There are many herbs and plants with a proven history of boosting the immune system, and science that backs it up.
I have to be honest. Right now, I feel like I’m taking all of them! Immune Shine powder blend from Gaia Herbs, with elderberry--check! Bare Organics Ashwagandha Root Powder--check! Turmeric root powder--yes! Four Sigmatic 10 Mushroom Blend Mix--indeed!
In New York City these days, you can’t be too careful, and I believe in hedging my bets.
But it struck me: While I understand how elderberry, ashwagandha and turmeric work, the mushrooms were more of a leap of faith. So I reached out to nutritionist Danielle Ryan Broida, RH, AHG, National Educator at Four Sigmatic for answers.
RB: How do mushrooms support the immune system?
DRB: If functional mushrooms were labeled into one benefit category, it would be immune support. Ever walk into a grocery aisle and ask where the mushroom supplements are? You will likely find them under the sign that says “Immune.”
All functional mushrooms are beneficial for supporting our immune system, and yet they each offer something a little special and unique. To break it down, mushrooms have beta-glucans, polyphenols, polysaccharides and antioxidant properties – all compounds that play a big role in supporting our immune system and maintaining its function.
Many “natural” options for immune support are immune stimulators. These are common things many reach for at the first sign of a feeling funky to stop the bug in its tracks. Herbs like echinacea, goldenseal and elderberry fall in this category.
Functional mushrooms on the other hand, are immunomodulators. This means they are not only safe for long-term use, but the history and tradition of these fungi is as tonics, meaning they are taken every day to build and nourish the system. We are all about long-term, sustainable solutions to your health and wellness. Functional mushrooms align with this vision, as they are excellent allies to keep us as our own bodyguards, no matter what the world has in store for us.
RB: All mushrooms? Which ones, and why?
DRB: My favorite functional mushrooms for immune system support are chaga and reishi, the King and Queen of mushrooms. Chaga, in particular, known as the King of Mushrooms, supports immune function and has been used for hundreds (some sources say thousands!) of years. Like all of our functional mushrooms, chaga is an adaptogen, meaning it works with the system to encourage the body to bring balance to itself. Chaga is rich in antioxidant properties which support both immune function and occasional stress.
A few products I recommend at this time are our Mushroom Elixir Mix with Chaga, Mushroom Elixir Mix with Reishi, 10 Mushroom Blend, and Plant-Based Protein. These all contain 1500mg of extracted functional mushrooms per serving to support your immune system. Beyond your daily dose of superfoods (like mushrooms and adaptogens), it is equally important to nourish your body with your dietary and lifestyle habits.
RB: Please explain the mycobiome?
DRB: Many of us have heard of microbiome in reference to our gut health. The microbiome is defined as “a community of microorganisms that inhabit a particular environment especially the collection of microorganisms in or on the human body.” But did you know that this community of organisms includes fungi? In 2009, the term mycobiome was coined as we discovered how much of a role fungi play in the microbiome. Mycobiome (“myco” meaning mushroom or fungus and “biome” from the Greek word life) is the colonization of fungi species which resides in different areas of our bodies.
The microbiome includes the mycobiome. Mycobiomes, or areas of the body that harbor a variety of fungi, can be found in our gut, lungs, nasal cavity, skin, and more. Just like a healthy balance of good and bad bacteria is essential for our microbiome to thrive and keep us healthy, a healthy mycobiome is a major factor to our overall health.
RB: What is the best way to take them to get the most benefit?
DRB: There are a few key things to consider when choosing functional mushrooms. The first is the part of the mushroom you are using. Yes, this may sound odd, but different brands are selling different parts of the species. We at Four Sigmatic are committed to using the part of the species that has been used for thousands of years, that is time tested and well-researched. This is known as the fruiting body or the mushrooms itself (as opposed to the mycelium, which is essentially the underground or root portion of the mushroom which has only been used for the past few decades).
Beyond using the fruiting body, you want to make sure the mushrooms you are using have been “extracted.” This is key! Our bodies cannot access any of the nutrients from mushrooms if they are raw, fermented, simply dried and powdered, etc. They must be “extracted.”
Third, getting mushrooms that have been log grown or wild harvested is important. I like to think of this as we are what we eat--so are mushrooms. Think of the difference between a grass-fed, free range cow vs. a cow that has been fed soy or corn its entire life. Is the final product, the meat of the cow, going to be the same? Definitely not! Same thing with our mushrooms.
"Getting mushrooms that have been log grown or wild harvested is important. I like to think of this as we are what we eat--so are mushrooms."
Many of the species of functional mushrooms seen in the marketplace are naturally found on different logs or wood. Much of what makes the mushroom, the mushroom is compounds found on the wood they are growing from. This means that in order to get the mushroom that has been used for thousands of years and studied for its benefits, you want to make sure you are choosing a mushroom that has grown on what it evolved to eat. To sum it up: fruiting body aka actual mushroom, extracted, and log grown or wild harvested.
Beyond that, it is important that the mushrooms are certified organic AND third-party lab tested for things like heavy metals, pesticides, mycotoxins, molds and yeasts. In terms of habit, the best way to consume functional mushrooms is a part of your existing daily routine. I used to tell my clients, “the medicine doesn’t work if you don’t take it.” What this means is that if it isn’t delicious, easy, convenient, and something that you will remember to do, you won’t reap the benefits! So you want to incorporate them into the things that you already do, like a morning or evening routine.
Mushrooms are meant to be used long-term, as part of your long-term immune health; they are by no means a quick fix. So, if you have a daily cup of coffee, adding functional mushrooms to them is a great way to stay consistent. If you are already making smoothies, add in functional mushrooms there.