amounts of energy, fertilizer, or water to grow.

Mycelium to the Rescue!

Mycelium, an underground network of fungal threads, have the ability to cleanse pollutants from water and soil. For example, mycelium can be placed in a lake with an overgrowth of algae and filter out the bad bacteria. They also can breakdown hydrocarbons, which naturally occur in oil. Specific mushrooms, along with other plant materials, can be a cost effective and efficient way to clean up oil spills (on land and water).

Did you know that mycelium can replace the need for unstainable materials like plastic and synthetic fabrics? Since mycelium is biodegradable and durable, it can be used to make clothes, sustainable leather, and packaging. If we want to support the health of our planet, I believe this is the direction we need to moving in. 

Fun Fact: Certain strains of fungus are flourishing near the Chernobyl blast. How? They have the ability to absorb radiation. Researchers at NASA are now studying this radiation-protection fungus to support astronauts, which as you know are exposed to much higher levels of radiation.

Cleary, medicinal mushrooms have the potential to benefit both human health and the environment. By supporting the growth of beneficial bacteria, medicinal mushrooms can significantly improve gut and overall health. Likewise, medicinal mushrooms are sustainable and eco-friendly fungi that can reduce waste, conserve resources, remove harmful toxins from the environment, and lower greenhouse gas emissions.











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