Trying to boost that immune system during the change of seasons? Kids going back to school and bringing home illness? Or are you just looking for an everyday supplement to help keep your immune system balanced and performing at optimal levels?
Whatever the case, we find ourselves turning to supplements throughout the year to help like vitamin c, elderberry, you name it.
But in recent years, a new form of supplementation has gained in popularity. That supplement is medicinal mushrooms.
However, mushrooms as medicine isn’t a new concept by any means. It’s only recently that they’ve gained popularity and a global demand due to an increase in research and studies proving how beneficial they can be.
In this article, we'll take a look at why mushrooms can be a powerful immune booster, which mushrooms are best for immunity, and some of the top commercial products to buy based on our extensive product research.
Why are mushrooms good for immunity?
For centuries, medicinal mushrooms have been a go-to natural treatment to boost the immune system. A number of mushrooms are shown to have immune-boosting effects because they are chock full of beta-glucans.
More than 270 mushrooms have been shown to contain beta-glucans, but the truth is that nothing quite compares to the potential healing benefits of beta-glucan rich and wild grown reishi and turkey tail mushrooms. Let’s explore why these two popular medicinal mushroom species may help with immune support - but first, let’s discuss what beta-glucan content can do for the person consuming mushroom supplements.
Beta-glucans and chitin have been studied for their potential immune system activating compounds. These compounds live in the cell walls of mushrooms and are broken down and activated through various heating methods. The heating process is very important because humans do not have the ability to break down beta-glucans or chitin in our upper gastrointestinal tract. Why? Simply because we don’t have the enzymes to do so.
As these bioactive compounds pass through our GI system, they interact with the immune cells throughout our body (mostly in the small intestine). In fact, it’s been shown that 60-80% of our body’s lymphoid system is found in the small intestine. On a very high level, from there they start to work together to boost the immune system by creating protective cells (e.g., natural killer, t-cells, and antibodies, to name a few).
Wild mushrooms, in particular, are shown to have a substantial amount of beta-glucans - in fact, a study on 39 edible wild mushrooms highlighted the percentage of beta-glucans per mushroom by dry weight. In this study, turkey tail and reishi mushrooms were shown to have the highest percentage of beta-glucan content.
These mushrooms are highest in beta-glucan content by percentage:
Cap Beta-Glucan Content (%)
As you can see, other popular medicinal mushroom species (shiitake, maitake, and lion’s mane, to name a few) may have great health benefits, but are not as rich in beta-glucans as wild turkey tail and reishi mushrooms are.
Mushrooms aren't the only sources of beta-glucans. Grains, baker's yeast, and algae are also high in beta-glucans.
Various studies on beta-glucans have clarified the role they may play in fighting immunological threat in the body. For example, mushrooms high in beta-glucan content have been shown to be a viable treatment for cancer alongside chemotherapy, and are shown to boost white blood cell count.
What are the best mushrooms for immunity?
The best mushroom strains for improved immunity include reishi, turkey tail, maitake, shiitake, and lion's mane, among others. Scientific research supports all of these strains individually for improved immunity.
However, you may find that your body responds best to an immunity blend - combining multiple mushrooms together.
1. Reishi mushrooms for immunity
Reishi mushroom, commonly referred to as the “king of mushrooms” or “mushroom of immortality”, has been used for centuries as a staple for a healthy diet, but also as a homeopathic medicine in Eastern cultures. The numerous health benefits of reishi are tangibly shown in various studies, but in particular, many link reishi mushroom consumption with immune system boosting effects. The basis of the immune-boosting properties of reishi largely come from the polysaccharides found within the mushroom.
For reference, beta-glucans - which we’ve covered extensively now - are a type of polysaccharide. The polysaccharides found in fungi have been linked extensively to modulating the immune system by inducing the production of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immune function regulating substances.
The presence of these polysaccharides in reishi mushrooms show the potential for immunotherapy response. The studies have shown that reishi supplementation:
- May promote the function of antigen-presenting cells, mononuclear phygocyte system, humoral immunity, and cellular immunity
- Could play an important role in the inhibition of lipid peroxidation in biological systems through its antioxidant, metal chelating, and free radical scavenging activities
- Modulate bodily inflammation from a high-cholesterol diet
- Improve beneficial bacteria presence in the body
It’s important to note that many of these studies have been done on mice or in-vitro, so more studies need to be conducted to better understand reishi health benefits, but the initial findings are promising.
2. Turkey tail mushrooms for immunity
Turkey tail mushrooms have long been regarded as one of the most well-documented and highly tested mushrooms for immunotherapy and cancer treatment supplementation. With the high levels of cancer fighting beta-glucans and antioxidants present in this mushroom species, turkey tail mushrooms have the potential to help cancer patients recover from treatment, and also aid in general health and wellbeing when taken regularly.
Turkey tail mushrooms are proven to be packed with antioxidants and have one of the highest percentages of beta-glucans (more than 50% of the mushroom’s makeup) of any other mushroom. This is what makes turkey tail mushrooms such a great mushroom species for everything from everyday healthcare needs to more acute cancer treatment needs.
In fact, of all the mushrooms on the market today, turkey tail mushrooms have been the species tested most for medicinal qualities. Through this research, we’ve found that turkey tail extract contains Krestin (PSK) and Polysaccharide Peptide (PSP) - both of these compounds promote immune response by activating certain immune cells and, in tandem, suppressing inflammation cells.
These immune-boosting compounds make turkey tail a great mushroom choice for supporting and/or treating:
- Cancer treatment when taken alongside chemotherapy. This includes treatment for lung cancer, breast cancer, leukemia, and more
- Gut health
- Antibacterial properties
- Efficacy of certain cancer treatments
- Combatting HPV
- Athletic performance
- Insulin resistance
- Phlegm reduction
- Pulmonary disorders
Learn more about the health benefits of turkey tail mushrooms here.
Using turkey tail to support you in treatment for any of the above is due to a high level of antioxidants found in turkey tail mushrooms.
Turkey tail mushrooms - especially compared to other medicinal varieties - have been rigorously tested to better understand the genetic makeup of the mushroom so we can fully unlock its health benefits.
Beyond reishi and turkey tail, many other mushrooms have been shown to have immune-boosting benefits due to their beta-glucan content. Let's take a look at those mushrooms in more detail:
3. Shiitake mushrooms for immunity
Long known as a food delicacy, shiitake mushrooms are also used to treat ailments like the common cold. One study showed that shiitake mushroom supplementation over four weeks helped with gut immunity and anti-inflammatory response in the body due to favorable changes in secretion patterns of various immune compounds.
4. Split gill mushrooms for immunity
Split gill mushrooms have been used for centuries to boost energy, improve immunity, and support a person’s overall health and well-being. According to various studies, split gill supplementation is shown to enhance the effects of chemotherapy.
Learn more about the potential benefits (and safety concerns) of split gill mushrooms in this article.
5. Fu ling mushrooms for immunity
More commonly known as poria mushrooms, fu ling is one of the most commonly prescribed natural remedies in China. The high presence of polysaccharides and triterpenoids in fu ling makes it a strong treatment for immune-suppressing viruses.
6. Phellinus mushrooms for immunity
Similar to turkey tail, phellinus mushrooms have been shown to be a viable side treatment for various cancers. Its beta-glucan content helps stimulate a positive immune response in the body.
7. Red-belted polypore for immunity
Also known as red-belted conk, this mushroom helps support the immune system by building a solid histamine response, promoting healthy (and normal) cell growth, and more.
8. Birch polypore for immunity
This mushroom has a long history of being used to boost immunity. Birch polypore extracts have been shown to help with the release of cytokines that help the immune system respond to foreign invaders.
7. Oyster mushrooms for immunity
Due to the high presence of phenolics, flavonoids, and polysaccharides in oyster mushrooms, they are proven to be an immune booster. In-vitro studies have shown that oyster mushroom consumption triggers an anti-inflammatory response in the body.
Numerous other mushrooms are linked to immune support, but we could go on all day, so we’ll stop here. To dive deeper into various species listed above, check out our blog.
What is the proper dosage of mushrooms for immunity
For most medicinal mushroom supplements, the recommended dosage for immune support is 1-2 grams a day. Depending on your supplement type, is equal to about 1-2 teaspoons of powder or 1-2 droppers of the tincture. Always check your product details for more accurate dosage information.
If you have an active viral infection, you may want to increase your dosage to up to 6 grams a day.
However, your recommended dosage may need to be adjusted depending on your unique use case and situation.
Always speak to your doctor before incorporating natural supplements into your health routine. While supplementing with mushrooms is generally considered safe, some mushrooms can have side effects and drug interactions - especially at higher dosages.
There's no set recommendation as far as timing for taking mushrooms for immunity. Many people choose to take their daily immune blend with coffee in the morning. If you're fighting off an active infection, you may want to divide your dosage between the morning and evening.
Taking mushroom supplements for improved immunity
Before jumping head-first into mushroom supplementation for immunity, it’s important to consult your doctor. When incorporating supplements into your immunity routine, consider the various types of mushroom supplements that are available to you.
To ensure that the immune-boosting beta-glucans found in reishi or turkey tail mushrooms are getting their highest and best use, consider making your mushroom powder as a steeped tea or buy a trusted extract that has already been processed for you.
The best mushroom products for immunity
When we think about the best mushroom products for immunity, of course, turkey tail and reishi are at the top - but there’s a little more to it.
To get the most functional and medicinal value from your mushroom product, you should look for mushroom extracts. Whether they are in powder, liquid, or capsule form, you want to look for extract products.
Here's a complete guide to mushroom extraction if you want to learn more about what this process is and why it's so important.
This video from RealMushrooms does a great job summarizing the importance of mushroom extraction in just under 2-minutes:
Those beta-glucans are hidden beneath the mushroom's chitin (tough cell walls of mushrooms). We need to extract them in order for our bodies to absorb the beneficial compounds and reap the benefits. This is done through a hot water extraction to make polysaccharides (beta-glucans) bioavailable.
If companies don’t list their extraction type and methods, it’s best to move on.
We also like companies that provide 3rd-party lab testing for these compounds, though it’s not a deal breaker as only few tend to do so. You may see companies that do a double extraction and use alcohol and hot water. This is the industry standard for extracts and helps make all compounds easily absorbed by our bodies.
Best mushroom tinctures for immunity
What we love about Cure Mushrooms tinctures for immunity:
Cure sources their mushroom material from a trusted supplier and provides 3rd party lab tests on all of their tinctures - meaning there is nothing to hide. They are one of the few tincture companies to do this and you can see the quality of the product. No filler, just pure dual-extracted mushroom extracts.
They use hot water and alcohol extracts and perform all of the formulations in California. They source their mushrooms from the pacific northwest, are USDA certified organic and vegan. There really isn’t a better tincture on the market and you can shop with confidence with their 30-day money back guarantee.
Their pricing is extremely competitive, and by subscribing, you can save a hefty amount as well. They also offer two versions of each tincture. One still has the alcohol in it from the extraction. The other removes the alcohol for a sweeter taste. We don’t lean one way or the other, but it’s great to give both a try and see which one you like! Tinctures, like these, can be taken underneath your tongue by the dropper or you can just put some into a drink of your choice. Whatever works for you!
What we don’t love about Cure Mushroom's tinctures for immunity:
There really isn’t anything about Cure that we have an issue with. Maybe at some point they will plan to offer powdered extracts for those that prefer them, but other than that, they’ve mastered tinctures and are the clear leader in quality as far as we’re concerned.
Best mushroom powder/capsule brand for immunity
They also offer them as capsules if you prefer that. With the powders, you’ll typically just add them to a drink or even your coffee or tea. At the end of the day, tinctures, powders, and capsules provide the same effect but in different forms of delivery.
We love their 5 Defenders Immune Strength powder and capsule blends for those looking to get the maximum benefit from a variety of mushroom types.
As far as Real Mushrooms goes, they’re a pioneer in the space when it comes to these products. The company is owned by Nammex, which is one of the largest organic mushroom extract distributors, based out of Canada. Their mushrooms come from China, but are put through rigorous testing.
What we love about Real Mushrooms for Immunity:
Real mushrooms offers an organic product made up of 100% fruiting bodies for a price that is very reasonable for the quality that you’ll be getting should you choose to order. They also test their products and standardize a set amount of beta-glucans to assure you’re getting what you’re paying for. The company has been around for decades and its founder, Jeff, has been a leader in the space for quite some time, studying mushrooms thoroughly and working with other mycologists. Their products can be trusted.
What we don’t love about Real Mushrooms for Immunity:
Real Mushrooms is a trusted brand that our editorial staff orders regularly for use at home. We wish they posted their lab results directly on the site. That's not to say they're not available. We had to reach out to their parent company, Nammex, to get more insight. However, at least they did have these for verification even if we had to ask for it. It’s a company that is well-educated in the space and is a leader for a reason.
A final note on mushroom products for immunity
Regardless of your choice in product, you can rest assured that Cure Mushrooms and Real Mushrooms are two companies that you can rely on to give you the best quality product you’re looking for. If it’s tinctures you enjoy, Cure is your choice! Powders or capsules, go for Real Mushrooms! Don’t be discouraged if their price seems a little higher. If you’re looking for whatever is cheapest, you’re not being an educated consumer. Mushroom extracts, at least good ones, aren’t cheap.
Cure takes around 100 days just to make a tincture and Real Mushrooms sources only the highest quality mushrooms for their extracts.
Those offering deals that seem too good to be true likely are. After all, this is your health, and the last thing you want is a product that’s not going to anything that you intended it to do.
If you have any questions about these products or mushrooms in general, just give us a shout at email@example.com!