If adaptogens have been on your radar, you might have come to know about functional mushrooms. Over recent years, the demand for these mighty mushrooms have bloomed in the supplement aisle, thanks to its value as a viable source of antioxidants as well as anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting qualities. Here, we take a look at a few popular varieties in the market, and review what modern science has unveiled so far on their adaptogenic, performance-enhancing capabilities.
Editor’s note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it shouldn’t take the place of advice and/or supervision from a medical professional. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. Speak with your physician if you have any concerns or before beginning any new dietary regimen.
But Wait, What Exactly Are Adaptogens?
Health is the ability to adapt to one’s environment. –George Canguilhem, Normal and Pathological (1943) (1)
As you probably know, exercise itself is actually a form of stress — but not necessarily in a bad way.
As you continue to train, your body gets better at handling this “stress” load, which could translate to increased endurance and stamina. In a way, the concept of adaptogens is analogous to regular training- They’re believed to help our body build resistance or “immunity” against stress effects, and make us become better at handling it.
Over the years, herbal and mushroom adaptogens have received widespread attention among athletes looking to tune up their performance in situations of mental and physical stress. Even in ancient sport arenas, Greek Olympians and Roman gladiators were known to consume various plants and mushrooms as a means of improving performance(2). So which ones have the most research supporting them?
[Read more: 6 adaptogens that might help strength athletes.]
1. Reishi / Lingzhi
Ganoderma lucidum, a mushroom known as Reishi (by Japanese term) or Lingzhi (in Chinese), has been coined as the “mushroom of immortality”.
That’s obviously hyperbole, but this species is highly valued for its vast number of bioactive components. So much so that in 2010, a lingzhi-based drug was approved in China as an adjunctive therapy to cope with the side effects of chemo/ radiation treatments for cancer (3). Not surprisingly, G. lucidum has been studied for its potential role in treating other diseases like diabetes and liver disease. A study reported favorable outcomes of G. lucidum supplementation (6g/day for 6 weeks) in improving the physical fitness in women suffering from fibromyalgia, a condition characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain and accompanied by fatigue and sleep issues (4).
It also might help with altitude training, a protocol whereby athletes train in high altitudes to help increase the amount of red blood cells the body produces, which would boost oxygen levels and thereby enhance endurance.(5). One approach is “living-high-training-low” (LHTL) approach, and a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine sought to investigate the potential effects of G. lucidum on reducing the stress and modulating the immune functions in football players undergoing this programming (6). The results of the study were promising: favorable outcomes were observed in the group that consumed 5g of G. lucidum extract per day for 6 weeks, so it appeared that G. lucidum could offer benefits to attenuate the imbalance in immune cells caused by strenuous physical exercise.
Cordyceps (Ophiocordyceps sinensis), another “medicinal mushroom” found naturally in the mountain regions in Asia, is highly valued by traditional healers in ancient Chinese and Tibetan medicine (7). The mushroom consumed as a tonic was said to help improve energy, appetite, stamina, libido, endurance, and sleeping patterns. Modern science has reported its potential role in improving cholesterol and blood pressure. In sports, cordyceps supplementation (240mg/d for 2 weeks) appeared to be effective in reduce fatigue and improving energy use (ie. better respiratory and cardiovascular responses) (8).
With regard to altitude training, it is proposed that cordyceps could be useful to enhance performance due to its ability to stimulate vasodilation (meaning widening of blood vessels along with increased blood flow), and promote efficient oxygen use in tissues (5). A study found that the provision of cordyceps-based supplement (600mg/d) during a 2-week training period resulted in quicker adaptation to high altitude training as well as improved aerobic capacity.
3. Lion’s Mane
Lion’s mane is known to be a rare and precious source in nature, but if you are in luck, you can easily spot it by its unique appearance of ivory, icicle-like spines forming a pom-pom shape. Lion’s mane is treasured as a culinary delicacy in many parts of Asia, and has attracted further attention for its role as a functional food to promote health.
To date, most studies on this mushroom were done in animal models or test tubes, though its health-promoting potentials have been reported including anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, cholesterol-lowering and cancer fighting properties. For example, a recent lab study suggested that the mushroom extract appears to display prebiotic activities that can help improve digestion (9). A study done on mice indicated that a diet supplemented with lion’s mane resulted in a significant increase in muscle endurance with improved fatigue (10). In the few studies done in humans, older adults who supplemented with lion’s mane showed cognitive improvement (11).
[Learn more: The Best Foods and Supplements for Fighting Inflammation.]
This is another type of functional mushroom that has been growing in demand in the form of capsules, powders, and liquid extract, though it seems that the most popular method of consuming it recently is chaga tea. Traditionally, it has long been used in Russia and other Baltic countries as a folk remedy to treat many health issues ranging from stomach ailments to tuberculosis and diabetes. Modern research over the years have investigated its promising therapeutic effects characterized by its antioxidant, antiviral and immune-enhancing properties (12). Currently, its use in human subjects research is lacking but a number of animal and in vitro studies have yielded favorable results. For example, a study in mice indicated that dietary chaga supplement for a period of 14 days offered anti-fatigue effects, observed by an increase in exercise duration and liver glycogen stores, and a decrease in metabolic waste product from muscles including lactic acid (13).
Shiitake (Lentinus edodes) has become a staple in many kitchens nowadays. Its full-bodied flavor and hearty texture not only make it a favorite in many dishes such as soups, stir-fries, and salads, but also make it a great addition to meatless meals. Apart from being a prizewinner in the flavor department, shiitake is widely recognized as a nutrient powerhouse of vitamins and minerals like vitamin D, vitamin B (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin), magnesium, phosphorus and zinc (14).
Shiitake offers well-documented healthful effects including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, immunoregulatory and regenerative properties. While fresh ones are readily available thanks to commercial cultivation (a quick trip to the grocery store confirms this), shiitake is also widely available in the supplemental form for people wishing to compliment any healthy eating plan. In a study that first examined the use of shiitake supplement in physically active individuals, researchers suggested that the shiitake extract (1.4g per day) consumed for 10 days prior to exercise appeared to promote antioxidant activities that are advantageous to exercise-induced muscle damage (14).
[Learn more: The Lifter’s Guide to Magnesium Supplements]
Note that the research evidence reviewed here were on individual mushroom types with doses ranging from 240mg up to 6000g per day, but mushroom supplements nowadays are commonly marketed as a combination of few different types. With that being said, there is no conclusive evidence or guidelines on the quantity or intake duration that is required for a supplement to be effective.
Much of the research on these mushrooms are still underway, and like many other herbal supplements, little is known so far about the safety of its long-term use. While it might be a no-brainer to wind down with a cup of mushroom tea, remember that research is preliminary and that managing recovery and inflammation requires more than just a serving of shrooms. Also, many herbal products can interact negatively with prescription medications, so be sure to discuss it with your healthcare provider if you are already on medication and wish to try out a new supplement.
Featured image via Fotografiecor.nl/Shutterstock
1. Panossian A. Understanding adaptogenic activity: specificity of the pharmacological action of adaptogens and other phytochemicals. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2017;1401(1):49-64. doi: 10.1111/nyas.13399.
2. Malve HO. Sports pharmacology: A medical pharmacologist’s perspective. J Pharm Bioallied Sci. 2018;10:126–36.
3. Jiang Y, Chang Y, et al. Overview of Ganoderma sinense polysaccharide-an adjunctive drug used during concurrent Chemo/Radiation therapy for cancer treatment in China. Biomed Pharmacother. 2017;96:865-870. doi: 10.1016/j.biopha.2017.09.060.
4. Collado Mateo D, Pazzi F, et al. Ganoderma lucidum improves physical fitness in women with fibromyalgia. Nutr Hosp. 2015;32(5):2126-35. doi: 10.3305/nh.2015.32.5.9601.
5. Chen CY, Hou CW, et al. Rhodiola crenulata- and Cordyceps sinensis-based supplement boosts aerobic exercise performance after short-term high altitude training. High Alt Med Biol. 2014;15(3):371-9. doi: 10.1089/ham.2013.1114.
6. Zhang Y, Lin Z, et al. Effect of Ganoderma lucidum capsules on T lymphocyte subsets in football players on “living high-training low”. Br J Sports Med . 2008;42(10):819-22.
7. Panda AK, Swain KC. Traditional uses and medicinal potential of Cordyceps sinensis of Sikkim. J Ayurveda Integr Med. 2011;2:9–13. doi: 10.4103/0975-9476.78183.
8. Sellami M, Slimeni O, et al. Herbal medicine for sports: a review. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2018;15:14. doi: 10.1186/s12970-018-0218-y.
9. Yang Y, Zhao C, et al. The Prebiotic Activity of Simulated Gastric and Intestinal Digesta of Polysaccharides from the Hericium erinaceus. Molecules. 2018;23(12). doi: 10.3390/molecules23123158.
10. Komiya Y, Nakamura T, et al. Increase in muscle endurance in mice by dietary Yamabushitake mushroom (Hericium erinaceus) possibly via activation of PPARδ. Anim Sci J. 2019;1-9. doi: 10.1111/asj.13199.
11. Mori K., Inatomi S., Ouchi K., Azumi Y., Tuchida T. Improving effects of the mushroom Yamabushitake (Hericium erinaceus) on mild cognitive impairment: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Phytother Res. 2009;23:367–372. doi: 10.1002/ptr.2634
12. Hwang BS, Lee IK, Yun BS. Phenolic compounds from the fungus Inonotus obliquus and their antioxidant properties. J Antibiot (Tokyo) . 2016;69(2):108-10. doi: 10.1038/ja.2015.83.
13. Zhong X, Zhong Y, et al. Effect of Inonotus Obliquus Polysaccharides on physical fatigue in mice. J Tradit Chin Med. 2015;35:468–472.
14. Zembron-Lacny A, Gajewski M, et al. Effect of shiitake (Lentinus edodes) extract on antioxidant and inflammatory response to prolonged eccentric exercise. J Physiol Pharmacol. 2013;64:249–54