Functional mushrooms are trailing the popularity coattails of CBD, and there's just as much hype and confusion surrounding the trend. While influencers in the wellness space are adding functional mushrooms via powders and tinctures to smoothies, coffee, and recipes (and boasting about their benefits on social), you probably have some questions about what this 'shrooms actually are. What are functional mushrooms, really, and what do they actually do for the human body?
Tero Isokauppila, the founder of Four Sigmatic, a functional mushroom and superfoods company, author of Healing Mushrooms, and a natural health expert, is on a mission to not only make functional mushrooms more accessible, but also to educate the masses on the many benefits of these natural healers. Isokauppila is offering Eat This, Not That! an exclusive breakdown of functional mushrooms—what they are, what they do, why they're worth a try, and how you can start incorporating mushrooms into your routine, too.
What exactly are functional mushrooms?
Of the currently known fungi, Isokauppila says an estimated 2,000 species are thought to be edible or medicinal; 15 are recognized to have what are called functional benefits. This means that beyond their nutritional benefits, they have each been found to help support overall health and well-being in one way or another (i.e. lowering stress levels, sharpening cognitive function, providing a boost of energy, etc.).
Do functional mushrooms come in different forms?
"You can find functional mushrooms in powders, capsules (supplements), liquid sprays, and liquid drinks," Isokauppila says.
What are the benefits of functional mushrooms?
Isokauppila explains that while each individual functional mushroom has its own specific benefits, all functional mushrooms work to balance your energy levels, strengthen your immune function, smooth digestion, and enhance your skin's natural glow.
"Mushrooms are loaded with polyphenols, polysaccharides, beta-glucans, and antioxidant properties. All of these compounds, together and separately, help to support your immune system," Isokauppila says about the long-term benefits of daily mushroom consumption. In other words, you probably won't see immediate results, but the effects will shine through over time. Mushrooms also deliver a slew of dietary fiber, aiding in healthy digestion and an increase in beneficial gut bacteria in your digestive system.
As for their skin-enhancing benefits, functional mushrooms "have an overflowing amount of antioxidant properties, which your skin (and the rest of your body!) loves," Isokauppila explains. "Glowing skin is also the result of whole body health. Any dysfunction in your immune system or digestion will show up in your skin first. Supporting your whole body well-being with functional mushrooms will often result in a smooth complexion."
But the best functional mushrooms on the market are also adaptogenic, meaning they assist the body in times of low energy, fatigue, anxiety, and the like. "These plants have the amazing ability to bring you back to a steady state," he adds.
Which functional mushrooms are the healthiest and most effective?
As previously mentioned, every functional mushroom has a slightly different benefit, and while ranking them would be "like picking a favorite child," Isokauppila says if he had to choose, his top three would probably be Reishi, Lion's Mane, and Chaga.
"With the busy, stressful lives we lead, any balance we can add, the better," he says, and that's where Reishi comes in. As the queen of mushrooms, its adaptogenic properties "help your body to manage occasional stress," Isokauppila explains.
Lion's Mane, on the other hand, is a functional mushroom whose powers lie in stimulating focus, productivity, and creativity.
Chaga (the king of mushrooms) is "overflowing with antioxidant properties and helps to support your immune system."
What are some common misconceptions about functioning mushrooms?
Isokauppila said there are two main questions he receives about functioning mushrooms: Are these psychedelic 'shrooms, and do they taste like culinary mushrooms?
In a word: No.
These mushrooms won't give you any type of drug-induced feeling because they don't contain psilocybin, or psychedelic compounds, Isokauppila explains. And while they don't necessarily taste like culinary mushrooms, such as portobello or cremini mushrooms, he adds, they do emit a bitter, earthy taste.
Who should try functional mushrooms?
"Most people can benefit from adding functional mushrooms in their life," Isokauppila says. However, there are a few exceptions. Those who are pregnant, lactating, and/or have an ongoing health condition they are being treated for should talk to their doctor before experimenting with functional mushrooms as, according to Isokauppila, they can clash with certain medications.
What should you look for when buying functional mushroom products?
The first thing you should be looking for when purchasing functional mushrooms is the company's sourcing, Isokauppila explains. For example, choose products that are made with fruiting bodies (spore-producing structure that supports asexual reproduction of a plant), rather than mycelium (vegetative growth). You also want to make sure that the mushrooms are extracted, not raw or whole, to guarantee the beneficial compounds are effective when consumed.
Next, Isokauppila suggests doing some research on where and how the functional mushrooms are grown, and where/how they're tested. "If a company won't tell you [these details], that means they have something to hide," he says. "At Four Sigmatic, every single batch of our extracted functional mushroom products are tested in a third-party lab for heavy metals, allergens, bad bacteria, yeasts, molds, mycotoxins, pesticides, and irradiation before they get in your hands."
Once you have all the facts, make sure the functional mushrooms are being presented in a way that you enjoy—in a powder, capsule, liquid spray, or drink. "The greatest benefits of functional mushrooms are seen with daily use for extended periods of time. If you have a mushroom pill you hate taking, then it's pointless," Isokauppila explains. "Find a product you actually enjoy so you know you'll stick with it."
What's the best way to add functional mushrooms to your diet?
Mushrooms aren't exactly incorporated into many people's daily routine due to their bitter taste and a lack of education about what functional mushrooms can do for the human body.
Aside from adding hot water to pre-packed powdered mixes, Isokauppila says you can add functional mushrooms to smoothies or to your existing favorite cup of coffee or tea. "You can also get more creative and add them into savory soups, stews, and ramen recipes," Isokauppila adds.