Medical Mushrooms

Functional Mushrooms and Natural Killer Cells

By Dr. Basheerah

Did you know that mushrooms can be magical in more ways than one? Typically when you think of magic mushrooms, you probably think of the kind that contains psilocybin, the component that makes mushrooms hallucinogenic.

Mushrooms that have psilocybin can be life-changing for those who struggle with anxiety and depression, but there are so many other kinds of mushrooms and fungi that can be used for different holistic and medicinal purposes.

Functional mushrooms, as they’re called, such as Chaga, Turkey Tail, and Lion’s Mane are jam-packed with antioxidants and minerals that can help boost your quality of health.

Functional mushrooms fall into one of two categories: Medicinal or adaptogenic.

Medicinal VS Adaptogenic Mushrooms

Medicinal mushrooms contain compounds that offer antioxidative properties as well as properties that may help in killing harmful cells.

Medical Mushrooms

Adaptogenic mushrooms contain adaptogens, which are compounds that help your body adapt to and fight off stressors that may come chemically, biologically, or physically.

So instead of helping to get rid of that cold you have, adaptogens will help your body in the way it responds to the germs that caused your cold in the first place.

Mushrooms and Natural Killer Cells

The use of mushrooms for medicinal purposes dates back almost 2000 years to ancient China. It was common practice to use mushrooms such as reishi or shiitake for teas, soups, and extracts to help improve immunity function and overall well-being.

In today’s world, extensive scientific research has been conducted that has proven the many health benefits of consuming these functional mushrooms. Some of these benefits include managing blood sugar, improving energy levels, supporting brain and heart health, as well as boosting levels of Natural Killer Cells, which may help in preventing cancer.


Natural killer cells are a vital part of our immune system’s functionality. Having an absence or deficiency of natural killer cells would be disastrous for our health, leaving us vulnerable to many diseases.

The beneficial effects of consuming functional mushrooms regularly can help to boost your immune system’s strength, which in turn can help to boost your levels of natural killer cells that fend off any illness or disease, including cancer.

5 Functional Mushrooms to Try

1. Shiitake

Shiitake mushroom is one of the most common types of fungi on this list. Shiitake is packed with B vitamins, vitamin D, zinc, and all 9 essential amino acids your body needs. Shiitake is also used to support strong, healthy heart function.

In addition to the internal health benefits you get from consuming shiitake, incorporating this functional mushroom in your diet can help your hair become stronger and shinier, and your skin glow clearer and brighter. You can take shiitake mushroom in its raw form, or you can consume it dried or in a dietary supplement.


2. Reishi

Reishi is an adaptogenic mushroom, meaning that it can help your immune system’s response to stressors. Full of antioxidative and anti-inflammatory properties, reishi has been traditionally used to promote more restful sleep and to calm jittery nerves.

Consuming reishi may also help with liver function. You can take reishi raw, or in tea, although it is most recommended to take a supplement, as this mushroom can be quite bitter.


3. Lions Mane

In ancient China, Buddhist monks would use Lion’s Man to help with concentration for their meditation practices. Lion’s Mane has also been linked with better memory function, in helping to protect your brain’s neurons.

This has resulted in the idea that Lion’s Mane may help in reducing one’s risk of developing degenerative cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. You can take Lion’s Mane in tea form, supplement form, or fry this mushroom as a delicious faux meat replacement.

lions mane

4. Turkey Tail

Turkey Tail is one of the most highly researched mushrooms on this list. Over 400 trials have been conducted that have demonstrated its effectiveness in being an alternative to standard cancer care. Turkey Tail has highly antibacterial properties, which make this mushroom highly effective in preventing common colds, cases of flu, and other infections.

In addition to immune support, Turkey Tail can aid in better digestion, muscle gain, and an increase in energy levels. You can make Turkey Tail into tea, or you can eat it cooked as a side to your meal.

Turkey Tail

5. Chaga

Although this mushroom has the appearance of a lump of coal, Chaga is one of the richest antioxidative mushrooms on this list.

Popular during the days of WWII as a coffee substitute due to rationing, today Chaga is popularly consumed as a caffeine alternative due to its energy-increasing properties, anti-inflammatory benefits, and its positive effect on cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

Chaga is one of the more expensive mushrooms on this list since it takes 15 to 20 years for a Chaga to reach full maturity where its health benefits can be best utilized.

Chaga mushroom on the birch trunk outdoors.


The modern research done on these mushrooms backs up knowledge that has been known by ancient Chinese medicines for well over a millenia. As more people become aware of the fantastic benefits these functional mushrooms hold within them, we may begin to see them become a key component in any long-term wellness effort.

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