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Wondering Why Everyone is Drinking Mushroom Coffee Alternatives? Learn The Neuroprotective Effects of Medicinal Mushrooms

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Wondering Why Everyone is Drinking Mushroom Coffee Alternatives? Learn The Neuroprotective Effects of Medicinal Mushrooms

You may have thought about mushrooms as part of a healthy diet, but did you know that some mushrooms have the power to unlock better cognitive health? Medicinal mushrooms, such as Lion’s mane, reishi, and turkey tail, have been studied for their ability to impact memory and other brain functions, as well as their power to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety while improving their sense of well-being. 

Whether you’re curious about trying mushrooms as a supplement, a coffee alternative, or a tincture, keep reading to learn how you can bring medicinal mushrooms into your wellness routine for better brain health.


Medicinal Mushrooms: Nature's Hidden Treasures

The phrase “medicinal mushrooms” refers to certain types of mushrooms that have healing properties, especially for overall brain health and mood, and support the stress response. It’s estimated that there are over 150,000 types of mushrooms in the world, with roughly 700 of those having potential therapeutic benefits and falling into the ‘medicinal mushroom’ category.

Medicinal mushrooms have been used in traditional medicine for many years. Some of the conditions treated using mushrooms include infectious disease, lung disease, and cancers. Medicinal mushrooms have been approved for over 30 years as a cancer treatment in Japan and China, either alone or in conjunction with chemotherapy and radiation. 

While research into medicinal mushrooms continues to grow, the most well-researched and popular medicinal mushrooms include species such as Lion’s mane, reishi, cordyceps, turkey tail, chaga, shiitake, and maitake. These mushrooms may be used for a variety of purposes, including cognitive support, stress support, immune boosting, and improving energy.

Medicinal Mushrooms and Cognitive Health

While research is still growing on the impact of various medicinal mushrooms on cognitive health, much of the research completed so far has been on the following types of mushrooms: reishi, lion’s mane, turkey tail, and shiitake.

Lion’s mane has been shown to improve cognitive function (such as memory retention) as well as prevent cognitive decline over time. The mushroom may contribute to more neuronal growth as well as increased levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), explaining one possibility for its cognitive benefits. Some of the key bioactive compounds that are studied with respect to these cognitive benefits include erinacines and hericenones, isolated from the mycelium and fruiting body of the mushroom, respectively. Lion’s mane has also been linked to a better sense of overall well-being and can help reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.

Reishi, turkey tail, and shiitake mushrooms have all been linked to improvements in mood, a reduction in cognitive fatigue, and an improved sense of well-being, making them all good options for those looking to support cognitive health through the use of medicinal mushrooms. 

Reishi is also an adaptogenic mushroom, helping the brain to better handle and respond to stress, which adds to its cognitive-enhancing benefits. Different bioactive compounds within these mushrooms are at the root of the cognitive benefits described above, including alpha- and beta-glucans (shiitake and reishi), ergothioneine, phenols (turkey tail), and terpenes (reishi). 

Functional Medicine Labs to Assess Cognitive Health

There are several functional medicine labs that can be helpful in an overall assessment of cognitive health and can be used to guide personalized results for each individual.

Inflammation Panel/Omega-3 Index

It’s well-established that the presence of inflammation leads to a higher rate of cognitive decline and a higher risk of dementia. A general inflammation panel and an omega-3 index can both determine an individual’s inflammation status so that nutritional, supplemental, and lifestyle changes can be taken to reduce inflammation and support overall health and cognitive function.  

TrueAge Complete Testing

The TrueAge Complete test looks at several biomarkers of the aging process, including biological age. Since biological age (the rate at which your cells are aging) is extremely important to cognitive function and overall longevity, this test is a good foundational option to figure out how your body and brain are aging.

Neurotransmitter Testing

Neurotransmitter testing, such as the NeuroAdvanced Profile from ZRT Laboratories, is helpful when assessing for neurochemistry imbalances that are often present in mood and anxiety disorders, trouble with focus and concentration, poor memory, and other symptoms of suboptimal cognitive health. 

One clinical study showed that medicinal mushrooms were able to impact well-being and may involve neurotransmitter pathways in amelioration of symptoms of depression. Medicinal mushrooms, such as reishi, may directly impact neurochemistry pathways such as the serotonin production pathway, though much of the data currently available is based on animal studies other than the clinical trial referenced above.


Choosing Medicinal Mushroom Supplements for Cognitive Support

As with any supplement, there are several important factors to consider when choosing a medicinal mushroom for cognitive support. When possible, look for supplements that include the fruiting body of the mushroom. Research shows that the active components in most mushrooms are found in higher concentrations in the fruiting body of the mushroom (the part you typically eat and see outside) versus the mycelium or “roots.” 

Additionally, purchasing from a company that clearly states its extraction process can ensure you know exactly what you’re getting and that the supplement has an effective amount of mushrooms to reap the benefits. Some mushrooms, such as Lion’s mane and reishi, are best processed with dual extraction to bring out all of their beneficial compounds.

Most studies looking at the cognitive benefits of medicinal mushrooms haven’t examined long-term use of the supplements, so it may be best to use these mushrooms for shorter durations under the guidance of your practitioner. The dosage is another factor to consider, as you can find a wide array of dosages across various mushroom supplements. Lion’s mane, for example, has been studied for its cognitive benefits at doses from 1-3 grams per day for up to 16 weeks.  

Choosing single-mushroom supplements versus a blend of mushrooms may also allow an individual to better understand the impact of the supplement on their unique physiology.

How to Include Medicinal Mushrooms in Your Diet

There are many different ways to incorporate medicinal mushrooms into your diet. You can cook the mushrooms and include them as part of meals - you can even find “lion’s mane burgers” at some health-conscious restaurants! 

Many also choose to use the powdered, dehydrated form of medicinal mushrooms as a tea or coffee replacement or a smoothie addition to help blend these superfoods into rituals you already may have. 

Mushroom tinctures, often made using the fruiting bodies of these mushrooms, can be a more potent form of medicinal mushrooms for those looking to reap the benefits of mushrooms on cognitive health. The dosing of medicinal mushrooms varies based on the specific form, and the recommended dose will vary based on individual needs. Extracts, often found in tinctures, often can be taken in lower amounts than dried mushrooms due to their potency.

Precautions When Using Medicinal Mushrooms for Brain Health

As with any supplement, there is a small chance of side effects from medicinal mushrooms for some individuals. For example, Reishi mushrooms may cause an allergic reaction that’s associated with dryness in the mouth and nasal passages. Fresh lion’s mane is usually well-tolerated, though supplementation may cause nausea and abdominal discomfort in some people.  

Many studies evaluate the impact of medicinal mushroom supplements for a specific period of time, such as 8-12 weeks. The long-term use of medicinal mushrooms has not been well-studied, so it may be best to use these supplements intermittently under the supervision of your healthcare provider.

There are certain medications that can interact with medicinal mushrooms, so it’s always important to talk to your doctor before adding mushrooms into your routines, especially if you are on prescription medication. Lion’s mane mushrooms can interact with blood thinners as well as some diabetes medications, while reishi mushrooms shouldn’t be taken by those on blood pressure medication as the combination can cause blood pressure to drop too low. 



Improving brain health and slowing cognitive decline are important goals for so many who are looking to age actively and stay healthy. Medicinal mushrooms have a host of neuroprotective benefits that make them a great option to support cognition as part of a healthy lifestyle.  

The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplement or making any changes to your diet or exercise routine.
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