From cordyceps to chestnut mushrooms, fungi are becoming increasingly popular in cooking and dietary supplements.
Mushroom pills, in particular, are quickly gaining popularity as an easy way to boost your intake of these potent plants, and it’s easy to see why.
Not only are mushrooms a great source of protein and umami flavor for those on plant-based diets, but they are also packed full of essential nutrients and beneficial compounds!
To help you find the right mushroom supplements, we’ll examine the benefits of mushroom pills, one of the most popular ways to take mushrooms as a dietary supplement. While there are many ways to enjoy medicinal mushrooms, pills are easily one of the most convenient and popular methods, so that’s what we’ll be discussing today.
There are currently more than 14,000 known species of mushrooms, ranging from the humble button mushroom (or Agaricus bisporus) to ‘magic’ psilocybin mushrooms. However, not all mushrooms are created equal, and many of the varieties you can find in your local grocery store lack the health benefits of medicinal mushrooms.
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As the name suggests, mushroom pills are pills or capsules containing dried mushrooms and/or mushroom extracts, though the contents can vary significantly depending on the brand. Most mushroom pills use the fruiting body of medicinal mushrooms, but cheaper varieties often contain fillers, grains, growing substrates, or the mycelium of the mushrooms.
Related: Our blog on the Best Mushroom Supplements explains the health benefits of medicinal mushrooms and includes a buying guide to help you find an effective product online.
Quality mushroom supplements contain high amounts of the beneficial compounds found in medicinal mushrooms and are an excellent way to fit more fungi into your busy lifestyle. However, not all mushroom pills are created equal, and many brands use mycelium or substrates as filler, so we’ve prepared a short guide to mushroom terminology below:
The fruiting body of a mushroom includes the cap and stem, which is what most people think of when you say mushroom. The fruiting body is where most of the beneficial compounds in medicinal mushrooms can be found, which is why it’s used in many brands of mushroom pills.
Mycelium refers to the root-like structure of a fungus which transports nutrients and water to the fruiting body of medicinal mushroom species. While mycelium generally contains less beneficial compounds than the fruiting body, they are still a valuable source of nutrients and make an ideal filler ingredient in mushroom supplements.
The medicinal mushrooms used in mushroom pills are often grown in planters using a substrate like oats, soybeans or brown rice. The substrates used to grow mushrooms are often added to mushroom supplements under the name “mycelium on grain” but have very few proven benefits, so they are widely considered filler.
Mushroom supplements have been proven to have various health benefits, from supporting your immune system to boosting your energy levels or even improving cognitive function! Additionally, pills or capsules are much more convenient than other forms of mushroom supplements, like mushroom coffee or mushroom powder.
RELATED: Read our blog on Mushroom Powder Vs Extracts to learn more about the pros and cons of different types of mushroom supplements.
However, different species of medicinal mushrooms have different benefits, so the effects of mushroom pills can vary greatly depending on the active ingredients. To help you find the best medicinal mushroom for your needs, we’ve listed the most popular ones below, along with their health benefits:
Shitake mushrooms are widely used in cooking for their rich flavour, but they also have antioxidant effects and many health benefits, like boosting your immune system and supporting heart health.
Reishi mushrooms may benefit weight loss, immune support and fatigue as they contain many beneficial compounds like antioxidants, polysaccharides and peptidoglycans.
Named for their colorful rings and fan shape, turkey tail mushrooms are full of antioxidants, immune-boosting compounds and prebiotics, making them highly desirable in mushroom pills.
Lion’s mane is packed with antioxidants and promotes the production of myelin and NGF (Nerve Growth Factor), which are crucial for brain health, making it a great supplement to promote cognitive function.
Chaga mushrooms are high in antioxidants and may help to lower blood sugar and cholesterol (based on animal studies), whether you take them in mushroom pills or as a traditional mushroom tea.
Cordyceps mushrooms are widely used in traditional Chinese medicine thanks to their powerful antioxidant effects and purported benefits for kidney disease and fatigue.
Mushroom supplements are one of the best ways to experience the benefits of medicinal mushrooms, as they are much more convenient and potent than most traditional preparations. While it is possible (and enjoyable) to consume medicinal mushrooms in savory dishes or as tea, supplements like mushroom pills typically contain higher concentrations of active ingredients than a serving of whole mushrooms.
For these reasons (and the rarity of fresh or dried medicinal mushrooms in most of America), we recommend taking medicinal mushrooms in supplement form. Additionally, most commercially available mushroom supplements are widely considered safe, as known side effects (i.e. stomach upset, skin rashes) are mild, though they may interact with prescription medication, so ask a doctor if they’re right for you.
While mushroom supplements have many benefits for general health and for treating specific conditions like mental health, their use is currently restricted to dietary supplements and experimental trials. Although many studies show that medicinal mushrooms help treat various health issues – from the chemotherapy side effects to depression and anxiety – most of these studies are not large or reliable enough to justify prescribing medicinal mushrooms.
RELATED: AHCC is a Complementary Alternative Medicine (CAM) made from mushrooms widely used to boost immune response and treat side effects of chemotherapy – learn more here.
As of writing, mushroom supplements are primarily used as dietary supplements or Complementary Alternative Medicine (CAM), and aren’t officially approved as a medical treatment. However, nothing stops you from taking mushroom pills to boost your immune system or enhance your cognitive performance as a dietary supplement.
Medicinal mushrooms have a wide variety of health benefits, as they contain high amounts of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and medicinal compounds like beta-glucans. Many of these compounds provide general health benefits, but you can also take mushroom pills with a specific mushroom for more targeted benefits, such as:
Reishi mushrooms have a relaxing effect and can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, allowing you to rest easily.
Certain mushrooms (like turkey tail and maitake) are extremely potent sources of antioxidants that help lower your risk of chronic diseases, giving you another reason to consider supplementing with mushroom pills.
Cordyceps is prized for its energy-boosting effects and has been shown to increase the production of ATP – which is essential for delivering energy to your muscles.
Many of the species of medicinal mushrooms listed in this article can help support your immune system thanks to their high levels of antioxidants, beta-glucans and other beneficial compounds.
Although medicinal mushrooms are generally safe to consume (unless you’re allergic to mushrooms), they may cause some side effects, especially when taken in concentrated mushroom supplements. Most known side effects are mild – such as diarrhea and skin rashes – but certain mushrooms may increase your sensitivity to certain illnesses or interfere with other medications.
For example, mushroom pills containing chaga mushrooms may cause issues for those with gout or kidney stones, as chaga is naturally high in oxalates. Fortunately, most side effects are mild, and most users of mushroom supplements won’t notice any adverse reactions, though they have been known to cause:
Medicinal mushrooms have been used for centuries in traditional medicine, and modern research has confirmed many of their purported benefits, making them some of the best dietary supplements for various health issues. While these supplements come in various forms (such as mixing powdered mushrooms into drinks), mushroom pills are the most convenient and one of the most popular options.
Medicinal mushrooms have many health benefits – like boosting immune response, fighting inflammation and enhancing mental abilities – some of which are still unknown or unverified by modern science. However, they are not completely safe to use, and we strongly recommend asking a doctor if mushroom pills are right for you, especially if you’re taking prescription medications.