Functional Fungi

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Mushroom supplements are growing in popularity

Over the last several years, functional mushrooms have emerged as a growing health trend.

The rise in popularity is partly credited to mycologist and entrepreneur Paul Stamets, who has given multiple TED Talks and appeared on “The Joe Rogan Experience” podcast two separate times to talk about the benefits of consuming different fungi.

Thanks largely to Stamets and his company, Host Defense Mushrooms, functional mushrooms are now available in health food stores around the country, including here in Lynchburg. Nature’s Outlet in the Graves Mill Shopping Center has sold and advocated for functional mushrooms for several years since partnering with Host Defense.

While functional mushrooms might be a new trend, different types of fungi have been eaten for their health benefits since the beginning of human history, Nature’s Outlet Director of Education John Rigdon said.

“Back when [humans]were hunters and gatherers, you could hunt animals, but you also had to gather berries and roots and mushrooms,” Rigdon said. “Humans early on figured out which mushrooms were edible and provided health benefits.”

While early humans may not have understood the science behind the phenomenon, they knew that eating certain mushrooms boosted their health in a variety of ways, Rigdon explained. Throughout history, certain types of mushrooms were celebrated for their healing benefits.

“One of my favorites are reishi mushrooms,” Rigdon said. “That [mushroom]was used by the ancient Chinese. …It was a very revered and special [food]. Only the wealthiest people would have access to this.”

Some other functional mushrooms that are commonly available today are lion’s mane, cordyceps and chaga, which have health benefits ranging from cardiovascular and kidney support to easing nerve pain and stimulating brain function.

“There’s a lot of overlap, because almost every mushroom is going to be good for your immune system, but then you have those specialty attributes, like the brain support, heart support or lung support,” Rigdon said.

At Nature’s Outlet, functional mushrooms are sold in capsule form or in liquid tinctures, although they can also be found as powders to be added to smoothies, or even cooked and eaten whole. Mushrooms should never be consumed raw, Rigdon warns.

He compares functional mushrooms to adaptogens, which are medicinal herbs used to create stability of different physiological processes in the body. According to Rigdon, mushrooms are one of the best natural remedies for overall immune health.

“Every living organism has an immune system and because mushrooms grow in such a dirty place, they have some of the strongest immune systems of any living organism,” Rigdon said.

“So, when we consume certain mushrooms, we get the benefits of their really strong immune system.”

With so many different health benefits, Rigdon believes mushrooms will only continue to become more popular.

“[Adaptogens and mushrooms] have this bizarre intelligence that works with the intelligence of your body and your immune system and helps provide the balance that your body should have,” Rigdon said.

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