Mushroom Allies for Grounded Vitality

March 2024 - Health & Wellness

Written by Jerry Angelini, ms

Stress has turned into the status quo for many of us. People report feeling ‘wound up’, ‘under pressure’, ‘overwhelmed’…we have many names for it. The world around us presents us with expectations, requirements and demands. Yet we can, to a certain extent, decide how we wish to respond. The human body comes hard-wired with a stress response also called the fight or flight, freeze or faint response. It is a combination of our sensory nervous system coupled with the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems and our adrenal system. It’s fairly complex but let’s simplify it.

In order to ‘feel’ stress we first need to interpret some kind of sensory information as potentially threatening. 10,000 years ago, it was usually a bear, tiger or other large predator. In today’s world it could be a car careening toward you, a stack of bills, the threat of physical or emotional harm or even familial discord. We perceive the threat and interpret it along a continuum from immediate and critical down to irritating and chronic. It is important to realize that even low-grade stressors can be problematic if they continue for prolonged periods.

Stress and an engaged sympathetic nervous system can have far-ranging negative physical and emotional effects, including but not limited to: digestive distress and impairment, difficulty falling asleep and/or interrupted sleep, decreased cognitive functioning, increased startle response, decreased energy and vitality, cardiovascular impairment and decreased immune functioning.

Since most of us experience stress at various points in our lives, coping skills and interventions can be a cornerstone for a long and happy life. Aside from some of the tried-and-true coping skills like meditation, tai chi, yoga and mindfulness practices, we can add cognitive retraining, mild to moderate physical activity and participating in hobbies that are creative, positive and lighthearted. Regarding supplements and substances, there are many adaptogens that can support calm, peaceful feelings while also supporting gentle energy.

There are four mushrooms with the potential to support our bodies in coping with stress and managing its potential negative impacts. Reishi, cordyceps, lion’s mane and turkey tail are four popular mushrooms in the natural wellness community.

My favourite adaptogenic mushroom is Reishi. Reishi has been used for centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) formulas. One major function in TCM is to ‘calm the shen’, one of the ‘three treasures’ and roughly translated to mean ‘the spirit’. Some consider it to incorporate our mind and body. The important part is that it is calming and soothing. Another function of reishi is that it tonifies kidney yin, roughly translated to denote our underlying constitutional energy. The numerous research articles studying the impact of reishi indicate that it is calming while also gently energizing, especially energy associated with endurance. Reishi is the epitome of a substance that helps our bodies cope with stress.

Lion’s Mane
Lion’s mane is an increasingly popular mushroom sometimes referred to as the Smart Mushroom. Human clinical trials have reinforced its beneficial impact on cognitive function, memory and mood. Under stressful conditions, our cognitive functioning can fall. Having a mushroom that directly supports cognitive function and balanced mood seems like a strong ally for stressful times. Lion’s mane also supports optimal intestinal immune responses and feeds our friendly intestinal microflora. As we learn more about the gut-brain connection, keeping our digestive tracts happy appears to impact our overall mood beneficially.

Cordyceps is another mushroom that can be considered a support during stressful times. Cordyceps is the revitalizer. It supports graceful breathing, increased oxygenation, muscle function and athletic performance. Cordyceps has an immediate and experiential beneficial impact on energy and vitality. Especially for people who shut down when feeling overwhelmed, cordyceps can be used by itself or used with reishi to experience a full range of immediate and day long energy, calm spirit and revitalization of our constitutional energy. The increased energy from cordy­ceps can be the catalyst to starting a daily walk, gentle stretching, yoga or gym practice.

Turkey Tail
Turkey tail is our go-to mushroom for immune system optimization. Supporting an engaged and balanced immune response becomes important because chronic stress can depress our immune functioning. With the ease and speed of local and international travel, we have seen the transmission of airborne pathogens increase dramatically compared to 100 years ago. We want to consider methods and interventions that will support immune functioning. Turkey tail has the added benefit of supporting our intestinal probiotic microflora. Again, an optimally functioning digestive system and a balanced intestinal immune response can beneficially impact our minds and the rest of our bodies.

Whether you decide to focus on a single mushroom species like lion’s mane or look for a formula containing two, three or more mushrooms, here are a couple of purchasing tips. Look for products that have been tested by third-party labs in the US or Canada for efficacy, safety and purity. Counterfeit products on large distribution websites have been on the rise, so purchase from trusted, local stores that get their stock from the source. And remember that holistic approaches to managing stress include diet, exercise, mental and emotional interventions. Mushrooms like reishi, lion’s mane, cordyceps and turkey tail are just one aspect of a multifaceted approach to supporting health and wellness in our day-to-day lives. 

Jerry Angelini, ms is the head of Education at Host Defense Mushrooms and mushroom expert extraordinaire. He has been teaching and speaking on anatomy and physiology, herb-drug interactions, and psychology for over two decades and holds numerous certifications and post-graduate credentials.

Article was published in The Good Life magazine.

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